ImpACT International | Mounting accusations of social media censorship amid  Israel's invasion of Gaza

Besides the Israeli military’s mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza (the West Bank as well), there have been repressive measures by Israel to silence the dissent of pro-Palestinian voices. In a sane world, Israel would be sanctioned and deprived of U.S. military aid. Its right-wing leaders would be charged by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Unfortunately, the world has been insane at this time in human history.

The Israeli-Palestinian war is something unlike other wars in recent history. (Although the 2003 Iraq War is a close example.) The military actions of Israel in Gaza have ironically been, in intent, similar to Nazi Germany’s herding of Jews into the Warsaw ghetto and attempt to starve them. They haven’t yet tried to totally wipe them out because have killed over 30,000 and displaced tens of thousands more while subjecting them to humiliating and brutal living conditions for many years.

Worldwide, there have been the obvious protests against and condemnations of Israel. Voices emphasizing the need for a permanent cease-fire have been loud. But Israel, and its main accomplice, the United States, have not really been listening, or simply don’t care. There have been warnings from the Biden administration for Israel to be more careful, but the United States continues to supply Israel with weapons to use against Palestinians. Thus, Israel is merely getting a soft slap on the wrist in the face of its war crimes. 

Among the voices of dissent, the Middle East Studies Association wrote a letter for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Police Commissioner, Yaacov Shavtai and various ministers and university rectors. The letter condemned Israel’s repression against Palestinian students in Israeli universities. This is censorship run amok.

The letter begins as follows:

“We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our deep and growing concern regarding the ongoing attacks against and restrictions on Palestinian citizens of Israel who are students at Israeli institutions. We call upon you in the strongest terms to put an end to what appears to be a targeted repression of freedom of expression and uphold your responsibility to ensure academic freedom.”

The letter further states that MESA previously contacted Israel about “aggressions against Palestinian students” after the October 7, 2023, Hamas attacks. There is a statement that students have been the targets of intimidation and surveillance. Most importantly, MESA writes that these methods of repression have been going on since before October 7, in fact, for about seven decades. Censorship targets Palestinian students and professors for their criticism of Israel’s actions against Gaza and “their solidarity with the innocent people there.”

MESA cites a survey conducted by the Arab Student Movements Union, which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel who attend colleges and universities. The survey found that 85% of the students polled believed that their security was being threatened. Some 71% said that they are experiencing economic hardship because of the war. Because of this hardship, nearly half of the students considered dropping out of schools they attend and/or considered leaving Israel to pursue education elsewhere.

Palestinian supporters gather for a protest at Columbia University.

Further, the survey reveals that, after October 7, 2023, about 160 students have been disciplined for being supposed suspects supporting “terrorism.” Nineteen students have been arrested by the Israeli police because of being so-called terrorists and/or supporting a terrorist organization. But, “Typically, these students were expressing their solidarity with fellow Palestinians and with the children, women, and civilians in the Gaza Strip.”

Also, after October 7, “nine Palestinian students at the University of Haifa were suspended without a disciplinary hearing by the university’s rector, Gur Alroey, for sharing posts and stories on social media.” Alroey’s excuse was that they could cause “extreme situations” at the university. But the university reversed its position and agreed to mediation “with the students’ legal representation.” 

Gur Alroey [Source:]

Jewish-Israeli students, however, ignored the ruling and called for the suspension of the nine students without due process. Going further, they protested against the nine students. The National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) kept the harassment going, launching a campaign to “eradicate the support of terrorism on campuses.” NUIS, then, did not really use its influence to help provide security for all students. As a result, Palestinians were looked at as outcasts.

In an act of paranoia, universities published guides on how to use firearms. This resulted in a rise in the carrying of guns and rifles at universities. MESA’s letter asserted that “Academic institutions are expected to ensure that the campus climate is not hostile, that public discourse remains respectful, and that all students feel safe. Guns do not belong on university campuses.”

The letter added: “We condemn the circumvention of due process, as well as the prejudicial treatment of and broad incitement against Palestinians students,” portraying all of them as terrorists.

In conclusion, “We therefore call upon you to cease these targeted attacks on the higher education sector and ensure that Israeli campuses are safe for all their students and faculty, including those calling for an end to the war.”

Journalists have also been targets of Israeli aggression, but in a more direct fashion. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have gunned down journalists who have been reporting on the front lines of the war. According to Mohamed Mandour, writing for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “Since the Israel-Gaza war began on October 7, journalists and media across the region have faced a hostile environment that has made reporting on the war exceptionally challenging.” Mandour writes that 25 journalists have been arrested, with the use of “numerous assaults, threats, cyberattacks, and censorship.” He adds that 19 of the journalists were still in prison according to the CPJ’s records as of February 14, 2024.

There have been journalists who have lost family members as a result of Israel’s aggression. For example:

Photojournalist Yasser Qudih suffered the loss of eight family members when four missiles struck their house on November 13, 2023. The CPJ got this information from Reuters and The Guardian. The odds are certain that it was an attack by the IDF. But the group HonestReporting, which monitors the news for supposed anti-Israel bias, inaccuracy and other breaches of journalistic standards, raised questions that Qudih and his family members knew of the October 7 Hamas attack beforehand. This unsubstantiated accusation was rejected and HonestReporting withdrew it the next day.

But the word was out and Netanyahu took advantage of the falsehood. His office tweeted that photographers were complicit in committing “crimes against humanity.” Despite this falsehood, “Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz [said] they should be treated as terrorists. Qudih survived the attack.”

Of course, other attacks occurred, no doubt spurred on by Gantz’s ridiculous claim. Other journalists were either killed or survived attacks; sometimes their family members were killed. 

Israel's Gantz threatens to escalate clashes with Hezbollah
Benny Gantz [Source:]

Mandour writes, “CPJ is investigating reports that more than 50 offices in Gaza were damaged, leaving many journalists with no safe place to do their jobs, as they also contend with extensive power and communication outages, food and water shortages, and sometimes have to flee with their families.” 

The high risks are obvious as journalists cover the war. The IDF and Israeli police have been barbaric in their treatment of them as they uncover truths and facts for world consumption, contrary to Israel’s attempts to hide truths and facts with bizarre and insane propaganda.

Israel is not the only entity trying to hide the realities of the war. As of this writing, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has been considering adopting what amounts to censorship rules on the subjects of Israel and the war. While it has been gathering feedback on the move, there are doubts that Meta will change its mind.

There is a manufactured controversy on the use of the word, “Zionist.” Meta may have the intent to censor the word, along with other terminology that puts Israel in a bad light. Writing for The Intercept, Sam Biddle quotes Dani Noble, who is part of Jewish Voice for Peace: 

“As an anti-Zionist Jewish organization for Palestinian freedom, we are horrified to learn that Meta is considering expanding when they treat ‘Zionism’—a political ideology—as the same as ‘Jew/Jewish’—an ethno-religious identity.” Further, Noble said that such a policy shift “will result in shielding the Israeli government from accountability for its policies and actions that violate Palestinian human rights.”

Previously, the word Zionist was allowed as long as it was not associated with the words Jew and Jewish. Now, Meta moderators can be more stringent in deciding whether Zionist is allowed or if it is used to promote anti-Semitism. Thus, Meta has a long reach in deciding which comments are allowed when posting the “offending” word.

Facebook and Instagram Admit Censorship Violated Palestinian Rights

The moderating (or censoring) of the word Zionist is par for the course for hard-line Israel supporters. While there is an attempt to equate it with anti-Semitism, it really symbolizes  a religious form of ultra-nationalism, as evidenced by the right-wing Israeli government’s use of it, along with the right-wing settlers as they attempt to steal more Palestinian land. And one of the objectives on the part of Israeli fascists is to take more land to establish a “Greater Israel.” Thus, the attempt by the IDF to drive Palestinians out of Gaza, and the West Bank.

A map of israel and israel

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But there is a major irony here. Biddle writes, “much of the fiercest political activism against Israel’s war in Gaza has been organized by anti-Zionist Jews, while American evangelical Christian Zionists are some of Israel’s most hardcore supporters.” So, there are Jews who are not only anti-Zionist, but side with the Palestinians.

Biddle provides examples of hypothetical posts in quotes that could be censored by Meta: “Zionists are war criminals, just look at what’s happening in Gaza.” “I don’t like Zionists.” “No Zionists allowed at tonight’s meeting of the Progressive Student Association.” 

Meta spokesperson Corey Chambliss tried to justify the change in his company’s rules. Biddle quotes him as saying, “We don’t allow people to attack others based on their protected characteristics, such as their nationality or religion. Enforcing this policy requires an understanding of how people use language to reference those characteristics. While the term Zionist refers to a person’s ideology, which is not a protected characteristic, it can also be used to refer to Jewish or Israeli people.”

Chambliss goes on to imply that the new rules are necessary because of tensions relating to the Middle East. But he admitted that the word Zionist is an ideology, not a religion. Besides, tensions are high already, with Israel’s military aggression in Gaza. It seems like Meta is harping on the word while there are more important things to attend to, like opposing the war, and coming to grips with about 29,000 Palestinian deaths. (And, yes, the 1,200 Israeli deaths need attention even though 55% of those killed were members of the IDF.)

Meta did contact 10 Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian organizations about the use of the word Zionist and how it could be used in a “dehumanizing way or violent way” if referring to Jews or Israelis, according to Guardian writers Johana Bhuiyan and Kari Paul. 

But Linda Sarsour, “the executive director of Muslim advocacy organization MPower Change, said Meta’s director of content policy stakeholder engagement, Peter Stern, provided few details about why the company was revisiting the policy now and how it would be implemented or enforced in a way that doesn’t stifle political expression.” Bhuiyan and Paul quoted Sarsour’s response: “If you already have a policy that’s addressing Zionism as a proxy, then why are we having this conversation? Why is there further consideration to expand this policy?”

Expanding the policy could censor those who post pro-Palestinian comments, as well as facts, in the guise of preventing anti-Semitism. Meta, however, has had a policy that allowed the word Zionist to be used as long there wasn’t an association with the words Jew and Jewish. As Sarsour asks, “Why is there further consideration to expand this policy?”

Censorship, threats, intimidation and even murder cannot stop the tidal wave of opposition worldwide to Israel’s war. In Israel itself, more people are speaking out and opposing the Netanyahu government. And events may lead to the downfall of the Israeli fascists. 

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