Bibi Netanyahu has been blaming U.S. internet companies like Facebook for the current Palestinian uprising. I’ve taken to calling it the “Facebook Intifada.” Now there’s a new Silicon Valley target.
Today, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, who’s devoutly wished to see Israel rebuild the Holy Temple (thereby destroying the Haram al Sharif), announced (in Hebrew, English here) that she’d met with YouTube’s CEO and Google’s director of public policy at its Silicon Valley campus. During this meeting, according to a Maariv article, Hotovely schooled the executives about the ways in which pro-Palestine propaganda infects the internet and incites impressionable young Palestinian children to knife innocent victims.
What struck me about the article was the conclusion, in which Hotovely says that Google agreed to create a formal mechanism enabling formal coöperation between the foreign ministry and the company regarding the issue of incitement as played out in YouTube’s video content. In other words, she implied that Google would collaborate with Israel on identifying and removing videos that “incited” violence against Israel.
There are so many problems with Hotovely’s claims, it’s hard to know where to start. But my major problem is with the issue of censorship. Has Google agreed to censor videos? Has it been pressured to remove videos which document violence, whether perpetrated by Israeli security forces or Palestinian protesters?
I sent an e-mail to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO and to Google’s press office asking whether they agree with Hotovely’s characterization of the meeting and what was agreed during it. We’ll see how or if they respond.
Here is the translation of the Maariv article:
“MK Tzipi Hotovely: Terror by Children Arises from Incitement on the Internet
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely met with the CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki and Jennifer [sic] Downs, director of public policy, at Google’s Silicon Valley offices.
Hotovely received a comprehensive review of the company’s apparatus for monitoring videos which incite violence. In the meeting, she raised the problem of incitement on the internet, which drives young children to go out and stab people:
“The daily terror attacks in Israel are the result of youths and children incited, starting with the educational system and proceeding to social networks. This is a daily war against incitement that cannot be conducted without the collaboration of these social networks.”
At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that Google would strengthen bilateral relations with the Foreign Ministry and build a collaborative work apparatus [in which both parties would] partner to prevent the distribution of this inciting material on the internet.”
Thanks to Oui for finding the MFA’s press release about the meeting. He also noted that the MFA didn’t bother to use the correct name of the Google executive who participated in the meeting. It was Juniper Downs, not “Jennifer.”
Comparing the official account to the one Maariv published shows the reporter was a faithful stenographer, regurgitating information as she was trained to do. While her entire report recapitulates the press release almost word for word, the last sentence in the Maariv story (italicized above) isn’t in the release at all. Arutz 7 also includes this italicized sentence, as did Algemeiner, which tells me one thing. The MFA tried to pull a fast one: for the English-speaking audience they released a sanitized version which was probably closer to what actually happened in the meeting. But for the Israeli, Hebrew-speaking audience they released a statement saying that YouTube essentially capitulated to Israeli pressure and would commence censoring videos viewed as unflattering to Israel.
My guess is that Google’s version will look different, and that Google hosted the meeting because they agree to meet foreign diplomats in order to maintain good relations with foreign users and their governments. I strongly doubt Google has agreed to any formal arrangement that could lead to restricting video content. But if they have, it would be very important to know this.
We must not permit this Israeli government to blame anyone but itself for the hatred and violence which it spawns among Palestinians. Google doesn’t cause murder. Israel does.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.