Friends, it’s been a very busy few days for major stories from this blog. Another one this morning. A few days ago, Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister (gag reflex) met with two senior executives from Google’s YouTube division. After the meeting, her office released a totally false statement to the press claiming Google had agreed to form a task force with the ministry to censor videos which “incited” Palestinian violence against Israel:
After a misleading press release suggested they’d bowed to pressure from apartheid Israeli officials, Google representatives denied that they agreed to allow censorship of Palestinian videos on YouTube and other Google websites.
…After the agreement was widely reported in the media, a Google representative issued the following statement:
“Following media reports about a meeting last week between Google / YouTube executives and the Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, we wanted to clarify that this meeting was one of many that we have with policymakers from different countries to explain our policies on controversial content, flagging and removals.
The Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs has corrected its original announcement which, in error, suggested there had been an agreement with Google to establish ‘a mechanism to monitor online materials.’”
Given how long I’ve been doing this, and how familiar I am with the ways and psychology of Israel’s rightist political leadership, I smelled a rat in the reporting of the meeting and supposed agreement. I wrote this post and proceeded to contact the two Google executives and the company’s press office.
In my e mails to them, I noted that the media both in Israel and in the American Jewish right-wing press reported about the creation of the alleged task force, but the foreign ministry’s own statement omitted this claim. I guessed that it put out an original release including the claim and then thought better of it and removed it. Meanwhile, it was able to both put pressure on Google to censor videos and tell Google, should it need to, that it hadn’t made the overreaching statement.
Here’s the e-mail I wrote to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO on November 26th:
The Israeli government has released this report (which I translated) of your meeting with deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely. I am a journalist and blogger who writes about freedom of speech and Israeli democracy. If this account published in Maariv is correct, I have numerous concerns and questions about just what was agreed during this meeting. If you have not done so, can you release your own characterization of what happened at this meeting and what was agreed?
Will Google, as a result of this meeting, be removing videos deemed to incite violence against Israel? And if so, what criteria will be used to determine what is removed? Will there be increased collaboration between Google and the foreign ministry? And if so, what form will this take? What subjects will be studied and what actions are contemplated, if any?
“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 to 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 to monitor the distribution of this inciting material on the internet.”
Instead of responding to me, Google decided to go to AFP and clarify the story. Just as I’d suspected, it denied that there was any joint mechanism created or even contemplated for monitoring or censoring video content. Hotovely has been caught once again in an outrageous claim without foundation. Once again she’s been shown to be completely out of her league in dealing with sophisticated international issues and corporations. Not that this will make any difference. Bibi wants attack dogs like her around. He doesn’t care whether they kick up dust a bit and ruffle a few feathers. He can look at Donald Trump’s success in the GOP primaries and say: that guy bad mouths everyone and everything and look where it gets him–right to the top! Hotovely is Israel’s Donald Trump of the moment.
I might also ask Google why they can’t bother to respond to me directly when I approach them and instead choose to approach AFP, who likely read my original post and decided to query the company. But hey, then I’d be naïve wouldn’t I?
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.