גוגל צינזרה מתוצאות החיפוש בישראל את הפוסט שלי על פרופ’ צבי איזיקוביץ, שהואשם כי הוא מטריד מיני סדרתי
Yesterday, I received a notice from Google (see screenshot) saying that it was removing a blog post I wrote from all search results for google.co.il, the company’s Israel-based search engine. This means that any Israeli using the Israeli Google will not find my blog post. That is, censorship. It refused to reveal anything about the court order itself so, as of now I don’t know which judge issued the order and at whose behest he acted.
Now a little background on the post censored: Last November, I read in an Israeli online publication, Ha’Makom Ha’Chi Cham B’Gehinom (“Hottest Place in Hell”) that numerous graduate students at the University of Haifa had accused their academic advisor of grave counts of rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Ha’Makom had published an original version of the piece naming the University, but not the professor. Lawyers got a court order to censor even the university’s identity. So the current version doesn’t have any of that information.
Even more strange, I just contacted Einat Fishbain, editor of this news site, and asked if she could speak with me about these latest developments. She responded by saying she could not have any conversation with me at all on the subject. Imagine the legal restrictions placed on her if she can’t even discuss this matter privately!
After reading the HaMakom piece, I began to do research and had narrowed the possible suspects to two. I had a strong idea which of the two it was, and with an Israeli’s help I confirmed the professor was, Zvi Eisikovits. He was a senior faculty member in the social work department (former department chair and dean of health sciences) and considered an expert in–irony of ironies–domestic violence and sexual abuse. I published my post and hoped it would have some impact by telling the whole, uncensored truth about this alleged sexual predator. Then I went about my business…till yesterday.
I do not know how the court order originated. The last time something like this happened, the Israeli police cyber-crime unit demanded that Twitter censor tweets I published about Judge Shamai Becker, who’d been investigated regarding charges that he’d raped his daughter. Twitter notified me that it was acceding to the demand. In this case, Twitter only censored the tweet from accounts of users who registered as residents of Israel. This was mild censorship compared to what Google has done.
In the Twitter-Becker case, the censorship demand backfired because a number of media publications wrote stories about the matter and the charges against Becker received far more exposure than they would have had he and the cyber-crime unit ignored the post.
One of the journalists writing about it, Calcalist’s Omer Kabir determined that the police cyber-crime unit had ordered Twitter to censor itself. Since Google has kept the court order secret, I do not know whether Eisikovits’ lawyer originated the complaint or whether the cyber-crime unit ordered Google to censor its results.
Whatever the origin of the order, it shows that Israel has one of the weakest sets of protections for online speech and press freedom of any western nation. In fact, I’d maintain it should be compared to countries like Belarus, Hungary, Poland, Iran and Russia, rather than traditional western democracies. Google’s cave-in to Israeli demands also indicates how pathetically weak its own commitment to online publishers. Luckily, it has dropped the famous slogan: “Don’t be evil;” because Google, in this case and so many others, does the bidding of those who do evil.
Google compiles vastly out of date data regarding takedown requests from governments. It’s latest statistics cover the period from July-December 2015. In Israel’s case, Google received 100 requests to censor 700 items. It acceded to 65% of the government demands. The reason these numbers of almost useless is that the Israeli government has vastly increased the numbers of takedown demands since then, and Google has increased its compliance with them at a higher rate (at least according to government ministers like Ayelet Shaked and Gil Erdan). Why would a company whose reputation lies in compiling and retrieving massive amounts of date not be able to compile takedown requests following 2015??
It’s the height of irony that if you examine the image of Prof. Eisikovits featured above, you’ll see hung in his office a famous Ben Shahn lithograph whose caption is: “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” That seems a lesson the good professor hasn’t learned. He attempts to silence his victims and all Israeli media and thinks that will somehow solve his problems or make his life more convenient. But regardless of these attempts, his victims know what they suffered and everyone outside Israel and most inside Israel can still find my blog post about him.
It’s worth noting in this context, how pleased Israel’s far-right government is with the compliance of social media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to its takedown demands. In most cases, those involve Palestinians who post content the secret police deem “incitement.” Such content, were it published by U.S. citizens on the same platforms, would be considered protected by First Amendment free speech provisions. It is much rarer for the cyber-police to demand material written by Israeli Jews be censored and even rarer for material originating abroad to be censored in Israel. I guess I should be proud of that in a perverse sort of way.
This goes hand in hand with Google’s ongoing rejection of Tikun Olam from Google News and even Google Adsense. In the latter case, Google rejected this site because it contains undefined “sensitive content” which may “advocate against individuals, groups, or organizations.” With rules like that, not even Google would be able to advertise on its own product, Adsense. I never received any explanation for being rejected from Google News.
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