The increasing violence around the Al Aqsa Ramadan protests, along with Israeli attacks on Gaza, have escalated social media outrage against Israel’s policies. In turn, social media platforms have become increasingly skittish about content that is deemed “controversial” (i.e. pro-Palestinian). We saw this last year during the Gaza attacks when many social media platforms engaged in heightened levels of censorship.
I make great use of these platforms to promote my journalism and to offer commentary on events related to Israel-Palestine. They are one of the key ways I speak out on these critical issues.
Israeli settlers gathered in occupied Jerusalem chanting, “Death to Arabs! Death to Arabs!”
The racist phrase is a popular chant among illegal Israeli settlers as they harass and attack Palestinians. pic.twitter.com/KxdZFKkfzd
— IMEU (@theIMEU) April 20, 2022
Today, Twitter locked my account (@richards1052) after I posted a video from the Institute for Middle East Understanding (@IMEU) Twitter account, of Israeli settlers shouting “Death to Arabs” during yesterday’s anti-Palestinian protests. Undoubtedly, one or more members of Israel’s social media troll army reported it. In my own tweet (see screenshot), I likened the chant to inciting murder against an entire people. In other words, it was an incitement to genocide. I similarly likened it to the anti-Semitic attacks by Nazis during the Holocaust. I also called the settlers “Judeo-fascists,” which they clearly are. I likened the genocidal chant by the protestors to Nazism, by equating the statement “Death to Arabs” to the Nazi salute “sieg heil.”
I did not refer to the protestors as Jewish. I never mentioned the word. The tweet had nothing to do with religion. I likened the genocidal call for the extermination of Arabs to the Nazi genocide. I criticized the content of the chant, not the religion of the protestors. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that people who call for the death of Arabs are behaving like the Nazis. In fact, one of the greatest public intellectuals in the history of Israel, Prof. Yeshaya Leibowitz coined the famous term, Judeo-Nazi, referring specifically to such settlers.
Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews. The Twitter user who reported me is anti-Semitic. Why? Because falsely accusing me of hating Jews is itself an attack on me as a Jew.
Another assumption underlying the attack on my account and Twitter’s acquiescence, is that being anti-Israel is the same as being anti-Semitic. This is the IHRA Syndrome, which erroneously defines criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews. It has nothing to do with Israel. The latter is a nation, not a religion. But conflating Israel and Judaism plays into the hands of real anti-Semites who blame Jews for the crimes of Israel. The Israeli IHRA strategy is designed to tar critics with a broad brush: everyone hates anti-Semitism. If you can conflate it with criticism of Israel, it becomes that much easier to discredit all of Israel’s critics (like me).
In the past, pro-Israel lurkers have complained about my tweets and organized mass reporting. In this case, something similar happened. Someone (or “someones”) reported the tweet as “hate speech.”
Twitter claimed I was locked out for:
Violating our rules against hateful conduct.
You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.
Presumably, the decision determined that likening protestors to Nazis was anti-Semitic or anti-Israel (one and the same thing to pro-Israel digital warriors). The fact that Twitter agreed with the claim is outrageous and constitutes suppression of legitimate speech. How can my comment about a video promoting the murder of Arabs be considered “promotion of violence,” a threat, or harassment?
To counteract Twitter censorship, I’m asking all my readers with accounts, to post links there to my blog posts and other social media content I publish. If we can’t beat Twitter, we can at least mount serious resistance.
Twitter will only permit me to regain access to my account and its platform if I delete the tweet. I have appealed the decision and also contacted the Twitter press office explaining I am a journalist engaged in legitimate analysis and commentary on Israel-Palestine, and asking for the account to be reinstated along with the censored tweet.
Though Twitter and other major platforms tend to be more aggressive when Israel attacks Gaza, in an effort to mollify Israel and its defenders, another reason for the suppression may be Elon Musk’s $43-billion takeover bid. As Musk is a right-wing fascist who presumably would turn Twitter into a version of himself, Twitter may feel compelled to restrain left-wing speech. If it didn’t, it would give Musk even more grounds to bellyache about Twitter being a cesspool of left-wing propaganda. That in turn would weaken Twitter’s position vis a vis the takeover attempt.
Bad Jews/Bad Arabs
I am two things that annnoy the hell out of the pro-Israel warriors: a Jew and a journalist. Similarly, there are two types of hate pro-Israel warriors reserve for “the enemy:” for Palestinians, the hate is against the enemy, the outsider, the Jew-hater. But for the Jew, it is the hate against the traitor, the one who betrays his people. Both are burning hot, but the flames are slightly different.
For that reason, the haters reserve the hottest place in Gehinom for the Jew who not only is pro-Palestinian, but who “hates his own.” There is a traditional phrase for such a person: moser. That is, one who informs on fellow Jews to the authorities thus endangering the entire community. For a moser, din rodef applies: you may murder such a person in order to protect those who are in danger.
Though these people cannot kill me, they can try to do the next best thing: silence me. Years ago, an IBM Israel site administrator hacked this website and took it down (luckily there are NGOs designed specifically to protect human rights sites like mine facing cyber-attack).
They hate journalists because we have a media platform that amplifies our views. We have credibility they, and Brand Israel, lack. For that reason, journalists and the media, in general, are constantly attacked for “lies” (the term Naftali Bennett used to attack Christiane Amanpour on CNN last night).
Journalists are the canary in the coal mine. We expose the lies. We tell the truth, even the inconvenient truth. That’s another reason they shut me down on Twitter. Silencing “hostile” voices is an important element of Israel’s war for media supremacy. The worst aspect of Twitter’s decision is that it punishes a Jewish journalist–who understands profoundly the meaning of genocide and the suffering it inflicts-for criticizing those who incite such mass murder.
Twitter is vainly trying to thread the needle. It seeks to be a champion of diversity and free speech, while it looks over its shoulder for both regulators, politicians, and right-wing pressure groups (like the Israel Lobby) seeking to tilt the playing field to their advantage. During times of crisis (i.e. when Israel is pulverizing Gaza), Twitter ducks controversy by eliminating content deemed too incendiary. The problem is that it’s not the content that’s incendiary, it’s the Israel mass violence that is incendiary. Suppressing criticism of Israeli war crimes does a big favor to Israel and makes a mockery of free speech.
This censorship is not confined to Twitter. Much reporting has been done on Facebook’s elimination of hundreds of pro-Palestine accounts, and censorship of content on other accounts. In the past, I too have been suspended on Facebook. In one case, the director of an Israeli aeronautical engineering institute boasted publicly of organizing a mass reporting of my account, which resulted in its suspension. Most recently, during last year’s Gaza war, I posted an image of a grieving young Palestinian couple holding their dead toddler in their arms. Facebook moderators slapped a screen over the image warning that it was disturbing graphic content. This forced the viewer to click twice before they could view the image. This is yet another, albeit milder, form of censorship.
It happened on Instagram a few days ago, when Bella Hadid posted images of Palestinian suffering. The platform shadowbanned her. As for Reddit, last month a site administrator permanently banned me from the platform on grounds of “harassment.” In that case, I appealed and the ban was lifted. Despite the failure of the ban, it has left a bad taste in my mouth and my participation on the site has declined, which is more or less what the censors hoped for.
Palestinians, of course, have it much worse on social media. The platforms feel much freer banning Palestinian speech online than they do speech by non-Muslims. So to be clear, I hardly have a monopoly on outrage, nor do I have bragging rights my victimization is worse than anyone else’s. We all are suffering from censorship; and the real victims and discourse suffer as well.
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.