The latest is an op-ed (“Facebook might censor criticism of Zionists. That’s dangerous”, Feb. 11) by , the deputy director of ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ (JVP). JVP is a marginal US based anti-Zionist, pro-BDS group that achieved notoriety by partnering with terrorists, as well as launching an antisemitic campaign called ‘Deadly Exchange’, which suggested that American Jews play a key role in perpetuating “racist policing in the U.S.”
Following two introductory paragraph where Wise outlines the problem of far-right and white supremacist antisemitism in the US, she applauds the “broad coalition of progressive organizations, activists, and faith communities are working to dismantle antisemitism along with all other forms of racism and oppression”. If you open the link above, it takes you to a site called United Against Hate, which describes itself as a coalition of groups advocating for “Black and immigrant liberation, Muslim and Latinx freedom, Indigenous power, AAPI security, and Jewish safety”.
However, one of the other member groups of United Against Hate is Mpower Change, led by Linda Sarsour, whose history of employing antisemitic tropes we’ve documented previously. The group, which calls itself “the largest Muslim-led social and racial justice organization in the U.S.”, was widely criticised for encouraging its followers to attend a Juneteenth rally last year that, the group stressed, was open to everyone “minus cops and Zionists.”
Despite the antisemitic baggage of groups she’s affiliated with, Wise then opines that “not everyone claiming to work against antisemitism has Jewish safety at heart”.
Who is she referring to? Israel, of course, as she explains:
The Israeli government and its rightwing allies are using this moment to double down on their campaign to equate all forms of anti-Zionism – the moral, political or religiously based opposition to an ethnic Jewish nation-state in historic Palestine – with antisemitism…
In response to pressure from the Israeli government and its supporters, Facebook is currently reaching out to stakeholders to ask if criticizing Zionists falls within the rubric of hate speech per Facebook’s community standards. In particular, Facebook is weighing whether “Zionist” should be considered a proxy for “Jew” or “Israeli”
if Facebook names “Zionist” a proxy for “Jew” or “Israeli”, Zionism would become a de facto protected category, which would have far-reaching and dangerous ramifications for Palestinians and Jews.
Under this policy, valid attempts to hold the state of Israel accountable through constitutionally protected political speech could be labeled as hate speech and removed from the platform…This policy would censor Palestinian speech, discriminate against Palestinians as a class, and silence nuanced conversation about Zionism.
First, Wise conflates two separate things: 1.) The movement to convince Facebook to adopt the IHRA Antisemitism Definition 2.) The question of whether Facebook should, in certain situations, ban the word Zionist when it’s used as proxy for “Jew”.
Whilst the Israeli government, along with most Jewish organisations, has been asking Facebook (and Twitter) to officially adopt IHRA, the antisemitism definition that’s been adopted by dozens of European countries and law enforcement agencies, Jerusalem has played no role in the question of whether Facebook should ban content attacking Jews by using the word “Zionist” as a proxy. The latter is an internal conversation at Facebook.
Israel’s social media strategy, as outlined by a recent Strategic Affairs Ministry report, clearly promotes IHRA’s adoption by the social media giants, whilst saying nothing about the use of the word Zionist.
Here’s the internal Facebook email, obtained by site The Verge, that is at the center of the debate:
So, whilst Israel’s government is not campaigning on this issue, Wise’s charge that, if Facebook were to adopt this policy, “valid attempts to hold the state of Israel accountable through constitutionally protected political speech could be labeled as hate speech and removed from the platform” is absurd. Whilst context is key, it’s hard to fathom how Wise or anyone else could deny that the word “Zionist” is sometimes (certainly in the case of the Mpower Change event we noted above) used as a stand-in and a term of abuse for “Jew”.
CST’s report on antisemitic incidents in 2020 detailed (pg 8) 105 incidents in which the term “Zionism” or “Zionist” was used in order to attack Jews as Jews. CST noted that their organisation is – of course – extremely careful to “distinguish between the occasions when these terms are used in a purely political sense (criticism of Zionism), and the times when they are abused as euphemisms for “Jewishness” and “Jews””.
Contrary to Wise’s claim, Palestinians (or anyone else) wouldn’t in any way be prevented from criticising Zionism. The only restrictions involve the use of the term when it’s clearly a stand-in for Jew, in order to obscure antisemitic language.
Wise then attacks IHRA:
This troubling move by Facebook is part of a much larger trend. The tech giant’s definition of antisemitism takes cues from the working definition formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which conflates antisemitism with all forms of anti-Zionism, including boycott and divestment campaigns in support of Palestinian freedom and human rights.
Any definition of antisemitism that includes anti-Zionism would threaten scholarly inquiry, constitutionally protected political speech…
Wise is not telling the truth when she claims that IHRA threatens “scholarly inquiry” and “constitutionally protected political speech”. She omits that the IHRA definition is “non-legally binding”. As the CST’s Dave Rich argued, “a non-legal definition with no legal authority” can’t undermine “legally-guaranteed rights to free expression and academic freedom”.
She also fails to admit that the definition is only a broad guide, and that, when assessing whether an act or speech falls within IHRA, “the overall context“, the definition stresses, must be taken into account, and that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic“.
The definition’s examples of antisemitism are also qualified with the key word “could”, again demonstrating that context is always the determining factor:
Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to…
Wise then writes the following:
However, if you follow the links, you see that neither the “educational event” nor the “class” mentioned were indeed shut down or cancelled, a fact that undermines her point. Moreover, even the radical anti-Zionist group Students for Justice in Palestine has acknowledged – in their legal guidebook for supporters – that “there is no known case of any university directly citing the IHRA definition to close down an event that is legitimately critical of Israel“.
Wise then argues the following:
Legislators have attempted to codify it into law; a few have attempted to attach criminal penalties to the simple act of speaking out against Israeli apartheid
The link in the sentence takes you to the ACLU’s website, where we see they’re referring to a proposed Arizona law on tracking hate crimes. Contrary to Wise’s claim, the law would NOT attach “criminal penalties” for the “simple act of speaking out” against Israel – a law that, as anyone familiar with the US Constitution would know, would violate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.
All the law (Senate Bill 1143) would do is require the state “to collect information on crimes…motivated by anti-Semitism”, using IHRA as a guide, “in addition to current requirements to report on crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability”. Whilst antisemitic speech, or any racist speech, would still be protected by the Constitution, the legal significance of the bill pertains to Arizona’s version of a (constitutionally upheld) hate speech laws, which are promoted by ADL and most other mainstream civil rights groups.
The Arizona law, adopted by most states in some form, allows for increased penalties for defendants already found guilty of criminal behavior (such as, for instance, assault or murder) if it was demonsrated that the crime was motivated by hatred towards the victim due to their race, religion, or some other protected status, etc.
Finally, in addition the errors and distortions in Wise’s op-ed we’ve highlighted, there’s one final theme in her piece worth noting: her complaint that already “marginalised” Palestinians voices will be “silenced” by the use or adoption, by social media companies, of the IHRA antisemitism definition. This is a consistent inversion at the Guardian – one that inevitably turns the pressing issue about how best to protect Jews from being victimised by rising antisemitism into one about Palestinian victimhood.
If Wise is sincere when she writes of the importance of “dismantl[ing] antisemitism in all its manifestations”, then she would have devoted at least some space to acknowledging the research demonstrating that Palestinians are in fact disproportionately guilty of perpetuating classic antisemitic stereotypes, and possessing an extreme antipathy towards Jews.
The only thing the anti-Zionist Wise seems to want to dismantle is the understanding that there’s a empirically proven correlation between hatred of Jews qua Jews and hatred of the Jewish state, and the increasing acceptance of IHRA’s foundation: that any intellectually serious understanding of modern antisemitism must take into account the nexus between medieval anti-Jewish tropes and the ways in which Israel (as the Jew writ large) is demonised.
As the late Petra Marquardt-Bigman phrased it, the Nazi’s slogan ‘The Jews are our misfortune’ should never be considered acceptable in its 21st century faux-progressive version ‘The Jewish state is our misfortune’.