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Advocates Demand Facebook #StopCensoringPalestine After Platform Blocks Livestream Featuring Palestinian Rights Defenders

"When it comes to speech advocating for Palestinians. Facebook swiftly censors and removes content, often with no explanation." 

Jewish Voice for Peace joined with several partner organizations to demand that Facebook stop censoring Palestinian voices while allowing hate speech against oppressed communities to stand on its platform. (Image: Jewish Voice for Peace)

Jewish Voice for Peace led a digital Day of Action Wednesday, reaching an estimated 12 million people with social media posts condemning Facebook for censoring Palestinian people and supporters of Palestinian rights and demanding that the tech giant end its relationship with Emi Palmor, a former Israeli government official who sits on Facebook's Oversight Board and, critics say, has been empowered to "muzzle freedom of expression" by human rights defenders.

With participation from a number of groups—including 7amleh; the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement for Palestinian rights; the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy; and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign—supporters of the day of action posted under the hashtags #DropEmiPalmor and #FacebookCensorsPalestine to show how the company allows hate speech targeting Palestinians to remain on the platform despite having official policies barring the use of hate speech.

The day of action came amid outrage over the decision by Facebook, Zoom, and YouTube to censor a webinar hosted by San Francisco State University (SFSU), titled "Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice, and Resistance." The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Bay Area chapter and was set to include Palestinian academic Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, resistance activist Leila Khaled, and JVP member Laura Whitehorn.

"We co-sponsored this webinar because we believe that Palestinian voices must be lifted up and heard by people in the United States, even when those voices are critical of Israel and Zionism and may cause discomfort to some," Ellen Brotsky, a JVP member, said in a statement. "We are even more outraged that all three media platforms—Facebook, Zoom, and YouTube—caved to anti-Palestinian pressure and pulled the plug on the webinar."

According to participants in the digital Day of Action and 23,000 people who have so far signed JVP's petition demanding the censorship of Palestinian people end, the cancellation of the webinar is in line with Facebook's treatment of users who express support for Palestinian rights. 

"When it comes to speech advocating for Palestinians," the Institute for Middle East Understanding said in an animated video it posted Wednesday, "Facebook swiftly censors and removes content, often with no explanation." 

The animation showed a tweet from human rights attorney Noura Erakat, who said her post about the killing of her cousin was removed by Facebook

JVP shared a report compiled by human rights activist and researcher Alysia Grapek, who found that "Death to Palestine" and "The people in Gaza should be exterminated with insecticides" were among the messages that were not found to violate the community standards of Facebook and the company's other high-value media property, Instagram.

The inclusion of Palmor on the Oversight Board, which was announced in May, carries "grave consequences" for "Palestinian human rights defenders and ... freedom of expression online in defense of Palestinian rights," critics said when Palmor was appointed.

As The Electronic Intifada wrote in May, while a civil servant at Israel's Ministry of Justice from 2014 until 2019, Palmor led a cyber unit which oversaw the removal of thousands of Palestinians' and rights defenders posts from social media platforms. 

According to Palestinian rights group Adalah, the unit was empowered to make requests to the Israeli state attorney, who could appeal to "Facebook and Google to remove, restrict, or suspend access to certain content, pages, or users.”

"It's well-documented that Facebook regularly agrees to requests from the Israeli government to remove posts that criticize Israel for its illegal occupation of Palestinian land," said Granate Kim, communications director for JVP, in a statement Thursday. "Words as simple as 'resist' and 'martyr' are flagged for Facebook to monitor and delete. When confronted, Facebook often back pedals. But this is not enough. Instead of fighting post-by-post and for the reinstatement of individual accounts, we demand that Facebook remove Emi Palmor."

BDS leaders noted that the European Court of Human Rights has affirmed that boycotting Israeli products and services falls under the right to freedom of expression, protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. 

"Facebook must stop censoring advocates of Palestinian rights, including BDS advocacy," said Olivia Katbi Smith, North America coordinator for the BDS Movement. 

"Facebook has a duty to respect the right to boycott, including boycotts aimed at ending complicity in Israel's apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, as the right to boycott falls under protected freedom of speech," Katbi Smith added. "We urge Facebook to respect human rights and end their silencing of Palestinian voices, and to remove Emi Palmor from the Oversight Board."

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