Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

"Facebook must stop harming and silencing Palestinians living under apartheid and start cracking down on white supremacist groups—like the Proud Boys—that have used their platform as a recruitment site," said Lau Barrios of MPower Change. (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace via Twitter)

"Facebook must stop harming and silencing Palestinians living under apartheid and start cracking down on white supremacist groups—like the Proud Boys—that have used their platform as a recruitment site," said Lau Barrios of MPower Change. (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace via Twitter)

Human Rights Campaign Launched to Prevent Facebook From Adding Word "Zionist" to Hate Speech Policy

"Treating 'Zionist' as a proxy for 'Jew' would undermine efforts to dismantle real antisemitism... and help the Israeli government avoid accountability for violations of Palestinian rights."

Kenny Stancil

Human rights activists from around the world launched a campaign this week to prevent Facebook from amending its hate speech policy to penalize use of the word "Zionist," a move the technology giant is reportedly considering but that critics say would shield Israel from accountability for violating the rights of Palestinians.

The "Facebook, We Need to Talk" campaign "began in response to an inquiry by Facebook to assess if critical conversations that use the term 'Zionist' fall within the rubric of hate speech as per Facebook's Community Standards," Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) explained in a statement released Wednesday.

The campaign's petition urging Facebook not to crack down on use of the word "Zionist" garnered more than 14,500 signatures in its first 24 hours and surpassed 15,500 supporters on Wednesday afternoon. According to JVP, Facebook could make a decision as soon as the end of February.

JVP described Zionism as "a political ideology and movement that emerged in the 19th century and led to the founding of the state of Israel on Palestinian land," adding that "it has been deeply contested since its conception, including within the Jewish community."

In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's CEO and COO, respectively, two dozen organizations wrote that disallowing use of the word "Zionist," and therefore critiques of the Israeli government—recently described by prominent Israeli human rights group B'tselem as an apartheid regime—on the social media platform would "shut down conversations about accountability for policies and actions that harm Palestinians."

"We are deeply concerned about Facebook's proposed revision of its hate speech policy to consider 'Zionist' as a proxy for 'Jew' or 'Jewish,'" wrote the coalition, which includes American Muslims for Palestine, the BDS National Committee, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, among others.

"The proposed policy would too easily mischaracterize conversations about Zionists—and by extension, Zionism—as inherently anti-Semitic, would harm Facebook users, and would undermine efforts to dismantle real antisemitism and all forms of racism, extremism, and oppression," the letter continues. 

The groups added that "this is the wrong solution to a real and important problem: those who fuel antisemitism online will continue doing so, with or without the word 'Zionist.' In fact, many anti-Semites, especially among white supremacists and evangelical Christian Zionists, explicitly support Zionism and Israel, while engaging in speech and actions that dehumanize, insult, and isolate Jewish people."

Stressing that criticism of Zionist ideology and policies is not anti-Semitic, opponents of Facebook's proposed hate speech policy revision say that banning use of the word "Zionist" would fail to tackle the problem of anti-Jewish discrimination while also suppressing legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government's oppression of Palestinians.

"This move by Facebook would represent them actively siding against Palestinians and those fighting in solidarity alongside them for Palestinian liberation," said Lau Barrios, campaign manager at MPower Change, a grassroots movement of U.S. Muslims working to build social justice. "It would also set a dangerous precedent around Big Tech's ability to further target our movements and harm marginalized communities."

"Facebook must stop harming and silencing Palestinians living under apartheid," Barrios added, "and start cracking down on white supremacist groups—like the Proud Boys—that have used their platform as a recruitment site."

The coalition added in its letter that "this move will prohibit Palestinians from sharing their daily experiences and histories with the world, be it a photo of the keys to their grandparent's house lost when attacked by Zionist militias in 1948, or a livestream of Zionist settlers attacking their olive trees in 2021."

Neve Gordon, Professor of International Law at Queen Mary University of London, explained last year that "right-wing Zionist organizations have recently begun pressuring Facebook to include criticism of Israel as part of its own definition of hate speech."

Writing in Al-Jazeera last September, Gordon noted the following:

In July, Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs, published an op-ed in Newsweek urging social media companies to root out the anti-Semitic "virus" by fully adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

A few weeks later, on August 7, 120 organizations representing the "who's who" of Zionist right-wing groups sent a letter to Facebook's Board of Directors, calling upon them to fully adopt the IHRA definition as the "cornerstone of Facebook's hate speech policy regarding antisemitism."

This definition, which has been endorsed or adopted in some official capacity by more than 30 countries, includes 11 examples of anti-Semitism, several of which involve criticism of Israel. This is just the latest concrete manifestation of how any critique of the Israeli government and its politics now assumes the taint of antisemitism.

"There is, to be sure, some irony here," Gordon continued. "Historically, the fight against antisemitism has sought to advance the equal rights and emancipation of Jews. Yet, in the IHRA definition those who speak out against the subjugation of Palestinians are called anti-Semites."

Gordon added that "if Facebook does eventually bow down and include the full IHRA definition in its algorithms, free speech on Israel/Palestine, which is already under immense pressure, will receive a lethal blow." 

In its letter, the coalition noted that if Facebook penalizes use of the word "Zionist" under its hate speech policy, not only would pro-Palestinian perspectives be silenced, but Jewish social media users would be prevented from even "discussing their relationships to Zionist political ideology."

"We cannot dismantle antisemitism if we are blocked from voicing our opinions and sharing our experiences with each other," the groups concluded. "We can discuss, debate, and even disagree, as long as we share the belief that all of us deserve safety, freedom, and dignity. We ask Facebook to not erect barriers impeding users from connecting with each other as we engage in this work."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Watch: Bernie Sanders Argues 'We Must End the Greed of Big Pharma'

The live address comes as the Senate Budget Committee chair continues to push for including Medicare expansion and drug pricing reforms in the Build Back Better package.

Common Dreams staff ·

Reconciliation Framework 'Not Enough' to Push Through Infrastructure Bill, Progressives Warn

"We need to have a vote ready for the Build Back Better plan, not a framework," insisted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "We want to have both of these votes together."

Brett Wilkins ·

McDonald's Workers Join 'Striketober' and Walk Out Over Sexual Harassment

One striker participated because "McDonald's still refuses to take responsibility for the countless women and teenagers who face harassment on the job at its stores across the globe."

Jessica Corbett ·

Breaking: FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine for Kids 5 to 11

With just one abstention, the advisory panel voted 17-0 to approve the vaccine for younger children which scientific review has deemed both safe and effective against the deadly virus.

Common Dreams staff ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo