Israeli Law Targets Palestinian Content Online

February 11, 2022

A piece of legislation that was too heavy-handed for even former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now being revived. On his Politics for the People blog, journalist Ramzy Baroud tells us “How Israel’s ‘Facebook Law’ Plans to Control All Palestinian Content Online.” The law, introduced by now-justice minister and deputy prime minister Gideon Sa’ar, would allow courts to order the removal of content they consider inflammatory or a threat to security. Given how much Palestinian content is already removed as a matter of course, one might wonder why Sa’ar would even bother with the legislation. Baroud writes:

“According to a December 30 statement by the Palestinian Digital Rights Coalition (PDRC) and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), Israeli censorship of Palestinian content online has deepened since 2016, when Sa’ar’s bill was first introduced. In their statement, the two organizations highlighted the fact that Israel’s so-called Cyber Unit had submitted 2,421 requests to social media companies to delete Palestinian content in 2016. That number has grown exponentially since, to the extent that the Cyber Unit alone has requested the removal of more than 20,000 Palestinian items. PDRC and PHROC suggest that the new legislation, which was already approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on December 27, ‘would only strengthen the relationship between the Cyber Unit and social media companies.’ Unfortunately, that relationship is already strong, at least with Facebook, which routinely censors Palestinian content and has been heavily criticized by Human Rights Watch and other organizations.”

This censorship by Facebook is codified in an agreement the company made with Israel in 2016. This law, however, goes well beyond Facebook. We also learn:

“According to a Haaretz editorial published on December 29, the impact of this particular bill is far-reaching, as it will grant District Court judges throughout the country the power to remove posts, not only from Facebook and other social media outlets, ‘but from any website at all’.”

The write-up rightly positions this initiative as part of the country’s ramped-up efforts against the Palestinians. But we wonder—will this law really only mean the wanton removal of Palestinian content? If history is any indication, probably not. Baroud reminds us that measures Israel originally applied to that population, like facial recognition tech and Pegasus spyware, have found their way into widespread use. One cannot expect this one to be any different.

Cynthia Murrell, February 11, 2022


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