The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, in which the terrorist organization fired more than 4,000 indiscriminate rockets at innocent Israeli civilians, caused a surge in anti-Semitism across the United States and Europe.
For example, according to the Community Security Trust, Britain saw a 600 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents, nearly all of which consisted of language, imagery or behavior relating to the escalation in Gaza and vilification of Israel.
Cries of “Kill the Jews” and “Free Palestine” were heard outside an Orthodox synagogue in New York. A convoy adorned with Palestinian flags drove through a Jewish neighborhood in London, shouting “F**k the Jews, rape their daughters,” terrifying residents. Jewish diners were assaulted by pro-Palestinian activists outside a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles.
The common characteristic exhibited in these various incidents is, of course, anti-Semitism masked as antipathy to Zionism, the Jewish right to self-determination.
These incidents were fueled, if not legitimized, by anti-Semitism on social media. In fact, the tactics used to spread hate both online and offline closely mirror one another. Just like the assailants in major urban areas, these online anti-Semites operate under the guise of anti-Zionism. Yet for some strange and inexplicable reason, all the targets of their anti-Zionist hate happen to be Jewish. It’s almost as though it isn’t a coincidence that an Instagram post contains the phrase “Hitler❤The slayer of the Jews terorist❤ [sic]” alongside the hashtag “#freepalestine.”
As Oren Segal, vice president for the center of extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, explains: “There has been a number of anti-Semitic trends that have emerged since the crisis began in the Middle East. This is, I would say, across various social-media platforms—from Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and a range of others.” In another chilling data point, courtesy of the ADL, between May 7 and May 14, some 17,000 tweets contained a variation of the phrase “Hitler was right.”
For many anti-Semites, Zionism is simply a stand-in for Jews. This point seems to have finally dawned on people in recent months, leading Facebook to conduct internal deliberations to “determine whether the term is a proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli people.”
In response, several organizations launched a campaign titled #FacebookWeNeedToTalk, which deceitfully argues that the company is preparing to censor derogatory uses of the word Zionism because doing so is anti-Semitic. The campaign has been using pressure tactics, including social-media posts, petitions and events, to coerce Facebook’s policymakers. These organizations claim that they are trying to create a safe space on Facebook free of hate and discrimination, which, in a dose of ghoulish irony, they are the ones promoting.
These organizations cross a line by portraying Zionism as a racist endeavor, thereby demonizing the millions of Jews who believe in it. As former New York Times editor Bari Weiss encapsulated: “If you have an environment in which Zionism is racism, well then Zionists are racists. And everyone in America knows that racism is the gravest sin in the culture. And so, you should treat Zionists as racists.”
Make no mistake, the orchestrators of this campaign are attempting to manipulate Facebook into legitimizing Jew-hatred. Despite assertions to the contrary, the groups leading the campaign against Facebook are overtly anti-Semitic and support terror against the State of Israel.
One such example is Students for Justice in Palestine, a network of anti-Israel student groups operating on North American college campuses, whose chapters routinely equate Zionism with racism, white supremacy and Nazism. According to the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), SJP has hosted events featuring speeches by convicted Palestinian terrorists Rasmeah Odeh and Khader Adnan, members of U.S.-designated terror groups Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, respectively. SJP is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for spreading anti-Semitism on campus and endorsing violence against Jews.
Another campaign leader is the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM). This group labels terrorists “heroes,” advocates for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, and explicitly denies Israel’s right to exist. Similar to SJP, the fringe Jewish Voice for Peace hosted Rasmeah Odeh for an event, asserts that Israel is responsible for police brutality in the United States and praised the First Intifada, a violent Palestinian uprising that took the lives of 277 Israelis, most of whom were civilians.
So, why exactly is this campaign targeting Facebook over other social networks? After years of criticism over its reluctance to adequately tackle misinformation and hate speech, the corporation opted to significantly rejigger its algorithm to more effectively detect and combat racism against marginalized communities, including Jews. Likewise, in June 2020, the company announced that it would prohibit hate speech in its ads.
Miranda Sissons, Facebook’s Human Rights Chief and former researcher for Human Rights Watch—hardly an organization sympathetic to Israel—stated in April that “the fear that we are suddenly going to wave a magic wand and change everything about our hate-speech policy, or about our definition of Zionism, is not accurate.” She added that Facebook was merely investigating whether in “certain limited contexts” the term may be used as a “proxy for Jew.”
And that’s undoubtedly correct, as the events of the last few weeks have shown. This campaign isn’t being waged against a political ideology or a tech corporation; it’s being waged against the Jewish people.
Clearly, the #FacebookWeNeedToTalk activists realize that their insidious agenda may not be allowed to run rampant on the site. The tech giant must stand steadfast in the face of this campaign and ensure that Jews aren’t targeted by euphemisms and fancy wordplay. If the company were to cave, it would set a dangerous precedent for all minority groups on the platform who could see themselves fall prey to similarly masked bigotry.
Eitan Fischberger is an activist and veteran of the Israeli Air Force. Follow him on Twitter @EFischberger.