Jordana Cutler, who is currently the Chief of Staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, and a longtime adviser to Netanyahu, has been named as head of policy and communications at Facebook’s Israel office.
The appointment comes amidst growing Israeli government frenzy concerning incitement allegations and BDS, the global non-violent movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, whose often viral presence online exposes Israeli human rights violations. Also, since October 2015 violence has surged between Palestinians and Israelis, chiefly by knife attacks. Often, these attacks, or Israel’s disproportionate response, would be captured on video, and widely shared on Facebook.
Since then, Israel and the social network have been cozying up to each other following repeated demands and lobbying by Israeli government officials. In October 2015, Simon Milner, Facebook Policy Director for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, attended the Knesset “Caucus Against Violent and Inciting Dialogue in Social Media,” chaired by MK Revital Swid, a member of the Zionist Union. Following the conference, in a letter to Milner, Swid requested that “Facebook, Inc. should immediately locate, monitor and remove pages that spew incitement and encourage murder,” insisting that “Facebook cannot detach itself from the terrorism being enabled through its network,” and called for hiring a representative in Israel to address these issues, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Milner’s response simply restated Facebook policies, and did not indicate a likely new hire at Facebook’s Israel office. Nonetheless, Facebook Israel general manager, Adi Soffer Teeni initiated the search the following month.
Forward to February 2016. Milner visited Israel to discuss plans by Gilad Erdan, Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information (Likud), to hold the social network accountable through introducing a legislative mechanism. Erdan doubled down on Swid’s demands: “If Facebook does not [cooperate], he intends to collaborate with other countries and enact a series of laws that will place responsibility for the resulting attacks squarely on Facebook’s shoulders,” Al-Monitor reported.
Surrounded by this ongoing saga, Cutler’s role remains unclear. But, we can expect that “policy and communications” for Facebook are likely to be just one aspect of her position. In fact, the social network is already a client of Shalom Tel Aviv, a communications consultancy firm, which provides “comprehensive communications management targeted to meet our clients’ business and organizational needs and objectives,” according to the firm’s website. More likely is that Cutler’s position as a diplomatic government official suggests that her role will be to bring Facebook and the Israeli government closer, in a fashion not necessarily so different from Erdan’s.
The likely target? BDS. This past Thursday, during a conference held at the Institute for Policy and Strategy of IDC Herzliya, Erdan announced in the opening remarks of a session titled “Combatting Boycott Initiatives Against Israel” that he “set up a legal team, together with the Ministry of Justice, that will promote governmental legislation on the matter,” and that “there will now be real price to pay for someone working against their own country in order to isolate it from the rest of the world,” he added.
Facebook did not escape the Minister’s remarks. Erdan welcomed the appointment of Cutler, recognizing that it’s a sign of “an advance in dialogue between the State of Israel and Facebook,” while ardently maintaining that “Facebook realizes that it has a responsibility to monitor its platform and remove content. I hope it will be regulated for good. If not – they will face legislation, and not only in Israel…anyone who harms the State of Israel must understand that there will be consequences.”
BDS has gained substantial attention from the Israeli government, not least because of a string of recent successes, including 100+ such victories in the U.S. alone, at being endorsed by a variety of large and influential associations, unions, and businesses, as well as academic, religious, and cultural institutions and figures around the world. The Israeli government has responded with a variety of measures, including threatening the lives of BDS proponents, the allocation of NIS 100 million to Erdan’s ministry budget, imposing travel bans on BDS advocates, rallying against the movement on world stages, and lobbying for legislative measures against the movement around the world.
Hiring Cutler is yet another attempt at stemming an inevitable wave of change, simply because social networks are neither a cause of BDS’ success nor Israel’s concerns. It’s more than “48 years of military occupation,” and counting.