Censoring Palestine

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Tech Giants Disappear Event Featuring Leila Khaled

Yesterday San Francisco State University was set to sponsor an online event titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice & Resistance” through Zoom. It was a roundtable discussion hosted by Professors Rabab Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa, featuring Palestinian freedom fighter Leila Khaled.

Khaled was famously connected to a series of hijackings in 1969 and 1970, but has not engaged in armed resistance since. As most readers probably know, she’s viewed as a hero by many Palestinians. Her involvement in the talk sparked backlash from right-wing, pro-Israel groups like The Lawfare Project. Protestors showed up outside Zoom headquarters, demanding that the company take action, and insisting that Zoom would be  providing “material support” for a terrorist if they allowed their platform to be used. In the end, they got their wish. Zoom denied its services for the event and released a statement claiming that it violated their Terms of Service.

The Act.IL app, which generally targets the BDS movement and is partially funded by the Israeli government, immediately took credit for pushing Zoom to act. Michael Bueckert, a PhD student at Carleton University who tracks the app online, pointed out that its users had been instructed to send emails to the California State University Board of Trustees, telling them that they “may be violating US law by supporting a terrorist.”

Just hours after the Zoom decision, Facebook removed the event page for the talk from its site. It ended up being broadcast on YouTube, but within 20 minutes the feed disappeared and a message came up claiming that the video had violated YouTube’s Terms of Service.

By pure coincidence, this entire saga occurred on the same day as a digital action that activists organized to draw attention to Facebook’s censorship of pro-Palestine voices. A recent report published by the Belgian researcher Alysia Grapek shows that Facebook complied with 79% of the Israeli governments’ requests for the removal of data in 2019.

The reasons behind such requests are not disclosed, but it’s pretty easy to guess what kind of posts might upset the Israeli government. Last month, the Palestinian-American activist and human rights attorney Noura Erakat posted about the murder of her cousin Ahmed. He was killed by Israeli forces at a military checkpoint on his sister’s wedding day. Erakat’s post was taken down by Facebook for allegedly violating their community guidelines.

Earlier this year, Facebook created an Oversight Board and announced that former General Director of the Israeli Ministry of Justice Emi Palmor would be a member. While being run by Emi Palmor, the Ministry of Justice petitioned Facebook to censor speech that it deemed politically undesirable.

“It is clear from the selection of Emi Palmor, and a review of the bylaws of the FOB, that the Oversight Board is not designed to be ‘Independent, Transparent and Legitimate’,” 7amleh International Relations Manager Alison Carmel told me. “As can be seen in the bylaws, members of the Oversight Board can have relationships and coordination with oppressive governments and regimes, as long as they disclose this to Facebook and ensure that their efforts won’t harm the company! Even though there are many qualified Israelis who could have been chosen for this position, Facebook picked Emi Palmor, who has a long history of managing the Israeli government’s efforts to censor Palestinian content and those supporting Palestinian human rights. This is a dangerous development that will likely impact human rights and freedom of expression for decades.”

For the last couple years, we’ve heard a lot about the perils of “Cancel Culture” and the free speech crisis that has plagued our universities, but it’s very clear that this alleged problem only applies to certain viewpoints. The people who push these narratives don’t care if Palestinians or advocates for Palestine are literally silenced. Their voices don’t count.

Boycott Pillsbury

Image by Miranda Kharsa

This week activists showed up at General Mills headquarters in Minneapolis to protest outside of their annual shareholders meeting. The company manufactures frozen products for the Pillsbury brand in the Atarot industrial zone, an illegal settlement in occupied Palestine.

Earlier this year, the United Nations identified General Mills as one of the 112 businesses that’s violating international law by operating in the occupied territories. Ironically, the company has endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The Atarot industrial zone was constructed on land illegally confiscated from Palestine during the 1967 War. An extremely informative Twitter thread from the user @gaychelquacker breaks down the history of that area and Pillsbury’s factory: “Pillsbury opened in Atarot in 2002, just after Israel built its apartheid wall around the whole zone. The wall & its checkpoints, visible from the 160 businesses they encircle, are a constant reminder of how Atarot helps Israel dominate Palestinian lives, livelihood and land. Shortly after its opening and again in 2010 and 2019, Pillsbury got multimillion dollar grants from the Israeli government as an incentive to hire workers. In exchange, Israel got a place to employ Jewish settlers in Atarot and therefore a justification for relocating them to the area.”

According to a report put out by Al-Haq, the factory directly impacts Palestinians who live near it. “When they pour the flour [into the mixers which are outdoors], the flour
comes into our house. Sometimes the bags of flour overflow into the house,” one resident told them.

Last month, the American Friends Service Committee put out a list of things that people can do to help influence Pillsbury:

  1. Contact the CEO of General Mills using our online form. Tell the company to uphold its expressed commitment to human rights and stop doing business in illegal settlements. 
  2. Don’t buy Pillsbury products until the company stops its production in an illegal settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory. Consumer boycotts are an effective tool that every one of us can use to influence corporate policies and behavior. 
  3. Get others involved. Ask institutions you are a member of to contact the company and boycott its products. Engage family and friends in this campaign by sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter.   

“The Pillsbury factory is located in an illegal Israeli settlement on Palestinian land. GM signed the UN’s principles for businesses and human rights – and the UN  has determined GM is violating international law,” Jewish Voice for Peace Communications Director Granate Kim told Mondoweiss, “It’s time for GM to stop profiting from Israel’s military occupation, and move its dough out of illegal Israeli settlements.”

Odds & Ends

🇦🇪 Reuters reported that the United States is trying to finalize a sale of fighters jets to the UAE by December. The Trump administration is studying “how to structure a deal without running afoul of Israel.” Pentagon chief Mark Esper has met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to assure him that nothing will be done to deter “Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

🇸🇾 The Trump administration is sending another 100 service members into Syria.

⚽ Leaked documents show that companies controlled by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich have donated $100 million to a right-wing Israeli settler organization called Elad. The donations took place over the course of 15 years and were used by Elad to buy Palestinian homes in Silwan and increase the amount of Jewish settlers in the area.

🎥 I interviewed Amir Amirani, the director and producer of the documentary We Are Many. The movie tells the story of the Iraq War protests that occurred across the world on February 15th, 2003 and the impact that day has had on our current political climate.

🇺🇸 Back in March, Congress gave The Pentagon a $1 billion fund to build up medical supplies during the pandemic. The Washington Post now reports that most of that money was funneled to defense contractors.

🚘 If you live in the Sunshine State, pretty soon you can get a license plate that says  “Florida Stands With Israel” for some reason. Last year, Florida’s state government held a ceremonial cabinet meeting in Israel where Governor DeSantis signed an antisemitism bill that prohibits some criticism of Israel in public schools.

👕 Benjamin Netanyahu apparently brings suitcases of dirty laundry to Trump’s guest house to clean. Literally. Any potential joke feels a little too easy here.

No Justice, No Peace. Stay safe out there,