Aiming at curbing hate speech on the widely used social media platform, Facebook is now weighing in on whether or not to deem the word ‘Zionist’ under the anti-semitic narrative.
In November, a Facebook employee sent out an email reading “We are looking at the question of how we should interpret attacks on ‘Zionists,’ to determine whether the term is a proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli people.” As a reaction to this, activists have been circulating a petition calling on the platform to halt any potential changes to the way Facebook moderates the word “Zionist.”
Whilst some activists agree that the term is often used as part of racist rhetoric that is accurately described as hate speech and should be removed, others claim that the term is also used by Jewish critics of specific Israeli policies, particularly the country’s settlement policy. Classifying the term as hate speech would end up stifling those criticisms on Facebook.
Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), filed a petition in response to the proposed move that is in tandem with the Israeli government’s push for adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. The petition, which drew more than 20,000 signatures, including artist-activists like Michael Chabon, Peter Gabriel, and Wallace Shawn claimed that “We are deeply concerned about Facebook’s proposed revision of its hate speech policy to consider ‘Zionist’ as a proxy for ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish,’. This is the wrong solution to a real and important problem.”
In a statement, the Jewish Voice for Peace said: “Facebook, we need to talk — and you’re not letting us.” The organization went on to add that “cooperating with the Israeli government’s request would undermine efforts to dismantle real antisemitism, deprive Palestinians of a crucial venue for expressing their political viewpoints to the world, and help the Israeli government avoid accountability for its violations of Palestinian rights.”
On the other hand, Facebook denied that there are any plans to reclassify the word in its hate speech policy. “Under our current policies, we allow the term ‘Zionist’ in political discourse, but remove it when it’s used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis in a dehumanizing or violent way,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “Just as we do with all of our policies regularly, we are independently engaging with experts and stakeholders to ensure that this policy is in the right place, but this does not mean we will change our policy.“