Jerusalem Post: Jewish anti-racist activists fight uphill battle with Facebook

by SAM GREENBERG, Jerusalem Post
May 7, 2009

Facebook is allowing hundreds of hate groups, with tens of thousands of members, to target Israel via its Web site.

It is difficult to know exactly how many of these groups exist, as they can have many different names. There are more than 150 groups whose names are variations of "I hate Israel" and "We hate Israel," and over 70 groups named "f--- Israel," among others.

The largest of these groups, "How Many People Hate Israel?" has more than 68,000 members.

These groups, in their descriptions and posts, call for the destruction of Israel and death to Jews, advocate violence and deny the Holocaust (or else ask why Hitler did not finish his work).

On April 28, an on-line organization called the Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF) launched a campaign to get 20 of the largest groups closed. So far, Facebook has taken down only six of the 20 identified groups.

As part of the campaign, the JIDF wrote to Facebook to report the groups and notified its 14,000 on-line followers to do the same. Despite contacting senior Facebook officials, the JIDF received only automated e-mail responses.

Facebook did not respond to The Jerusalem Post for comment by press time.

"Facebook has very strange standards, where they are taking down some content, leaving other things up... You would think that with thousands of people reporting this material as hate material that Facebook would take the appropriate action," said JIDF spokesman David, who said he does not release his last name since he has been the target of a great deal of harassment and death threats for his work.

On April 20, the JIDF launched a campaign to take down a page called "Hate Israel" which had more than 122,000 members. A few days later, Facebook removed the page.

According to Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, even what appears to be fair criticism of Israel might be inappropriate. While there was always room to criticize Israel, the kind of excessive, extreme attacks on Israel and its citizens found in these groups could "become a demonization of Jews and cross the line to anti-Semitism," he said.

The impact of these groups extends well beyond the Internet, according to David.

"If you look at history, it all starts with propaganda. It's very viral, so it's becoming acceptable in people's minds to hate Jews, to hate the Jewish state, to promote violence and terrorism," he said.

Segal echoed this sentiment, saying that widespread anti-Semitism on-line made people more comfortable expressing these views on the street.

Facebook had provided an effective way for anti-Israel activists to organize and spread their message, he said. "Facebook has really been an important development for the anti-Israel movement," he said.

These groups are not allowed under Facebook's own Terms of Use, which state that a user cannot "upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available any content that we deem to be harmful, threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable."

Segal said that to prevent hateful material from appearing on-line, Web sites had to constantly monitor their content. The ADL also helped to notify sites about inappropriate material, he said.

It was important for people to act when they saw intolerant material on-line, since otherwise hateful messages could spread, David said.

"If people don't speak out against it, silence is a sin," he said.

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