Jews pressure Facebook over Palestinian page

March 31, 2011

(RNS) Facebook shut down a "Third Palestinian Intifada" page and similar
groups this week, prompted by complaints from Jewish groups that the
content had crossed the line from free speech to violent incitement.


The campaign has raised questions about whether Facebook should be
used to facilitate some popular uprisings but not others, and even
whether Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lost touch with his
family's Jewish roots.


Inspired by the successful use of social media to fuel popular
protests in Egypt and elsewhere, the intifada fan page had amassed more
than 300,000 "likes" from users for its proposed May 15 uprising before
disappearing Tuesday (March 29).


Facebook, which has more than 500 million users worldwide, prohibits
content that is "hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites
violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence."


The intifada page was permitted as long as the creators maintained a
theme of peaceful protest and deleted violent postings. But as the
controversy grew, with Israeli officials and Jewish groups urging
Facebook to take down the pages, the content deteriorated.


The Anti-Defamation League, which had criticized Facebook's initial
decision to permit the page, applauded the company's reversal.


"We hope that they will continue to vigilantly monitor their pages
for other groups that call for violence or terrorism against Jews and
Israel," said the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman. "We look
forward to continuing our dialogue with Facebook on issues of mutual
concern, including hate speech, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism."


The dispute has resurrected long-simmering concerns among some
groups over Zuckerberg's perceived lack of solidarity with the Jewish
people.


Zuckerberg was raised in a Jewish home and belonged to Alpha Epsilon
Pi, a historically Jewish fraternity, before dropping out of Harvard
University in 2004. He has since described himself as an atheist,
however, and his longtime girlfriend is not Jewish.


Even before the intifada controversy, users had already created
several Facebook sites about Zuckerberg's religion, including "Join us
to tell Mark Zuckerberg about his moral duty to support Israel" and "Why
is Mark Zuckerberg a self-hating Jew?"


None of the official requests to Zuckerberg regarding the intifada
page had tried appealing to his Jewish roots.


"ADL does not make appeals based on a person's religious identity,"
explained Deborah Lauter, the ADL's civil rights director, in a
statement. "We have appealed to Mark Zuckerberg -- and his colleagues --
in their professional capacities, including their sense of reason,
decency and fairness."


In 2009, prompted by the existence of Holocaust-denial groups on the
site, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs accused Facebook of
creating "an anti-Semitic policy platform where the only explicitly
allowed hate is that, within certain parameters, directed against Jews."


The first Palestinian intifada began in 1987; the second uprising
began in 2000. The proposed third intifada date is May 15, which
Palestinians mourn as Nakba Day, or Catastrophe Day, marking the day
after the 1948 establishment of Israel, when hundreds of thousands of
Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes.