MuzzleWatch is a new Mondoweiss column that will focus on attempts to silence the voices, actions, and campaigns working for justice in Israel and Palestine.
Mondoweiss certainly covers these issues in some depth and I will be shamelessly borrowing from this site in service to providing our readers with a dedicated space that focuses on issues such as the outlawing of BDS, conflating antisemitism with critiquing Israel, campaigns of intimidation against individuals, organizations and politicians, including coordinated Islamophobic/racist efforts, and Israeli hasbara will be addressed. We will also feature campaigns and organizations that are combatting this attempted silencing and provide information on ways to become involved. Occasional primers on media and activist literacy may be part of this mix because it’s important to understand the media landscape we find ourselves in.
MuzzleWatch was previously a Jewish Voice for Peace project that discussed similar topics but in seemingly halcyon era before massive social media monopolies, the cynical corporate weaponization of antisemitic claims, or the villainization of BDS actions. This is an anti-memoryhole space where these issues are not allowed to get lost in the current “drinking from a firehose” social media and news hellscape.
In this first column, let’s discuss a doozy of an emerging story, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been targeted, no surprise, by a “vast international operation” that leverages Facebook far-right pages to “inflame Islamophobia for profit.” As reported in the Guardian, an Israeli-based group uses 21 Facebook pages to post, in a coordinated effort, more than 1,000 fake news posts per week that goes out to something like 1,000,000 followers, and of course, generates a huge amount a digital advertising revenue, (which Facebook absolutely loves). Tlaib and Omar have been specifically targeted, 1,200 and 1,400 times respectively, in the last two years. Many of these posts amplify far-right parties vilifying Muslim and leftwing politicians.
Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology found one entity/person, Ariel Elkaras, to be an important player in this campaign. Elkaras is apparently physically located outside of Tel Aviv and denies any involvement in the project, although soon after the Guardian story was published some of the sites were removed and/or rafts of content were removed.
Omar has publicly stated that ginned up Trump claims, amplified through social media, have resulted in hundreds of online death threats that put her life at risk.
Omar isn’t having it and tells the Guardian that foreign interference is a grave threat to U.S. democracy where malicious actors, operating from a foreign country have the intended goal of subverting U.S. elections and putting their target’s lives at risk. Bigger things are thus, afoot, not just censorship, but political manipulation, subverting democratic structures, and destroying the ability to claim anything is true and leaving us, in a close paraphrase of George Orwell in a state where “the past is erased, the erasure is forgotten, the lie becomes truth.” We will fight this here.
Omar also slammed Facebook’s complacency in dealing with obvious disinformation, the clear conflict of interest is tied to Facebook making money and the simple fact of an almost adolescent Islamophobia that ripples through this supposedly world platform but really just replicates/amplifies U.S. imperial machinations. And here is where we get back to Muzzlewatch issues, per se — there is a clear bias and laziness in how Facebook deals with right-wing, fascist, far right bad actors compared to legitimate stories reporting on Israeli crimes as the journalist Rania Khalek detailed when her video of Israel terrorizing Palestinians was taken off Facebook at the Israeli government request, (and since been restored after vociferous public outcry).
Similarly, there has been a slew of Palestinian Facebook pages taken down while few, if any Israeli Jewish pages have been touched, leading the Palestinian journalist, Muath Mashalal who runs one of these “disappeared” pages, Palestine 27, to say “that the crackdown on Palestinian content affirms that Facebook has become a security institution that works on the basis of intelligence operations.”
It’s not a surprise that Israeli state interests would seek to silence Palestinian voices but the close relationship between these interests and Facebook will be closely followed as it is a dominant/monopolistic social media platform that has a vast power as a media publisher no matter what Marc Zuckerberg or his courtiers claim.
There are, of course, many other examples of censoring, silencing and intimidation. We’ll be tracking and analyzing as many as we can, counting on our readers to help us in this effort. The good news is that the forces aligned against free speech and human rights are running scared, and we’ll be providing the play-by-play as things continue to heat up.