On November 10th, a Fb worker despatched out an uncommon e mail to an unknown exterior occasion, hoping to rearrange a dialog about how the platform moderated towards anti-Semitism. “We’re trying on the query of how we must always interpret assaults on ‘Zionists,’” reads the letter, whose recipient was redacted, “to find out whether or not the time period is a proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli folks.”

That unusual however seemingly innocuous e mail has set off a firestorm in sure corners of the left. Since Tuesday, activists have been circulating a petition calling on the platform to halt any potential adjustments to the way in which Fb moderates the phrase “Zionist.” Either side agree the time period is commonly used as a part of racist rhetoric that’s precisely described as hate speech and ought to be eliminated. On the identical time, the time period can be utilized by Jewish critics of particular Israeli insurance policies, significantly the nation’s settlement coverage. Classifying the time period as hate speech would find yourself stifling these criticisms — not less than on Fb.

Hosted by the progressive group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), the petition finally drew greater than 20,000 signatures, together with artist-activists like Michael Chabon, Peter Gabriel, and Wallace Shawn. “We’re deeply involved about Fb’s proposed revision of its hate speech coverage to think about ‘Zionist’ as a proxy for ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish,’” the petition reads. “That is the fallacious resolution to an actual and necessary drawback.”

Reached for remark, Fb denied that there are any plans to reclassify the phrase in its hate speech coverage. However on the identical time, Fb didn’t dispute the authenticity of the e-mail or deny that the platform’s classification of the time period “Zionist” was beneath assessment — merely saying no determination had been made.

“Underneath our present insurance policies, we permit the time period ‘Zionist’ in political discourse, however take away it when it’s used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis in a dehumanizing or violent method,” stated a Fb spokesperson. “Simply as we do with all of our insurance policies commonly, we’re independently participating with specialists and stakeholders to make sure that this coverage is in the suitable place, however this doesn’t imply we’ll change our coverage.“

Even with out a concrete coverage change to reply to, JVP sees Fb’s e mail as a part of a broader marketing campaign to shift how the platform treats criticism of the Israeli authorities. “Proscribing the phrase ‘Zionist’ as a part of a hate speech coverage gained’t really make Jewish folks safer,” stated Rabbi Alissa Smart, Deputy Director at Jewish Voice for Peace, who stated the proposed Fb change would solely “forestall its customers from holding the Israeli authorities accountable for harming Palestinian folks.”

“Social media firms ought to permit folks to carry our governments accountable to us,” Smart continued, “not protect governments from accountability.”

The brand new adjustments appear believable partially due to the speedy adjustments in Fb’s public insurance policies in direction of anti-Semitism, a lot of them optimistic. In August, Fb altered its hate speech coverage to instantly handle anti-Semitism after receiving a letter from a coalition of Jewish groups. The revised hate speech coverage included a variety of particular references to anti-Semitism, together with a clause that explicitly categorised generalizations about “Jewish folks working the world” as anti-Semitic hate speech.

However Fb didn’t make all of the adjustments requested within the August letter. The signees urged Fb to undertake a definition of anti-Semitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). However the IHRA requirements embrace quite a few provisions that doubtlessly restrict criticism of Israel itself, classifying “making use of double requirements” to the nation’s actions or usually “denying the Jewish folks their proper to self-determination” as anti-Semitic. These identical provisions have been the topic of US congressional proposals round anti-Semitism, which had been criticized by the ACLU on similar grounds.

In a letter to one of the project’s architects, Fb COO Sheryl Sandberg stated the IHRA definition “has been invaluable” in informing Fb’s insurance policies, however left the small print of the implementation extra obscure. And Fb’s present hate speech coverage doesn’t point out Israel or Zionism.

Fb has continued to interact with teams on each side of the controversy, however the ongoing nature of the outreach has raised tempers as an alternative of calming them. Architects of the August letter have continued to stress Fb to “totally undertake” the IHRA definition, and it’s unclear how a lot sway these arguments have inside Fb.

“Fb’s updates to its hate speech coverage haven’t glad its IHRA-focused critics, whose objective isn’t to get Fb to deplatform antisemitism,” wrote activist Lara Friedman within the wake of the August letter, “however to get Fb to deplatform criticism of Israel.”

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