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Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments

In September of last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country.

The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials. Indeed, Israeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders:

Shortly after news broke earlier this month of the agreement between the Israeli government and Facebook, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to the social media giant over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement.” She said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests.

She’s right. The submission to Israeli dictates is hard to overstate: As the New York Times put it in December of last year, “Israeli security agencies monitor Facebook and send the company posts they consider incitement. Facebook has responded by removing most of them.”

What makes this censorship particularly consequential is that “96 percent of Palestinians said their primary use of Facebook was for following news.” That means that Israeli officials have virtually unfettered control over a key communications forum of Palestinians.

In the weeks following those Facebook-Israel meetings, reported The Independent, “the activist collective Palestinian Information Center reported that at least 10 of their administrators’ accounts for their Arabic and English Facebook pages — followed by more than 2 million people — have been suspended, seven of them permanently, which they say is a result of new measures put in place in the wake of Facebook’s meeting with Israel.” Last March, Facebook briefly shut down the Facebook page of the political party, Fatah, followed by millions, “because of an old photo posted of former leader Yasser Arafat holding a rifle.”

A 2016 report from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms detailed how extensive the Facebook censorship was:

Pages and personal accounts that were filtered and blocked: Palestinian Dialogue Network ( Gaza now, Jerusalem News Network, Shihab agency, Radio Bethlehem 2000, Orient Radio Network, page Mesh Heck, Ramallah news, journalist Huzaifa Jamous from Abu Dis, activist Qassam Bedier, activist Mohammed Ghannam, journalist Kamel Jbeil, administrative accounts for Al Quds Page, administrative accounts Shihab agency, activist Abdel-Qader al-Titi, youth activist Hussein Shajaeih, Ramah Mubarak (account is activated), Ahmed Abdel Aal (account is activated), Mohammad Za’anin (still deleted), Amer Abu Arafa (still deleted), Abdulrahman al-Kahlout (still deleted).

Needless to say, Israelis have virtually free rein to post whatever they want about Palestinians. Calls by Israelis for the killing of Palestinians are commonplace on Facebook, and largely remain undisturbed.


As Al Jazeera reported last year, “Inflammatory speech posted in the Hebrew language … has attracted much less attention from the Israeli authorities and Facebook.” One study found that “122,000 users directly called for violence with words like ‘murder,’ ‘kill,’ or ‘burn.’ Arabs were the No. 1 recipients of hateful comments.” Yet there appears to be little effort by Facebook to censor any of that.

Though some of the most inflammatory and explicit calls for murder are sometimes removed, Facebook continues to allow the most extremist calls for incitement against Palestinians to flourish. Indeed, Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has often used social media to post what is clearly incitement to violence against Palestinians generally. In contrast to Facebook’s active suppression against Palestinians, the very idea that Facebook would ever use its censorship power against Netanyahu or other prominent Israelis calling for violence and inciting attacks is unthinkable. Indeed, as Al Jazeera concisely put it, “Facebook hasn’t met Palestinian leaders to discuss their concern.”

Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government. Earlier this week, the company deleted the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ramzan Kadyrov, the repressive, brutal, and authoritarian leader of the Chechen Republic, who had a combined 4 million followers on those accounts. To put it mildly, Kadyrov — who is given free rein to rule the province in exchange for ultimate loyalty to Moscow — is the opposite of a sympathetic figure: He has been credibly accused of a wide range of horrific human rights violations, from the imprisonment and torture of LGBTs to the kidnapping and killing of dissidents.

But none of that dilutes how disturbing and dangerous Facebook’s rationale for its deletion of his accounts is. A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the company deleted these accounts not because Kadyrov is a mass murderer and tyrant, but that “Mr. Kadyrov’s accounts were deactivated because he had just been added to a United States sanctions list and that the company was legally obligated to act.”

As the Times notes, this rationale appears dubious or at least inconsistently applied: Others who are on the same sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, remain active on both Facebook and Instagram. But just consider the incredibly menacing implications of Facebook’s claims.

What this means is obvious: that the U.S. government — meaning, at the moment, the Trump administration — has the unilateral and unchecked power to force the removal of anyone it wants from Facebook and Instagram by simply including them on a sanctions list. Does anyone think this is a good outcome? Does anyone trust the Trump administration — or any other government — to compel social media platforms to delete and block anyone it wants to be silenced? As the ACLU’s Jennifer Granick told the Times:

It’s not a law that appears to be written or designed to deal with the special situations where it’s lawful or appropriate to repress speech. … This sanctions law is being used to suppress speech with little consideration of the free expression values and the special risks of blocking speech, as opposed to blocking commerce or funds as the sanctions was designed to do. That’s really problematic.

Does Facebook’s policy of blocking people from its platform who are sanctioned apply to all governments? Obviously not. It goes without saying that if, say, Iran decided to impose sanctions on Chuck Schumer for his support of Trump’s policy of recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, Facebook would never delete the accounts of the Democratic Party Senate minority leader — just as Facebook would never delete the accounts of Israeli officials who incite violence against Palestinians or who are sanctioned by Palestinian officials. Just last month, Russia announced retaliatory sanctions against various Canadian officials and executives, but needless to say, Facebook took no action to censor them or block their accounts.

Similarly, would Facebook ever dare censor American politicians or journalists who use social media to call for violence against America’s enemies? To ask the question is to answer it.

As is always true of censorship, there is one, and only one, principle driving all of this: power. Facebook will submit to and obey the censorship demands of governments and officials who actually wield power over it, while ignoring those who do not. That’s why declared enemies of the U.S. and Israeli governments are vulnerable to censorship measures by Facebook, whereas U.S and Israeli officials (and their most tyrannical and repressive allies) are not:

All of this illustrates that the same severe dangers from state censorship are raised at least as much by the pleas for Silicon Valley giants to more actively censor “bad speech.” Calls for state censorship may often be well-intentioned — a desire to protect marginalized groups from damaging “hate speech” — yet, predictably, they are far more often used against marginalized groups: to censor them rather than protect them. One need merely look at how hate speech laws are used in Europe, or on U.S. college campuses, to see that the censorship victims are often critics of European wars, or activists against Israeli occupation, or advocates for minority rights.

One can create a fantasy world in one’s head, if one wishes, in which Silicon Valley executives use their power to protect marginalized peoples around the world by censoring those who wish to harm them. But in the real world, that is nothing but a sad pipe dream. Just as governments will, these companies will use their censorship power to serve, not to undermine, the world’s most powerful factions.

Just as one might cheer the censorship of someone one dislikes without contemplating the long-term consequences of the principle being validated, one can cheer the disappearance from Facebook and Instagram of a Chechen monster. But Facebook is explicitly telling you that the reason for its actions is that it was obeying the decrees of the U.S. government about who must be shunned.

It’s hard to believe that anyone’s ideal view of the internet entails vesting power in the U.S. government, the Israeli government, and other world powers to decide who may be heard on it and who must be suppressed. But increasingly, in the name of pleading with internet companies to protect us, that’s exactly what is happening.

Facebook And Israel Officially Announce Collaboration To Censor Social Media Content

By Whitney Webb

Following Facebook’s censorship controversy over a world famous photograph of the Vietnam War, Facebook has agreed to “work together” with Israel’s government to censor content Israeli officials deem to be improper. Facebook officially announced the “cooperative” arrangement after a meeting took place between Israeli government ministers and top Facebook officials on September 11th. The Israeli government’s frenzied push to monitor and censor Facebook content it deems inappropriate follows the viral success of BDS, or Boycott, Divest, Sanctions, a global non-violent movement that works to expose Israeli human rights violations.

The success of BDS has struck a nerve with Israel, leading its government to pass legislation allowing it to spy on and deport foreign activists operating within Israel and Palestine. Israel has also threatened the lives of BDS supporters and has lobbied for legislative measures against BDS around the world. They are now seeking to curtail any further BDS success by directly controlling the content of Facebook users.

However, Facebook’s formal acknowledgement of its relationship with Israel’s government is only the latest step in an accord that has been in the works for months. In June of this year, Facebook’s Israel office hired Jordana Cutler as head of policy and communications. Cutler is a longtime adviser to Netanyahu and, before her recent hire at Facebook, was Chief of Staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. Facebook may have been intimidated into the arrangement by Gilad Erdan, Israeli Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs, and Information, who threatened to enact legislation, in Israel and abroad, that would place responsibility on Facebook for attacks “incited” by its social media content. Erdan has previously said that Facebook “has a responsibility to monitor is platform and remove content.”

In addition, as the Intercept reported in June, Israel actively reviews the content of Palestinian Facebook posts and has even arrested some Palestinians for posts on the social media site. They then forward the requests for censorship to Facebook, who accepts the requests 95% of the time.

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An Israeli Soldier with “Revenge” written across his chest took to Facebook to incite retaliation against Palestinians after 3 Israeli teenagers were killed. His post was not censored by Facebook and was praised by the Times of Israel.

In what is an obvious and troubling disparity, Facebook posts inciting violence against Palestinians are surprisingly common and Facebook rarely censors these posts. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald, this disparity underscores “the severe dangers of having our public discourse overtaken, regulated, and controlled by a tiny number of unaccountable teach giants.”

With Facebook arguably functioning as the most dominant force in journalism, its control over the flow of information is significant. The fact that a private company with such enormous influence has partnered with a government to censor its opponents is an undeniable step towards social media fascism. Though social media was once heralded as a revolutionary opportunity to allow regular people to share information globally and to politically organize for grassroots change, allowing governments to censor their opposition threatens to transform it into something else entirely.

What are your thoughts? Please comment below and share this news!

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Twitter censors what Israeli State Attorney asks it to

At Israel’s request, Twitter is blocking Israelis from viewing certain tweets published overseas. Similar take-down notices have been sent to other international online platforms, the Justice Ministry confirms.

Israeli authorities are taking steps to block their own citizens from reading materials published online in other countries, including the United States.

The Israeli State Attorney’s Office Cyber Division has sent numerous take-down requests to Twitter and other media platforms in recent months, demanding that they remove certain content, or block Israeli users from viewing it.

In an email viewed by +972, dated August 2, 2016, Twitter’s legal department notified American blogger Richard Silverstein that the Israeli State Attorney claimed a tweet of his violates Israeli law. The tweet in question had been published 76 days earlier, on May 18. Silverstein has in the past broken stories that Israeli journalists have been unable to report due to gag orders, including the Anat Kamm case.

Without demanding that he take any specific action, Twitter asked Silverstein to let its lawyers know, “if you decide to voluntarily remove the content.” The American blogger, who says he has not stepped foot in any Israeli jurisdiction for two decades, refused, noting that he is not bound by Israeli law. Twitter is based in California.

Two days later, Twitter sent Silverstein a follow-up email, informing him that it was now blocking Israeli users from viewing the tweet in question. Or in Twitter-talk, “In accordance with applicable law and our policies, Twitter is now withholding the following Tweet(s) in Israel.”

The tweet is still available from American and non-Israeli IP addresses, but viewed from Israel, it looks like this:

[The offending Tweet, BREAKING: Israeli Judge Accused of Sexually-Abusing Daughter, Investigated in Secret,  is here]

Because I am writing this from Israel, I am legally forbidden from telling you what Silverstein’s original tweet said. I can’t even tell you the specific legal reason why I can’t tell you what I can’t tell you.

What I can say is that as the use of military censorship in Israel has become less common and less sweeping over the years, authorities are increasingly using court gag orders to control the flow of information in the country. Often times those gag orders cover the very existence of the gag order itself.

+972 has seen Twitter’s correspondence with Silverstein, but not the Israeli Justice Ministry’s specific request of Twitter. Justice Ministry spokesperson Noam Sharvit denied, however, that Israel demanded any concrete action of Twitter in Silverstein’s case, only that it “brought the violation of the gag order to the company’s attention.”

A page on Twitter’s website explaining the practice of “withholding” content stresses its commitment to being as transparent as possible about its censorship. The company notes that it has partnered with Lumen to make “requests to withhold content” themselves available to the public.

The database of take-down notices provided by Lumen and Twitter, however, does not include the publication of a single request that either mentions or originates from Israel or the Israeli government. Therefore, it is impossible to know with absolute certainty exactly what the Israeli request entailed.

Facebook, on the other hand, provides public data about the number of requests to restrict content in Israel “alleged to violate harassment laws, as well as content related to Holocaust denial.” Facebook says it restricted 236 pieces of content in Israel in the second half of 2015, the most recent period for which data is available.

Israeli legal authorities censoring information published inside Israel’s geographic and legal jurisdiction might seem like standard practice, albeit morally and ethically objectionable. Attempting to block information published overseas, however, is more akin to the type of censorship we’re used to hearing about in countries like China, Turkey, Syria, and Iran.

In most countries where internet censorship is most prominent, the practice is most commonly associated with the suppression of political dissent and attempts to control the free flow of information, upon which democracy and healthy political debate are fully dependent. Those who want to circumvent internet censorship, however, have an array of technical options for accessing blocked content.

This development also comes as the Israeli government has declared non-violent political activists as a high-priority target. Earlier this week, the public security minister and interior minister announced their intentions to deport foreign anti-occupation and BDS activists, and make Israeli citizens whose political activism includes nonviolent tactics like boycotts, “pay a price.”

Most of the public discussion surrounding internet censorship in Israel in recent months has focused on alleged Palestinian incitement to violence, which, at least at face value, can be interpreted to be a matter of public safety. Enforcing a gag order, however, is the state attempting to control the flow of information, plain and simple.

Which is not to say that there are not legitimate uses of gag orders, for instance, to protect minors and victims of certain crimes. According to the Israeli Justice Ministry spokesperson, Silverstein’s tweet indeed included information that could be used to identify a minor who was the victim of a sex crime.

In a more general sense, however, when a state has demonstrated its willingness to use gag orders and censorship to cover up its own crimes (the Bus 300 Affair and evidence of extrajudicial killings exposed by Anat Kamm) and to stifle legitimate free speech that challenges an undemocratic military regime, it becomes a moral imperative to fight all forms of censorship.

One recent and unfortunate example of how gag orders and censorship can be used to obfuscate justice, and at the very least give the impression of a coverup, is the shooting deaths of two Palestinian siblings by Israeli security contractors at the Qalandia checkpoint in late April of this year.

Palestinian witnesses said that the two, who were said to have knives in their possession, posed no immediate threat to the Israeli guards or police officers stationed at the checkpoint. Israeli authorities, however, have refused to release CCTV footage of the shooting, and placed a sweeping gag order on the investigation and the identity of the suspects. On August 2, the gag order was once again extended until August 31 — 126 days since the shooting.

It may have been possible to justify the original gag order, which was supposed to last only one week, with investigatory considerations. More than four months later, however, it is hard not to question what it is police have to hide.


Asked how many take-down requests have been sent to overseas social media platforms, the Israeli Justice Ministry spokesperson responded:

The Cyber Division, works, among other activities, with various internet providers to remove content that violates Israeli law, including the terms of use of the providers themselves. The division acts against forbidden content like the publication of pedophilia content, incitement to violence and racism, and publications that violate judicial or statutory gag orders. It should be noted that in the terms of use of most providers, the providers themselves declare that they comply with state orders. As part of the division’s activities, a number of providers have been approached in recent months with requests to remove such content, in various cases.

Asked whether it has also sent international media outlets requests to block certain content from Israeli readers, the Justice Ministry spokesperson said: “there have been such requests in the past which were sent to foreign providers, also including [publications] that were published in Israel.”

By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
August 05, 2016

Twitter wrote to me this week, asking me to censor a tweet I had posted saying that Israeli judge, Shamai Becker had been accused of sexually assaulting his daughter. Their request originated from a demand by the Israeli attorney general that Twitter censor the tweet because it allegedly violated a gag order in the case.

I told Twitter that I would not do so because the tweet was a truthful report based on Israeli media*. I argued that Twitter should not censor the tweet because the government of the State of Israel had no right to extend the jurisdiction of Israeli law either to me or to U.S. companies.

Twitter replied earlier today with this disappointing message:

Dear Twitter User:

This is a follow-up to our correspondence, dated August 2, 2016, regarding your Twitter account, @richards1052.

In accordance with applicable law and our policies, Twitter is now withholding the following Tweet(s) in Israel.

Follow Tikun Olam @richards1052
השופט שמאי בקר חשוד בביצוע עבירות מין בבתו. צא”פ הוטל על זהותו

9:40 AM – 18 May 2016

BREAKING: Israeli Judge Accused of Sexually-Abusing Daughter, Investigated in Secret
.השופט שמאי בקר חשוד בביצוע עבירות מין בבתו. צא”פ הוטל על זהותו For the past year, the Israeli police have been investigating charges against Israeli magistrate judge, Shamai…
17 17 Retweets 7 7 likes

For more information about withheld content, please review our Country Withheld Content policy page:

We cannot provide legal advice. You may wish to contact your own attorney about this matter.



Twitter calls this “withholding” its content. I know what I call it: censorship. They have permitted themselves to be intimidated by the State of Israel, whose officials refuse to honor freedom of expression and the press. They have dragged Twitter down to the low level of Israel.

Imagine this scenario: you are a public figure in your country and the police arrest you for a serious crime. Your lawyers obtain a gag order forbidding the media in your own country from associating your name with the charges. Then your lawyers approach the foremost legal officer of the State and demand that he use the full weight of the state to enforce domestic law in a foreign country. And the State, on your behalf, bullies a foreign company into doing so. I hope you can see the absurdity of this hypothetical case.

This is a slippery slope. Imagine every tin-pot dictator (or even a lowly street-sweeper) in the world finding hundreds or thousands of tweets which accuse him of crimes or misdeeds. The dictator succeeds in obtaining the judgment of a court that silences the media in his own country. After that, the State’s leading lawyer tells Twitter that they must censor all content that violates the laws of that country.

Twitter’s decision offers a field day for Erdogan or al-Sisi or Xi Jinping. They can now go to town cleaning up all the objectionable content on Twitter. And it could involve not just foreign leaders, but any average citizen who can avail himself of the laws of his land in this fashion. Anyone may object to anything tweeted about them. As long as you can get your nation’s legal officer to take up your cause, Twitter will have no recourse because this decision sets a precedent they can’t ignore.

Here’s another analogy to consider: Israeli media are not legally responsible for what readers post in the talkback section. This is also the case under U.S. law. But the Israeli attorney general is, in effect, arguing that Twitter is directly liable for whatever any of its users tweet which violates Israeli law. If Haaretz isn’t responsible for a comment posted which violates Israeli law, then why is Twitter?

* Serious affair court system trying to hide, Ynet, in Hebrew.The judge is not named. Google translation


Novelist Ahmed Naje Faces Criminal Charges for Published Novel Excerpt

by mlynxqualey

Journalist and novelist Ahmed Naje was referred to criminal court Saturday for Akhbar al-Adab’s publication of an excerpt of his novel The Use of Life (استخدام الحياة), which passed through the censor’s office in 2014 and has been on sale at major bookshops for a year:

Naje's book.

Ahmed Naje’s most recent novel, The Use of Life.

Naje and Akhbar al-Adab editor-in-chief Tarek al-Taher were referred to a criminal court because of the chapter’s “obscene sexual content.” The chapter does indeed contain a description of sex and drug use, as do many contemporary Egyptian novels. The offending chapter six can be read online.

According to Mada Masr, the lawyer acting for Naje and al-Taher has said he will be allowed to access the case file at some point on Monday. “This will clarify when the case was filed and the court date, which the prosecutor verbally informed [the attorney] has been set for November 14,” Mada Masr reported.

Mada reported that Naje’s case falls under Law 59, Article 187, which covers defaming public morals. Naje’s attorney told the Associated Press that the author faces up to two years in jail or a fine up to 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1250) if found guilty.

During investigations, lawyers were apparently told that the lawsuit was filed by a citizen who said his heartbeat fluctuated, blood pressure dropped, and he became severely ill upon reading the chapter in the magazine. The public prosecutor then decided the case was worth taking up.

Joe Rizk of Dar al-Tanweer, which published the novel, said this attack follows a common pattern: A book is available for some time, and then a conservative notices “offensive” content within and files a complaint. Novelist Youssef Rakha also pointed out that the novel exerpt is being positioned as an “article”: “the idea is, these laws apply to ‘articles’ published in newspapers, not books.”

Naje, meanwhile, wrote in a Facebook statement on Sunday that the text is a work of fiction, not an article.

Naje’s novel, which was published last year, is a hybrid work: part prose fiction, part graphic novel. The visuals were done by Ayman El-Zorkany, and have been displayed in art spaces in Alexandria and Cairo without any apparent fuss.

The Use of Life had already met a standard different from novels published inside Egypt. Because it was printed in Lebanon by Dar al-Tanweer, it had to be imported into Egypt, and thus has already received a pass from the Egyptian censor. However, Naje said on Twitter that this “doesn’t protect the book or any book from going to the court.”

The Use of Life is set in Cairo and shifts between the past, present, and future as it tells the story of Bassam, a man lost inside a “spiderweb of emotional frustration and failure.” Sex and sexuality is one of its core themes.

Akhbar al-Adab’s chief editor Tarek al-Taher apparently told prosecutors during questioning “that he only reviewed the title of the story, without reviewing the whole text,”Egypt Independent reported. Al-Taher reportedly added “that he would not have published it had he read it.” Al-Taher was additionally charged with not meeting his duties as an editor-in-chief.

This is hardly the first such case. The first graphic novel to be published in Egypt, Magdy al-Shafee’s Metro (2008), was banned on the grounds that it “offended public morals”: the police raided the Malameh publishing house, confiscated all copies of the book, and banned Malameh from printing further copies. Al-Shafee and publisher Mohammed al-Sharkawi were both charged under article 178 and each fined 5,000 LE. It took five years before the graphic novel was republished and made available in Egypt once again.

Dar al-Tanweer has additionally seen several books it tried to bring in held up by the censors’ office, including Walls of Freedom

Many Arab writers posted notes of solidarity, including Emirati journalist Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi. On Twitter, Egyptian novelist Muhammad Aladdin sardonically congratulated Naje, while popular Egyptian cartoonist Andeel drew a single-panel cartoon in support of Naje, and the artist Ganzeer tweeted drolly that “Ahmed Naje’s writing is apparently okay in novel but too sexually explicit for newspaper.” Youssef Rakha was the most sober, suggesting that it “feels like a war on Arabic literature, which is very frustrating.”

mlynxqualey | novembre 2, 2015 à 12:01 | Catégories: censorship, Egypt | URL:


I have a piece on the Al Fanar site looking at the problems scholars face conducting research on sensitive topics (which can be almost any topic) in the middle east. After hopes were raised of greater access to and circulation of information after the Arab Spring, academics seem to be facing more repression than ever now. Foreign scholars are worried about getting in trouble or losing access to the countries they study. But I came across some cases of young scholars persevering in their work under extreme circumstances.

Lynch says he knows many scholars working “under the radar” and respects their decision to do so. Some have gone to extraordinary lengths. A European Ph.D. student who requested anonymity has been working in Egypt since 2010, researching labor relations. In 2012 he was questioned by the security services and told to “choose another country.”

The young researcher went on visiting a factory town, hiding in the back seat of a rented car when it passed police roadblocks on the way there. But “It’s been tricky to make new contacts,” he says. “People are extremely afraid of talking.” He also suffers from “the mental part of all this—the stress and anxiety and the feeling you’re a criminal when you’re not.”

“I’ve wondered every day if it was worth it,” he says. But “you don’t want to risk being excluded from the one place where you’ve invested so much time and effort, the geographical focus of all your academic endeavors.”

It’s hard to measure the extent to which Middle East specialists face intimidation because many prefer not to draw attention to any difficulties they have. “When a scholar gets into trouble, he or she thinks: if I can cast it differently, if I do it in a different country etc,” says Brown.


Tariq Ramadan @ Democracy Now on Charlie Hebdo massacre



Who’s afraid of Klinghoffer?




The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams’s 1991 opera about the hijacking of the Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, has achieved a rare distinction in contemporary classical music: it’s considered so dangerous by its critics that they’d like to have it banned. For its opponents – the Klinghoffer family, Daniel Pearl’s father, conservative Jewish organisations, and now the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York governor George Pataki, who took part in a noisy demonstration outside the Met last night  Klinghoffer is no less a sacrilege than The Satanic Verses was to Khomeini and his followers. They haven’t issued a fatwa, but they have done their best to sabotage the production ever since the Met announced it.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, capitulated in the summer to pressure from the Anti-Defamation League (and, according to the New York Times, from ‘three or four’ major Jewish donors), cancelling a live broadcast to cinemas around the world. The rationale for the decision, made against the backdrop of the Gaza offensive, was that the opera might be exploited by anti-semites. How, they didn’t say. For some reason the opera’s enemies don’t seem concerned that its unflinching portrayal of the murder of an elderly Jew in a wheelchair might be ‘used’ to foment anti-Muslim sentiment.

The notion that Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman, are justifying terrorism is absurd. The hijacking is depicted in all its horror, chaos and fear. The scene that raised accusations of anti-semitism, a dinner table conversation among ‘the Rumors’, an American-Jewish family, was excised from the libretto long ago. The Klinghoffers come off as typical American tourists, and are drawn with wry affection. In a particularly tense scene, Leon Klinghoffer baits his attackers, reciting a litany of attacks by Palestinian commandos. His version of Middle Eastern history could have been lifted from Leon Uris’s Exodus, but in the circumstances it’s a nervy speech: from his wheelchair, he isn’t afraid to confront the men who end up killing him.

Another complaint against Klinghoffer – one that Giuliani, the self-styled saviour of New York after 9/11, has predictably raised – is that it ‘humanises’ the hijackers. But the hijackers were human, and one of the opera’s chief strengths is its refusal to portray them as a collection of monsters. They are certainly not ‘glorified’ – another charge that’s been levelled at the opera. One is a brute who relishes the job, gleefully humiliating the passengers. But another takes pains to tell the ship’s captain about his family’s expulsion from Palestine. And then there is Omar, the reluctant hijacker who – as a British dancer on board describes in a hilarious aria – socialises with the passengers and always ‘kept us in ciggies’. Omar is given the task of killing Klinghoffer: part of the drama of the opera turns on his silent, anguished attempt to steel himself for this act. He dances, he writhes, he imagines himself lying in his mother’s arms, a Palestinian pietà, before finally pulling the trigger. In the words of the journalist Elizabeth Rubin, with whom I saw the dress rehearsal, he’s the Michael Corleone of the opera, who to prove himself in the eyes of tougher men has to transform himself into a ‘soldier’.

Still, you could make the case that if The Death of Klinghoffer caricatures anyone, it’s Palestinians, not Jews. The ‘Chorus of Exiled Palestinians’ that opens the opera features a group in Afghan-style clothes, evoking the vanished paradise of pre-1948 Palestine and the Nakba that robbed them of their land and future. Dressed in black and virtually indistinguishable, they’re designated mourners of Palestine, an undifferentiated mass united in suffering and thirsty for revenge. The women are all covered in full abayas, which is unusual among Palestinian women today, and was even more unusual in 1985. The men wear Afghan-style beards that, outside the Gaza Strip, are rare in Palestine. They wave the green flag of Islam, not the Palestinian red green, white and black flag that even Hamas prefers. The effect of the set design is to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an episode in a larger clash of civilisations between Islam and the West. The libretto, too, accentuates the ‘civilisational’ dimensions of the conflict. With their incantatory talk about Islam and their love of martyrdom, the hijackers sound more like members of Hamas (which emerged only in 1988) than of Abu Abbas’s secular nationalist PLF.

The ‘Chorus of Exiled Jews’ which follows is a much sweeter, more intimate piece of music. Their suffering has not been poisoned by anger, but is suffused with sorrow and the hope of renewal. The Jews wear different kinds of clothing; one lyric refers to Hassidim protesting against a cinema opening in Israel, a reminder that Jews aren’t a monolith. Perhaps Goodman’s implication is that after 1948 – when, for those who follow the Zionist narrative, their ‘exile’ ended – Jews could be individuals rather than history’s victims; Palestinians, still under occupation or in exile, have no such luxury. Still, the collective depiction of Palestinians in the opera looks like a failure of imagination.

In 2001, Richard Taruskin accused The Death of Klinghoffer of ‘romantically idealising criminals’: the Palestinian hijackers, he said, are moved by higher ideals than their victims, ideas of collective struggle and sacrifice. It’s a fair description of the libretto, but it also misses the point: it’s precisely those noble ideals that lead the hijackers to murder an unarmed civilian. I suspect that what disturbs the opera’s critics is that Palestinian suffering is expressed with such eloquence and compassion, not only in the libretto but in the score. Taruskin and others have complained that some of the most stirring music occurs in the ‘Chorus of Exiled Palestinians’. It’s a telling criticism, an example of what Talking Heads called the ‘fear of music’: the anxiety that musical beauty might act on its listeners in transgressive ways, and lead to forbidden forms of pleasure or sympathy. What appears to trouble Klinghoffer’s enemies most is that, through the force of his music, Adams has put Western listeners in the shoes of Israel’s victims.

Yet there’s also something unsettling about the chorus, something that causes us to stop short of identification. (The character it’s easiest to identify with is the reasonable and ineffectual ship’s captain, who is neither Jewish nor Palestinian.) The beauty of the Palestinian chorus is stark, brooding and threatening; in Klinghoffer, Palestinians appear condemned to inhabit a realm of perpetual struggle, where life is a battlefield and mundane pleasures are but a memory. And because life is a battlefield, the hijackers see themselves as ‘soldiers’, not terrorists, when they storm the ship – and when they execute Klinghoffer. The comparative superficiality of the passengers on the Achille Lauro – which, in the case of the Klinghoffers, has been misconstrued as anti-semitic caricature – is a mark of their innocence, their freedom and their privilege. Oblivious to the history that connects them to their tormentors, they naturally see the attack by these ‘meshugganah’ (as Marilyn Klinghoffer calls them) as an inexplicable accident: their reaction makes them more recognisable, and more believable. The contrast is perhaps too neatly drawn, but it captures a clash in perception that is arguably a strong feature of the encounter between kidnapper and captive.

Those who are afraid of The Death of Klinghoffer because Palestinians have been awarded some of its most beautiful music haven’t listened very carefully – or haven’t stayed in their seats until the end. The heartbreaking aria that closes the opera belongs to Marilyn Klinghoffer, mourning her husband with controlled anguish. The loss that The Death of Klinghofferinvites us to experience most acutely is personal, not political.



see also : The Met’s “Klinghoffer” Problem


Wallace Shawn on Artistic Solidarity: As Glenn Greenwald Can’t Return to U.S., I Took My Play to Him

Glenn Greenwald

The BBC censors the word “Palestine”

This press release from the Palestine Campaign beggars belief…

for immediate release: 31st January 2012 *
*BBC Trust rules in favour of censoring ‘Palestine’

The BBC has admitted it was ‘overcautious’ in editing the word ‘Palestine’ from an artist’s performance on Radio 1Xtra and has said it is ‘looking to learn’ from the way it handled the situation.

However, in a ruling released today (31/01/12), the BBC Trust said the final content that was broadcast on the Charlie Sloth Hip Hop M1X – a music programme – was not biased and therefore did not breach its editorial guidelines.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has spent eight months trying to find out why the decision was made to censor the lyrics of a freestyle performance by the rapper, Mic Righteous. Appearing on the Charlie Sloth show in February 2011, he sang: ‘I can scream Free Palestine for my beliefs’.

BBC producers replaced the word ‘Palestine’ with the sound of breaking glass, and the censored performance was repeated in April on the same show.

Amena Saleem, of PSC, said: ‘In its correspondence with us, the BBC said the word Palestine isn’t offensive, but ‘implying that it is not free is the contentious issue’, and this is why the edit was made.

‘Putting aside the BBC’s ignorance of international law, which states unambiguously that Palestine is under occupation, we have argued that this decision clearly shows the BBC’s bias against Palestine. Unable to counter this point, the BBC Trust has moved the goalposts and decided to look at the censored content that was broadcast in February and April 2011.

‘And the Trustees have decided that the content from which the word ‘Palestine’ had been edited was not biased against Palestine. This level of manipulation and duplicity would not be out of place in Catch 22.’

Ms Saleem added: ‘It’s a great shame that, in the year of the Arab Spring when the BBC was covering the struggle of millions of people for freedom, it remained wedded to its institutionalised bias against the Palestinians and refused to even recognise the fact of their occupation.’

In May 2011, 19 artists, MPs, academics and lawyers signed a letter to the Guardian protesting at the edit as ‘an attack on the principles of free speech’. Signatories included the director Ken Loach, and comedians Mark Thomas, Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel and Alexei Sayle. Ends

Media contact: Amena Saleem
T: 020 7700 6192


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