How Israel’s ‘Facebook Law’ Threatens Free Speech

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In 2016, Gideon Sa’ar introduced a bill to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) that would have expanded the government’s authority to censor online content; the Israeli prime minister, Sa’ar’s political rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the legislation. Now, in 2022, Gideon Sa’ar serves as Israel’s minister of justice and he is attempting to push a similar bill. Known informally as Israel’s ‘Facebook Law,’ the current legislation would grant Israeli district courts the power to deem online content unsuitable for publication. According to a January 2022 report by Ramzy Baroud for the Jordan Times, the Israeli government could restrict online content that is deemed “inflammatory” on the grounds that such content is harmful to “the security of the state” or “the security of the public.” The proposed law jeopardizes internet freedom and freedom of speech, especially for Palestinians and Palestinian human rights organizations, Baroud reported.

Critics refer to this bill as the ‘Facebook Law’ because it targets online content on social media sites including but not limited to Facebook. Two groups, the Palestinian Digital Rights Coalition and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations, have tracked Israeli censorship of Palestinian content online since 2016, when Sa’ar introduced the first version of his bill. In a joint statement responding to the newly proposed legislation, the two groups reported that Israel’s Cyber Unit has requested the removal of more than 20,000 Palestinian items. As Baroud reported, according to the two organizations, the new legislation “would only strengthen the relationship between the Cyber Unit and social media companies.”

Palestinians already face threats for online activism even without enactment of Israel’s Facebook Law. Facebook routinely censors Palestinian content, Baroud reported. A Human Rights Watch spokesperson, Deborah Brown, said that “Facebook has suppressed content posted by Palestinians and their supporters speaking out about human rights issues in Israel and Palestine.”

Independent outlets, including CounterPunch and the Middle East Monitor, republished Baroud’s Jordan Times report, but as of April 2022 major establishment newspapers in the United States do not appear to have covered Israel’s Facebook law, an omission that could be interpreted as further evidence of how strong ties between the United States and Israel slant US news coverage of Israel and Palestine in favor of Israeli policies.

Source: Ramzy Baroud, “How Israel’s ‘Facebook Law’ Plans to Control All Palestinian Content Online,” Jordan Times, January 18, 2022.

Student Researcher: Eli Rankin (Saint Michael’s College)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (Saint Michael’s College)