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US antisemitism envoy lauds Meta ban on use of ‘Zionist’ as slur

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(JNS) Meta’s decision to ban the use of the term “Zionist” as a slur for Jews is an “important step” in curbing rampant Jew-hatred online, U.S. antisemitism envoy U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism (SEAS) Ambassador Deborah E. Lipstadt said on Tuesday.

“Meta’s announcement to expand their global policy to now monitor content that targets ‘Zionists,’ when the term is used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis rather than those who support the political movement, is an important step in mitigating the rampant spread of online antisemitism,” tweeted Lipstadt.

“It also recognizes the alarming, widespread use of ‘Zionists’ as a cover for expressing hatred of Jews in general. Dialogue between governments, the private sector, and civil society is crucial in turning the tide of rising hate, and we are proud to have had Meta and other social media companies around the table at the Symposium for Countering Online Antisemitism that my office convened earlier last month,” she added.

Meta’s Policy Forum’s update states that “Going forward, we will remove content attacking ‘Zionists’ when it is not explicitly about the political movement, but instead uses antisemitic stereotypes, or threatens other types of harm through intimidation, or violence directed against Jews or Israelis under the guise of attacking Zionists, including claims about running the world or controlling the media, dehumanizing comparisons, such as comparisons to pigs, filth, or vermin, calls for physical harm, denials of existence, and mocking for having a disease.”

Michal Cotler-Wunsh, the Israeli government’s special envoy for combating antisemitism, also praised the decision, tweeting on Tuesday that “after years of discussion,” ⁦Meta’s hate speech policies will now be applied equally to Zionists.”

The Combat Antisemitism Movement said on Tuesday that Meta’s move was a step forward in ending “immunity and impunity” for online antisemites.

“We applaud this decision taken by Meta’s Policy Forum and the understanding that appropriating the term ‘Zionists’ to hide blatant Jew-hatred has no place on their platforms,” CEO Sacha Roytman Dratwa said of the move by the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.

“For too long, antisemites have been allowed their incitement and Jew hatred by merely changing keywords like Zionists and Zionism, which is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people in its indigenous and ancestral homeland,” he added. “Meta’s decision is welcome because it recognizes this and draws a heavy red line against it.”

CyberWell, an Israel-based NGO focused on countering online hatred, said it “intends to leverage its technological tools and analysis efforts to ensure this policy is implemented efficiently and fully, and that Meta’s moderation tools are trained to effectively bar this content.”

Oct. 7 and its aftermath “brought a new alarming level of acute efforts using the digital space to spread hate against Jews, dehumanize Jewish individuals and communities and to call for violence against them,” said CyberWell founder and director Tal-Or Cohen Montemayor.

“The use of the term ‘Zionist’ to spread antisemitic vitriol while avoiding detection has been used by radicals on the far left and extremists on the far right. Today, Meta has spoken through thoughtful action,” she added. “By acknowledging the phobic nature of when abuse of the term ‘Zionist’ is meant to spread bigotry and fear, they are actively protecting a targeted minority group of users on their platform that are currently experiencing the worst wave of targeted hate since the Holocaust.”

Three months ago, the Combat Antisemitism Movement condemned Meta’s Oversight Board’s recommendation to end its ban on the use of the Arabic word shaheed, or “martyr,” after a year-long review.

“Shaheed is an honorific term for murderers. The recommendation by Meta’s Oversight Board could be seen as giving a green light for the glorification of murder,” said Roytman Dratwa in a statement. “This term is used to honor those who murder, maim and terrorize people around the world, from Osama bin Laden to the Hamas perpetrators of the Oct. 7 massacre, and allowing its usage sends entirely the wrong signal.”

For years, anti-Israel groups have argued that Meta unjustly suppresses Palestinian content under campaigns such as “Meta, Let Palestine Speak.” A key organizer is the terror-linked 7amleh – Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, which has hosted the oversight board and has been featured at Oversight Board events.

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