Silicon Valley’s pro-Israel bias and the millions of dollars the Israeli government and its supporters spend on online ad campaigns on platforms ranging from YouTube to Instagram and TikTok has not stopped global public opinion from shifting away from Israel and towards the Palestinian people and their cause. This swing in world opinion comes at a very inopportune time for Israel. The temporary ruling in the ICJ Genocide Case, brought by the non-Arab, Christian state of South Africa against Israel, will be decided in the coming weeks.
Silicon Valley is firmly in the hands of Israel and its supporters. Voices which dare speak out in support of Palestinians and their cause or who point out the hypocrisy of many in the West have been prosecuted and if possible silenced.
In a bid to influence world opinion in South Africa’s ICJ genocide case, Israel has sponsored an ad accusing South Africa of “malicious blood libel” on Google. The link on the website directs users to a website run by the Israel National Digital Agency. Blood libel is a term originating in the Middle Ages when Jews were accused of murdering Christian boys to use their blood in Jewish religious rituals.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compares the war effort to the biblical story of Amalek, when God tells King Saul to kill everyone, including women and children, in the rival nation to ancient Israel. Netanyahu’s cabinet has called for Gaza to be “flattened,” “destroyed” and “erased”.
A terrible new acronym has been invented by doctors working in Gaza hospitals and spread via social media: WCNSF – wounded child, no surviving family. Each day over ten Palestinian children have one or both legs amputated, mostly without anesthetics. Speaking to the BBC, Dr Tanya Haj Hassan from MSF said the acronym “is unique to the Gaza Strip.”
This war has been named “the deadliest conflict of the 21st century” by numerous NGOs and other international organizations such as Doctors without Borders (MSF), the Red Cross or the British charity Oxfam.
The IDF has hence resorted to taking reporters and prominent Israel-supporters from Elon Musk and Jerry Seinfeld to TikTok influencers to visit the 7 October kibbitzes, and Israeli embassies continue to screen a 43-minute video of the Hamas atrocities. Yet, most of the offenses committed by the Jewish state are not reported in the local media, says Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, adding that he resorts to media channels such as Al Jazeera or TRT “to get the full-scale picture.”
The dehumanizing of Gaza’s civilians has a sad long history in Israel. Haaretz-contributor Amira Hass confirms that the disengagement of Israeli society from covering the suffering of Palestinians started long before 7 October 2023. “There is an ignorance and lack of willingness to hear Palestinian voices for many years, certainly since the second intifada”, she said.
A report by Human Rights Watch released in December 2023 states that Facebook and Instragram operator Meta has been accused of increasingly silencing voices in support of Palestine. The 51-page report, “Meta’s Broken Promises: Systemic Censorship of Palestine Content on Instagram and Facebook,” documents a pattern of excessive removal and suppression of protected speech including peaceful expressions of support of Palestine. Human Rights Watch found that the problem originated from flawed Meta policies and their inconsistent and inaccurate implementation, overreliance on automated tools to moderate content, and unjustified government influence over content removals.
In December 2023, Meta banned social justice activist Shaun King from Instagram. King, known for his social media advocacy for Black Lives Matter, had a following of more than 5 million users before his account was removed on Christmas. Prior to his removal, King had posted strong support for the Palestinian people. Without specifying King’s violations, a Meta spokesperson confirmed that “the account was disabled due to multiple instances of praise for designated entities in violation of our policies.”
This pro-Israeli censorship comes as no surprise. Silicon Valley has traditionally been dominated by a strong Israel lobby, including Mark Zuckerberg and Google-CEO Sundar Pichai.
Swimming against the tide of Silicon Valley is one dissenting voice: New York-based tech innovator Paul Biggar who points out that the silence of the tech industry continues to encourage Israel in its bid to erase helpless Palestinian civilians. His blog post ‘I can’t sleep’ was viewed by millions. “The inhumanity of the soldiers is unbearable. They shoot civilians in the street, imprison and torture children, and strip and humiliate innocent men,” he said in the post. Sickeningly these IDF soldiers are posting their “fun” on TikTok. War crimes are being belittled and the victims are mocked.
As with many other pro-Palestinian voices Briggar was removed from his job on the board of directors of CircleCI, a tech company he founded, about a week after his first blog post.
Being pro-Palestinian has become life threatening: many face death threats, doxing and job termination with hundreds of Israeli trolls swarming out to attack pro-Palestinian activists.
Thousands of complaints of bias, requests for help and violations of an individual’s right to free speech poured in since 7 October to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In December 2023 CAIR recorded 2171 incidents in the first 60 days of Israel’s war on Gaza – a 172 percent increase from the same time last year. One of these complaints was brought by Ayah Mansour, a 24-year-old Palestinian American, who was fired from Target after speaking out against the killing of civilians in Gaza.
In November 2023 the independent online platform The Intercept reported that advertisements dehumanizing and calling for violence against Palestinians that were deliberately intended to test Facebook’s content moderation standards were all approved by the social network.
Some of these ads contained violent content directly calling for the murder of Palestinian civilians, including ads demanding a “Holocaust for the Palestinians” and to wipe out “Gazan women and children and the elderly.” Other posts, like those describing kids from Gaza as “future terrorists” and a reference to “Arab pigs,” contained dehumanizing language. One Facebook ad was explicitly calling for the assassination of American activist Paul Larudee, a co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement.
Calling for the assassination of a political activist is a violation of Facebook’s advertising rules. That the post appeared on the platform indicates Facebook approved it despite those rules. “We know that Meta has a track record of not doing enough to protect marginalized communities,” said Nadim Nashif, founder of the Palestinian social media group 7amleh.
Despite the best efforts of Israel and Silicon Valley, there has been a strong shift in world opinion towards the Palestinian cause. With US criticism of Netanyahu increasing, the upcoming decision by the ICJ will be a crucial step against Israel’s attempt to cancel the Palestinians and its genocide in Gaza. But will this prevent further bloodshed? Not if Netanyahu and his followers are still in charge.