Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive. Note: A previous version of this article misrepresented the central claim of the lawsuit. A previous suit by the same organization several months earlier, accused Facebook of allowing the publication of incitement to violence against Israelis.
Israeli government ‘lawfare contractor’ sues Facebook for $1b
Noam Rotem, +972 Magazine, Jul 15 2016
On the heels of the bizarre offensive Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s launched against Facebook last week, radical right-wing legal organization Shurat ha-Din filed a $1b lawsuit against the social media giant, in what appears to be a coordinated effort by the Israeli government and an allegedly NGO (more on that later). In the suit, filed in Pindosi Federal Court, Shurat ha-Din alleges that by allowing Hamas to use its social networking and communications platforms, that Facebook provides material support to Hamas in attacks on USraelis in Israel and the West Bank. The day after the group filed the lawsuit, the Justice Ministry submitted an early version of a draft law titled “Removing content constituting a crime from the Internet,” which would provide the state with additional tools to control content published on the web. The draft law not only deals with social networks, but also expands the state’s ability to control results on search engines such as Google. According to the draft law, the state will be able to submit a request to Administrative Affairs Courts to remove content from the web, an order whose purpose is to force websites to remove content upon the government’s request. The draft law allows the state to rely on “classified material” in requesting the content to be removed.
Shurat ha-Din, which was founded in 2002 by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, and which primarily operates on donations from right-wing Pindo Jewish organizations, engages in what it terms “lawfare.” The organization has filed lawsuits, mostly in Pindostan, against a long list of state entities to seek “compensation” for harm done to Israelis. One of the more famous cases the organization won damages from North Korea on behalf of a Puerto Rican victim of a terror attack at Israel’s main airport in 1972. Another of Shurat ha-Din’s Pindosi cases was against the Syrian government for its support of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which carried out an attack in Israel that killed a USraeli. It has also taken on the governments of Iran, the Palestinian Authority, and others, in Pindosi courts. The organization has also facilitated court cases in various countries around the world to fill in where official Israel diplomacy failed: stopping a Gaza-bound flotilla in Greece, putting pressure on insurance companies not to insure other Gaza-bound ships, among other pressure tactics. According to the organization itself, it has thus far won $2b in judgments against foreign governments and terror organizations. According to a document published by WikiLeaks, a 2007 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Shurat ha-Din also takes its marching orders directly from the Israeli government and its intelligence agencies. Darshan-Leitner is quoted in the cable as saying:
The National Security Council (NSC) legal office saw the use of civil courts as a way to do things that they are not authorized to do.
She even named her contacts in the Mossad and National Security Council, Uzi Shaya and Udi Levy, respectively, and said that Mossad gave her intelligence information about money transfers executed by private companies. Such an organization, which presents itself as an NGO but actually is directed by state actors, has been termed a GONGO (government-operated NGO). In a 2013 interview with the Israel-based Globes business daily (Hebrew), Darshan-Leitner confirmed that Israeli intelligence agencies directly asked her to sue a specific bank. They promised her they would supply her with witnesses, documents, and evidence. In the same interview, he explained that almost from day one she has been collaborating with Israeli security agencies, including the Shin Bet, the Mossad, Military Intelligence, and the National Security Council. According to the organization’s financial reports, its yearly budget averages between ₪3m and ₪8m (roughly $750k to $2m). Unfortunately, the sources of that funding do not appear on the organization’s website, nor in the financial reports published by the state NGO Registrar. In the past, however, it was reported that Evangelical mega-church pastor John Hagee, donated massive sums of money to the group. Other donations reportedly come from the “Donors Capital Fund,” run by the Koch bothers, the right-wing super-backers of right-wing politicians and causes in Pindostan, including opposing renewable energy, closing income gaps, and even the labelling of carcinogens.
Another of Shurat ha-Din’s major funders is the Koret Foundation, which channels donations to a long list of radical right-wing organizations in Israel, including Im Tirtzu, Magen Yehuda, Mishmeret Yesha (which arms settlers), Honenu (which until this year paid families of Jewish terrorists), the Shalem Center (a think tank behind some of the worst legislation to move through the Knesset in recent years), and others. Another of Shurat ha-Din’s funders is Adam Milstein, who gave money through a family foundation bearing his and his wife’s name. A quick search of the State Comptroller’s website shows that Milstein also gave ₪11,122.23 to Gilad Erdan, the same Erdan who is leading the Israeli government’s charge against Facebook. If right-wing organizations were subject to the same transparency requirements that Erdan and the Knesset impose on left-wing groups, it’s likely we would find more such gems. Minister Gilad Erdan has been complaining for some time now that Facebook won’t hand over every piece of information that the State of Israel demands. Out of more than 1,000 such requests for information Israel filed between Jan 2013 and Dec 2015, Facebook complied in only 52% of them. With seemingly choreographed timing considering the murder of a teenage girl last week, Shurat ha-Din has now joined the fight against freedom of speech on Facebook. Maybe the legal pressure from that same organization, with its murky ties to the Israeli government, will succeed at getting more information from Facebook than Israeli law enforcement agencies have been able to.
Israelis take on Facebook ‘monster’ with claims it knowingly incites Palestinian attacks
Allison Deeger, MondoWeiss, Jul 15 2016
Over the last few years Israel and its most ardent supporters have waged a campaign to restrict critical speech of the Jewish state on social media. They want the state to have the same rights as individuals under Facebook’s community standards. As it stands, threats against individuals, are prohibited. But smearing a nation, or threatening it, is viewed by Facebook as protected political speech. Recently, the dispute has gotten ugly. Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called Facebook a “monster” last week for not increasing its censorship. Now this disagreement between Israel and Facebook is headed to the courts. Relatives of four USraelis and one Pindosi killed in Israel and the occupied West Bank between 2014 and June 2016 are suing Facebook for $1b in damages, claiming the social media site promotes “terrorism” and “knowingly and intentionally assisted” in their deaths. The case was filed in New York federal court. Representing the bereaved is an Israeli law and advocacy group, Shurat ha-Din, which describes itself as litigating on “the forefront of fighting terrorism and safeguarding Jewish rights worldwide.” The group states its goals are “safeguarding the Jewish state,” and has special activists projects in “Defending Israel from War Crimes and Combating Lawfare and BDS.” Shurat ha-Din is experienced in seeking payment from companies in Pindostani courts over the killings of USraelis that took place in Israel. It has filed droves of victims compensations claims from terrorism-related incidents in the past. Most target financial institutions that provide bank accounts for members of Hamas or Hezbollah, with few victories. Although in 2015 Shurat ha-Din won a case against the Palestinian government’s Pindo-based mission over the deaths of Pindosis. The Facebook case is its first against a social media site.
In a lengthy complaint submitted Monday, many of the plaintiffs’ charges levied on Facebook seem innocuous. The hashtag #PalestineRiseUp and #AlQudsIntifada, the latter a popular tag for media outlets covering the region, are listed as examples of supporting terrorism. Others appear more a matter of poor taste. Line item 251 references a cartoon of Netanyahu portrayed as a vampire. However, the case will likely be taken seriously as it mostly focuses on Hamas using Facebook’s communication services. Because Hamas was designated a terror organization by the Pindo government back in 1997, it is illegal for Facebook to allow the group to maintain public profiles on its site. Facebook has a history of taken action to delete these pages. Last Tuesday it removed two profiles of Hamas leaders, according to the JPost. But just as quickly as the pages are taken down, new ones appear, a pattern that could gain the plaintiffs some footing in court. Oddly enough however, the lawsuit is not trying to prove that Facebook is careless about monitoring and deleting Hamas-linked accounts. Instead it takes leaps beyond. Most of the complaint is not about if Facebook at all: rather, it seeks to prove the killers of the plaintiffs’ relatives were members of Hamas. There is just one problem: As far as anyone knows, their relatives were not killed by people who were involved in Hamas. What is perhaps most bizarre is that Israeli leaders over the past nine months have addressed this issue and came to the opposite conclusion. The general consensus is the slain named in the civil suit were attacked in uncoordinated actions by individuals, often teens—teens with Facebook accounts, but not members of Hamas. In a statement in late June, Gilad Erdan and Ayelet Shaked said:
In the latest wave of terror there has been a direct link between online incitement and the so-called ‘lone wolf terror’ attacks.
This “wave” they were referring to includes the deaths in the lawsuit. The Independent reported that Erdan referred to the killings included in the lawsuit in Dec 2015, saying:
In the past, we could find the organizations, and send agents in and try to prevent it before it happened. Today, it is individuals making their own decisions.
Also, Netanyahu told the Likud in December that Palestinian attacks on Israelis were the product of “individuals,” not organizations, relaying this trend was a “new kind of terrorism.” In the same week as Shurat ha-Din’s filing, the Israeli government announced their own legal intervention into Facebook. They hope to pass a bill that would force Facebook to take down certain types of speech posted by Palestinians, with no mention of similar types of posts made by Israelis directed at the Palestinians. The range of what would qualify as illegal posts is anything from criticism of Israeli forces entering the Haram al-Sharif, to more severe language calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, to explicit death threats. If passed, the Israeli law would override Facebook’s ability to determine what content is appropriate and what is removable. That authority would then be turned over to Israel’s security service, who could use secret evidence in making their decisions. In instances where Facebook would refuse to comply with Israel’s demands, the law would reportedly grant Israel the power to issue fines against Facebook. As is the case with the Pindo civil suit, many of the posts Israel hopes to remove do not violate Facebook’s current regulations. According to the Washington Examiner, a Facebook spox said last year:
Language attacking a country is not considered hate speech in our community standards.
This statement was also cited in the Pindo civil suit. In other words, writing “death to Israel” is OK by Facebook’s standards, but wishing death on a person is off-limits. In the past, Israel had sought to change that policy on a case-by-case basis. Writing for the Intercept, Alex Kane found Israel has increased its requests to Facebook to remove the writing of individual Palestinians since 2013. Kane found Israel sent 585 demands to Facebook between 2013 and 2014, of which around half were honored. Then in June, Erdan and Shaked met with Facebook. Presumably the two sides did not see eye-to-eye, because afterward Erdan and Shaked said:
Facebook is encouraging terror attacks, shaming, insulting public officials and slandering.
That view is shared by a small but vocal number of Israelis who have protested outside of Facebook’s offices in Tel Aviv. In 2015 activist Rotem Gez painted red handprints on the building’s exterior. Gez legally changed his name to Mark Zuckerberg during the course of a 2011 lawsuit the company filed against him. Underpinning both the Pindo lawsuit filed by the Israeli law firm and the Israeli legislation are concerns over soaring violence during the last nine months, and the role social media have played in it. Since Oct 2015, Palestinians have killed 35 Israelis and Israelis killed at least 209 Palestinians. From the beginning of this period, Israeli leaders pointed to Facebook as proliferating the spread of attacks. It was on Facebook where the first Palestinian attacker in this current wave, Mohanned Halabi, posted his intentions, when he stated “the Intifada has started,” hours before he killed two in Jerusalem last October. Halabi was 19, and his age seemed to explain the fact that he selected social media as his final venue for what read almost as diary entries. A Shin Bet report in February said that half of more than Palestinians who had carried out or attempted attacks on Israelis were age 20 or under. Israel security agency is on the lookout for Facebook posts that can be interpreted as farewell messages or death threats. Since last October, nearly 200 Palestinians from the West Bank have been arrested for postings on social media. An IDF spox told al-Jazeera that 59 Palestinians from the West Bank have been convicted of “incitement” on Facebook. A further 100 were detained and not charged during that same period, according to the Palestinian legal rights group Adalah, which indicates the arrest net is being cast much wider than the number of persons who use Facebook to signal they are about to carry out an attack. The role of social media in inspiring violence is very difficult to pin down. Most Palestinians reject the Facebook argument all together. They say the attacks since October were a response to the hardships of living under Israel’s occupation and balk at the idea that tweets or posts are a motivating factor.