The Electronic Intifada / October 20, 2020
The American Jewish Committee displays double standards toward Holocaust deniers and the far-right.
Celebrating three decades as CEO of that pro-Israel group, David Harris has heaped praise lately on Facebook and on Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor.
Facebook is being applauded because of an announcement that it will remove content that tells lies about or trivializes the Nazis’ crimes.
A summary of Harris’ career published by the American Jewish Committee indicates that Kurz is among Europe’s politicians to have impressed him most. Two years ago, Harris asserted that Kurz had shown “courage and … conviction” by declaring Israel’s “security” to be in Austria’s highest national interest.
At that time, Kurz was heading a coalition that included the Freedom Party.
The Freedom Party was founded in the 1950s by former Nazis.
Despite attempts to rebrand itself, the party has never shed the baggage of its past.
Jörg Haider, its leader from the 1980s until the year 2000, claimed that the Waffen SS – the unit in the German army which controlled the concentration camps – deserved “honour and respect.” Just last year a leading figure in one of the party’s branches had to resign because he shared material questioning the Holocaust on the internet.
Israel and its supporters used to express concern when Austria’s far-right were doing well in opinion polls or elections. In 2008, Israel’s foreign ministry accused Haider and his allies of promoting “hatred of foreigners and Holocaust denial.”
Three decades after starting his current job, David Harris has found it politically expedient to overlook how the Freedom Party is still comprised of neo-Nazis, who scapegoat Muslims and refugees in the way their forebears scapegoated Jews.
Harris was prepared to embrace a government involving those thugs because it struck a pro-Israel pose.
The hypocrisy of Harris must spark questions about how the American Jewish Committee has been putting pressure on Facebook.
In a new AJC video, Harris makes clear that the agenda he is pushing is not limited to erasing posts that deny the Holocaust. He intimated that he wishes to muzzle “anti-Zionist voices.”
In Harris’s view, these voices “only deny one nation its very right to exist and that happens to be the one Jewish-majority nation.”
Zionism is the ideology used as a pretext to expel Palestinians from Palestine in their hundreds of thousands. No state has the right to exist based on the mass expulsion of an indigenous people.
The irony here is that the AJC was against the idea of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine during the early years of the 20th century.
Jacob Schiff was among a small number of men who formed the AJC in 1906. He contended that Zionism would lead to a “separateness which is fatal” for Jews.
Schiff’s warning was prescient. Donald Trump has implied that American Jews are separate by telling them that Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is “your prime minister.”
Yet by opposing the creation of a Jewish-majority nation, Schiff would be considered anti-Semitic if David Harris’ “logic” was applied.
In June this year, the AJC tweeted it was “proud to have helped draft” the definition of anti-Semitism endorsed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Once again, the AJC has concealed some inconvenient facts.
The IHRA definition was originally drawn up as part of an exercise sponsored by the European Union around 15 years ago.
The AJC did indeed take part in that exercise and, therefore, did help to draft the definition. But the key AJC participant in those discussions, Kenneth Stern, has subsequently criticized how the definition is being used to stifle free speech.
The definition conflates criticism of Israeli racism with anti-Jewish bigotry.
Helping to draft a code which shields an apartheid state – like Israel – from accountability is not something to be proud of.
The AJC and other pro-Israel groups are advocating that the definition should be invoked when assessing what it is permissible to say and write on the internet. They want guidance on using the definition to be incorporated into the European Union’s Digital Services Act – legislation now under preparation.
Facebook is working closely with the AJC to determine what material it will delete. Jordana Cutler is representing Facebook in these efforts; she was previously an adviser to Netanyahu, a campaign strategist with his party Likud and a senior official in Israel’s Washington embassy.
Cutler has called the IHRA definition “valuable” for her deliberations.
Cutler’s role in these deliberations warrants more attention than it has received. Cutler is a professional Israeli diplomat and spindoctor pushing a definition of anti-Semitism drawn up by Zionist pressure groups with the aim of smearing Palestine solidarity campaigners.
She is by no means the only Israeli establishment figure hired by Facebook. Emi Palmor, previously a top-level civil servant in Israel’s justice ministry, now sits on Facebook’s oversight board.
These recruitments have taken place against a backdrop of censorship.
Like all corporations, Facebook undoubtedly needs some kind of oversight but that task should be carried out by people who can prove their impartiality. There is nothing impartial about the pro-Israel lobby.
David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada; his books include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel and Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation