Facebook has decided that a trailer for a documentary about the role played by Palestinian women in the first intifada violates its standards, at least in Israel, thereby adopting the position of Culture Minister Miri Regev who criticized the film “Naila and the Uprising” in a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
The trailer for the film, produced by Julia Bacha and the Just Vision organization, was finally approved only on Thursday, after Haaretz contacted Facebook, and less than 24 hours before the film’s maiden screening Thursday night at the Al Saraya Theater in Jaffa. After that, the film will be available online.
“Your ad was not approved because it doesn’t conform to our advertising policy,” Facebook said in a message to the operators of the Local Call Facebook page, which Just Vision helps fund. “We don’t allow advertising that includes shocking, derogatory or sensational content, including ads that depict violence or threats of violence.”
The Local Call site received this message last Friday, just a few hours after it got the ad to disseminate the trailer among Israelis.
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Immediately afterward, the site appealed the decision to Facebook, which in most cases promises to respond to appeals within 24 to 48 hours. But in this case, no response was received until Haaretz contacted the company.
The ban paints Facebook’s practices in Israel in a particularly problematic light because the company had no problem with the trailer in other countries.
“I really have trouble understanding how a film that depicts a feminist, civic, nonviolent struggle doesn’t meet the social network’s standards,” said Yael Marom, who is co- editor of the Local Call website and Just vision’s engagement manager for Israel. “What’s really sad is that instead of standing at the forefront of the battle for freedom of expression, an important platform like Facebook is generously applying the laws of censorship dictated by the right and the zeitgeist to itself.”
In Facebook’s defense, one could argue that this isn’t direct censorship, since the company didn’t prevent the publication of posts about the documentary; it merely barred the film’s paid promotion. But when the company deliberately restricts the dissemination of posts by internet news sites, this is just a softer form of censorship. And when this company is the main social media platform on which the public conversation take place, the effect merely reinforces the echo chambers that Facebook itself has admitted to creating.
Regev’s criticism of the film coincided with her efforts to pass legislation that would allow her ministry to deny government funding to cultural institutions that promote certain types of content. The film was slated to be screened at a theater that receives government funding.
“The screening of the film ‘Naila and the Uprising’ exemplifies the tied hands of the existing legal system, in which terrorists and supporters of terror are presented as cultural heroes,” she wrote in her letter to Mendelblit, according to a report by Chen Liberman on Channel 10 television.
“Freedom of expression must not turn into an altar for the sanctification of shahids,” Regev continued, using the Arabic word for “martyr,” which the Palestinians use to describe anti-Israel terrorists. “We’re committed to passing the ‘cultural loyalty’ law as soon as possible.”
Regev’s letter was prompted by a report in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth about the planned screening. The reporter, Amihai Attali, made his own feelings clear when he responded to Liberman’s report on Twitter.
“Listen, I’m not crazy about the loyalty law. But I’m even less crazy about the cursed first intifida,” he wrote. “Naila, the film’s heroine, speaks with fire in her eyes about writing some poster during the intifada. I went to my newspaper’s archives and found part of that poster, and it’s effectively a paean to the ‘heroes of the stones and Molotov cocktails.’ One of those Molotov cocktail heroes burned to death a childhood neighbor of mine, Rachel Weiss, together with her three children.
“In the film, Naila repeatedly praises the struggle,” he continued. “In the name of this struggle, one night 27 years ago, two 19-year-old boys left their homes with machetes, broke all the streetlights so they wouldn’t be seen, grabbed the first Jew they happened across and slit his throat with their own hands. That was my older brother Elhanan.”
Attali wrote that despite this personal history, he tries to see and depict life in all its complexity. “Nevertheless, it’s crystal clear to me which is my side and which is the other side, and on this, I am clearly choosing sides.”
“Watching this film opens one’s mind,” he added. “I returned to some of the scenes several times. Every Israeli ought to see it, and I only wish we could reach a situation in which even those who have suffered greatly could also look at the other side’s pain. But I’m not willing for all this to happen in a public institution or one funded by the public. I don’t need any loyalty law to exercise that healthy logic.”
To this, Liberman replied, “As you wrote, this film is important, and you yourself would like every Israeli to see it. In the reality of Israel’s cultural world, there are almost no venues that aren’t partly funded by some public body, and therefore, if you think people should see this film, it’s not a good idea to target the only place that’s even interested in screening it.”
Facebook has not yet responded to Haaretz’s questions.