Twitter was held to account for a “double standard” of censoring comments by politicians that it has deemed hate speech while allowing Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to tweet calls to “eliminate” Israel, in a Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee meeting on Wednesday.
During the meeting, Israel Jewish Congress executive director Arsen Ostrovsky pointed out that twitter has been appending notices pointing out violations of their hate speech policies to tweets by US President Donald Trump, such as one where he wrote “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“Why have you not flagged tweets of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei who’s literally called for genocide of the Jewish people?” Ostrovsky asked.
Earlier this year, Khamenei tweeted calling for “the elimination of the Zionist regime” through “firm, armed resistance” and said he will “support and assist any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime.” Another recent tweet included a graphic calling for Israel’s destruction by referring to a “final solution,” which usually refers to the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people. A 2014 tweet included nine points on “why should and how can Israel be eliminated.”
Head of Twitter Policy for the Nordics and Israel Ylwa Pettersson, participating in the meeting via video link, categorized Khamenei’s tweets as permissible political speech.
“We have an approach to world leaders that presently says direct interactions with public figures, comments on political issues of the day or foreign policy saber-rattling on military and economic issues are generally not in violation of twitter rules,” Pettersson said.
Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who called the meeting, interjected: “Calling for genocide is OK, but commenting on political situations is not?”
Pettersson responded: “If a world leader violates our rules, but it is a clear interest in keeping that up on the service, we may place it behind a note that provides more information about the violation… That is what happened with Trump’s tweet… based on the historical context of the last line of that tweet and the risk that it could possibly inspire harm.”
It is important to leave up politicians’ statements “for citizens to see what their political representatives say and hold them accountable,” she added.
Cotler-Wunsh accused Twitter of a “double standard,” calling for Twitter and other platforms to make a change.
After the meeting, the MK tweeted: “Wow. Twitter just admitted that tweets calling genocide against Jews by Iranian leaders DON’T violate its policy! This is a double standard. This is antisemitism.”
In another exchange, pro-Israel activist Emily Schrader asked Pettersson about Holocaust denial on the platform, pointing out that Facebook and TikTok ban it.
Pettersson said: “As our hateful conduct policy states, if the content tries to directly threaten or harass on the basis of religion, then that is something we would enforce.”
Meaning, Holocaust denial not targeting someone specific would not be a violation.
Cotler-Wunsh also called on Twitter to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s full definition of antisemitism as a standard for hate speech against Jews, and Pettersson said it is used to train moderators.
Schrader, however, pointed out that there is nothing indicating that in the hate speech standards written on Twitter’s site.
Following the meeting, Cotler-Wunsh said: “Twitter and other social media platforms must adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism – including recognizing delegitimization, demonization, and double standards – and use it to flag such virulently antisemitic content.
“It is clear that without utilizing this consensus definition, Twitter has no means to combat and expose the hatred and double standards,” the MK stated. “Twitter and others must be held to account lest they encourage a continuing culture of impunity on and offline.”
Twitter responded to a follow-up query with quotes from its published hate speech policies, similar to Pettersson’s statements.
The Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee plans to hold a follow-up meeting on Monday to discuss antisemitism on Facebook and other social media platforms.