As Twitter censorship is revealed, will Palestine remain canceled?

As Twitter censorship is revealed, will Palestine remain canceled?

Twitter’s secret blacklists are being revealed in the new Twitter Files releases. Will the project also investigate Twitter’s suppression of Palestinian content?

Twitter’s former chief censor Yoel Roth is an Israel partisan who has tweeted against criticism of Israel and denigrated a Christian band

One of the journalists investigating Twitter’s censorship, Bari Weiss, has been called a “Zionist fanatic of near-unhinged proportions” – and says she “happily plead[s] guilty as charged.” Weiss has a history of working to cancel people and suppress negative facts about Israel…

Weiss attended a program in Israel that trains “cadres” of Jewish Americans to bring societal change in the U.S.

See updates on recent Twitter censorship on Palestine at end of article

By Alison Weir

For years, Twitter has been de-platforming various accounts. The most famous (or infamous) were the U.S. President and the New York Post, founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, but there were also many others. As I will describe below, among these have been Palestinians.

In addition, many people believed that Twitter was “shadow banning” some accounts: secretly impeding the reach and visibility of their information. Twitter officials denied this on numerous occasions, including in testimony before Congress.

As a result of its censorship, billionaire Elon Musk recently bought the company with the stated intention of returning Twitter to its free speech beginnings.

As part of that effort, Musk has started releasing Twitter files that reveal the inner workings of Twitter’s censorship process: first to Matt Taibbi, next to Bari Weiss, and third to Michael Shellenberger. In an ongoing process, the three have been posting their findings in long Twitter threads (links below article).

These threads have provided a case study in behind-the-scenes social-media manipulation. Among the facts that have so far been exposed are two particularly significant areas of information:

 • That despite their public denials, Twitter officials had, indeed, been shadow banning people. The process was called “visibility filtering” and consisted of creating various blacklists of accounts and associated subject matter to suppress. Twitter officials had lied about this repeatedly.

A small group of Twitter officials, often without the knowledge of Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, were placing some accounts and information in categories like “trends blacklist,” “search blacklist,” and “do not amplify.” One backlist target was a top medical expert posting recommendations dissenting from the government’s official Covid policies. One of the main Twitter executives censoring accounts was 33-year-old Yoel Roth, Global Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter.

 • That federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies had been colluding in, and at times virtually directing, Twitter’s censorship.

Roth and other Twitter officials were having regular meetings with such agencies as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and it appears that many other federal agencies were also meeting with Twitter censors. Between January 2020 and November 2022, there were over 150 emails between the FBI and Roth.

The mainstream press has largely ignored, mischaracterized, and/or criticized this effort to inform the general public of what is actually a major exposé on censorship and election interference. This is unsurprising given the corporate media’s own record of suppression and spin.

Many other Americans, however, have applauded the effort, asking that Twitter expand the project to reveal all the accounts and topics being censored. (For example, some are calling on the project to investigate its allegedly lax attention to child pornography on the site, and Musk has announced that its removal is a top priority.)

Twitter suppression of Palestinian content

For years one of the main areas of social media censorship has concerned Israel-Palestine. Numerous groups have documented Twitter’s suppression of Palestinians’ accounts, reporting that big tech often did this at the behest of the Israeli government (for details see this.)

Gaza, 2014, during one of Israel’s wars on one of the world’s poorest populations. (photo)

In addition to the outright and publicly known instances of Palestinian accounts being suspended and taken down (both individual and media accounts), there there have also been indications that Twitter was shadow banning accounts.

Among the suspected targets, in addition to Palestinians, are people supportive of Palestinian rights, critical of the Israel lobby (including some of the lobby’s actions to foment the disastrous Iraq war and to procure approximately $20 million from the U.S. per day disbursed on behalf of Israel), and critical of such Israeli actions as stealing U.S. technology and its lethal attempt to sink a U.S. Navy ship with all men aboard.

Wounded Liberty crewmen on ship
USS Liberty crew wounded during Israeli attack that killed 34 and injured 174. This has been covered up for decades.

One of Twitter’s top censors, Yoel Roth, has already emerged in the files as central to many of the decisions to censor.

One of Roth’s tweets bemoans people “talking shit about Israel on Facebook.” Another says he has “very limited patience for people who deploy the phrase ‘the Israel lobby.'” (He also disparaged Americans who don’t live on the coasts – he recently deleted this tweet – and occasionally denigrates Christians, commenting that learning a popular rock band was Christian made him feel “dirty.”)

Roth is clearly very connected to Israel. He often tweeted about visiting Israel with his family, his sister had her wedding there, his grandmother lives in Israel, and some of his tweets seem to suggest that Roth himself is also an Israeli citizen. This in itself is certainly not an indication of bias, and there is a sizable minority of Israeli individuals and organizations that openly oppose Israeli occupation and violence against Palestinians.

However, what these connections to Israel do indicate is that Roth should be fully aware of Israeli human rights violations, especially since they’re frequently covered in Israeli media. Yet searches of his tweets show no sign he’s spoken out against them, despite an apparent focus on social justice in the U.S. He references Palestinian rockets at one point, but makes no mention of the Israeli subjugation of Palestinians present in Israel itself or in the occupied territories.

Yoel Roth, Global Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter, tweeted he had “very limited patience for people who deploy the phrase ‘the Israel lobby’” and bemoaned people “talking shit about Israel.” (photo)

Will Israel continue to be shielded?

But will Musk and the team of journalists be willing to investigate Twitter’s censorship on Palestinians? There are some potential obstacles.

First is the most obvious one. The pro-Israel lobby is one of the nation’s most powerful special interests. Few people want to get on its wrong side.

Second is relationships with Israel and Israel partisans. A recent photo of Musk shared on Twitter showed Musk with his friend Ari Emanuel, son of a former Irgun terrorist and brother of Rahm Emanuel, who volunteered with the IDF. On top of this, Teslas are sold widely in Israel and Musk once had a personal meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his private residence. However, Musk has had at least one disagreement with Israel over Tesla, and his overall position is not clear. (There are many Israelis working in Silicon Valley, with about 60,000-100,000 in the Bay Area, and personal connections can easily affect the climate on such hot-button issues.)

Third, and most potentially problematic, is the fact that one of the small team of journalists working on the Twitter Files project, Bari Weiss, has a history as a devoted Israel partisan who has in the past worked to suppress information.

Vanity Fair reports: “She is an ardent Zionist, and has come to believe that much of the anti-Zionist talk on the left is tantamount to anti-Semitism.” When Andrew Sullivan described her as a “Zionist fanatic of near-unhinged proportions,” Bari responded: “happily plead guilty as charged.”

Bari Weiss, Cancel / Cancel Not

Bari Weiss speaks on the “cancer” of antisemitism in America;”The far right is waging a war on our bodies; the far left is waging a war on our souls.” The speech was at a Jewish National Fund event on May 10, 2019. The JNF was founded in 1901 at the fifth World Zionist Congress as part of the project to replace the population of Palestine, which was then about 80 percent Muslim and 15 percent Christian, with an exclusively Jewish population. (photo)

When considering Bari Weiss, it’s necessary to examine how her philosophical stance has outwardly seemed contradictory, but, underneath, her actions appear to be based on a single, fundamental motivation. Also, as we will see, her actions sometimes parallel the strategies of an Israel-based program she attended whose goal is to bring change in the U.S.

In recent years, Weiss has endeavored to position herself as a leader in the growing anti-cancel, anti-censorship movement.

While Weiss has now joined those focused on defending individuals who’ve been unfairly “cancelled,” this is a relatively new theme for her. In the past Weiss was the one doing the cancelling (and this sometimes continues).

Her targets have often been Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, but many others of diverse races, religions and ethnicities have also been attacked. The common denominator has been support for Palestinian human rights.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald observed of Weiss in 2017: “Her relatively short career as a writer and activist has been overwhelmingly devoted to one issue: a defense of the Israeli government and a corresponding smear campaign against its critics.”

Below are some examples of Weiss’ actions:

• After going to Israel to live for a year, she attended Columbia University, where she tried to cancel a group of professors. The Guardian reports that Weiss “led a campaign that accused a group of professors of bias against Jewish students, and even assisted in a documentary on that theme. Columbia conducted a lengthy and costly investigation on these charges and found the allegations baseless.”  More on this here.

• During that time she also worked to take down Lisa Anderson, dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and a renowned Middle East scholar.

• Weiss was involved in an attempt to ruin the academic career of a rising Palestinian-American professor, Nadia Abu El-Haj, “for the crime of writing a book questioning the archeological claims of the Israeli government.”

• She attacked a pro-Palestinian African-American Congressman as being allegedly antisemitic, despite abundant evidence that he was not.

• She called Tulsi Gabbard, a military veteran who often opposes militarism, an “Assad toady” who is a “mother load of bad ideas.”

• In 2019 she praised an over the top column condemning a campus invitation to Jewish-American cartoonist Eli Valley that compared his work to Nazi propaganda. Valley is known for satirizing Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its ruthless attacks on Gaza.

• She authored a book that disparaged non-Zionist Jewish Americans as “antisemitic.” Journalist Philip Weiss described it as “’cancel culture’ on steroids.” He noted that her weapons are “censorship and suppression.”

• She “smeared anti-Zionists with the kind of attacks she calls McCarthyism when used on her, for instance saying they’re as dangerous as white nationalists.” – Mondoweiss

• She used her position at the New York Times to systematically bar any op-ed or letter to the editor contrary to the orthodoxy of the pro-Israel establishment she represents.”

Weiss’ world emphasizes Israel

In Weiss’s Israel-centric world view, fundamental facts are largely ignored or misrepresented.

Following are some examples: that Israel was established through a war of ethnic cleansing against the majority inhabitants of the land that zionists desired for a Jewish state; that Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, are living in the virtual prisons that Gaza and the West Bank have become; that many of them are refugee families whose lands and homes were stolen by Israel in 1948 and 1967; that it is Israel that is the prime purveyor of violence in the “conflict” and is the party that most often initiates it.

Bari Weiss speaks at a World Zionist Organization event in 2012. The WZO was founded in 1897 at the first Zionist Congress. The finances of the WZO were conducted by the Jewish Colonial Trust, and acquisition of land was conducted by the Jewish National Fund. (photo)

In Weiss’s often hyperbolic, inaccurate assertions, Palestinians who fight back are “terrorists,” and those who support them are “antisemites.” Yet, despite her fervent identification with Israel, she positions herself as a moderate and voices support for a “two-state solution.”

This position may sound reasonable, fair, and Palestinian-friendly. However, many informed analysts now consider this long-discussed compromise an impossibility due to Israel’s continual settlement expansion on Palestinian land. In addition, an examination of this alleged “two-state solution” reveals that it would consist of one state, Israel, on approximately 90 percent (or more) of the land, and a second, barely viable state, Palestine, on the remainder – possibly consisting of several noncontiguous areas.

Which lives matter?

For Weiss, it appears, Israeli lives matter, while Palestinian lives often do not. A May 8th tweet by Weiss is indicative of her outlook.

In it, Weiss refers to “weeks of terror attacks in Israel during which 15 people were murdered.” She ignores the many more Palestinians killed during the same time and before.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • 18 Israelis tragically died during May 5 through March 24. During that time 26 Palestinians also tragically died, including a one-year-old.
  • If we extend the range back to March 1, it turns out that 35 Palestinians had been killed, and 18 Israelis.
  • If we extend the range back to the beginning of the year, it turns out that 48 Palestinians had been killed and 19 Israelis.*
  • If we look at those killed in the previous year, we find that 279 Palestinians had been killed and 13 Israelis.

In the days following Weiss’ tweet, Israeli forces killed over 100 Palestinians, including an American journalist and a number of children and toddlers. Weiss did not tweet about these deaths. One Israeli was also killed, an invading soldier.

Commitment to Israel seems central to Weiss’ identity, and she has spent considerable time there. Her first extended stay was living for a gap year in Israel after high school, studying at a feminist yeshiva and at Israel’s Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It appears that this was in 2002-2003.

During that time Israeli forces were brutally putting down a major Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation called the Second Intifada.  In 2002 and 2003 the Israeli military killed 1,621 Palestinians, 342 of them children, while Palestinian resistance fighters killed 185 Israelis, 66 of them children.

During the time, Israeli forces killed 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie, killed British UN official Iain Hook, shot 21-year-old British photographer Tom Hurndal in the head as he was trying to help Palestinian girls under Israeli fire (he died after an 11 month coma), and attacked 24-year-old American peace activist Brian Avery, shattering his face (he survived but has undergone years of surgery to put his face back together).

Internet searches failed to turn up any mentions by Weiss of any of these deaths in her many articles and speeches about Israel, despite the fact that the incidents were covered by Israeli media and there was significant dissent in Israel while she was presumably there.

Rachel Corrie, 23, an American peace activist killed by Israeli forces in 2003, at or very near the time Bari Weiss was living in Israel.

Israel-trained ‘cadres’ influence change in the U.S.

By her own admission, Weiss got involved in journalism through her pro-Israel activism during college (described above). She indicates that her later decision to move from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times was to expand her reach on Israel.

Weiss made her debut in journalism on an Israeli newspaper following her graduation from Columbia. She was living in Israel on a Dorot Fellowship, an extraordinary program whose goal is to train young Jewish Americans in Israel to bring societal change in the U.S. This is to be accomplished, according to its website, by “seeding the community with a cadre of outstanding young lay leaders.”

The program, a project of the $91million Dorot Foundation, “provides the tools, mentorship, financial resources, time, and space for self-exploration that allows individuals to achieve their potential as agents of social change.” Among other things, Fellows “return to their communities with a sophisticated understanding of the socio-political reality in Israel.”

“Upon returning from Israel, the website states, “Fellows are warmly welcomed into the DFI Alumni Network, a group of more than 400 who are eligible to receive financial awards, personal development stipends, ongoing communal learning, networking opportunities, and countless other resources.”

Dorot boasts: “For more than three decades, the Dorot Fellowship has been empowering cadres of individuals who have shaped the American Jewish landscape and beyond” through such actions as “write for top-tier publications,” “ignite social movements,” and “publish books.”

Weiss has been an exemplary Dorot alum.

Among other things, she’s held top positions at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, published a book on “How to Fight Antisemitism” (the launch party was covered in detail by New York magazine and featured such luminaries as the publisher of the New York Times, the chair of ViacomCBS, and an MSNBC anchor), been interviewed on major TV and Internet programs, become a prominent influencer in a new social movement, received diverse awards, and was listed number seven in the Jerusalem Post’s “50 most influential Jews of 2019″ (well ahead of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who tied for 15).

Not everyone, however, is impressed with Weiss. While Weiss’s recent articles on cancel culture are often valid, her claims frequently come across as overstated and hypocritical to those familiar with her history.

Glenn Greenwald describes her as “a writer who thrives on cheap, easy, and superficial ‘controversy,’ who sees herself as a brave intellectual dissident as she is continually celebrated by and gets promoted within the most mainstream media circles.”

Political commentator Krystal Ball notes:

“There is no issue of legitimate inquiry which is more likely to get you ‘cancelled’ than support for Palestinian rights. That Bari Weiss, an intellectual architect of that regime of censorship, has the audacity to ‘self-expel’ and cry cancellation is outrageously hypocritical.”

Weiss’ selective opposition to cancel culture position, while presumably often sincere, may have an additional motivation. Like the original neocons before her (leftists who became ‘conservatives’ when the left began to support Palestinian rights), Weiss’ new persona may have as much to do with her Israel agenda as with devotion to free speech – particularly since she advocates for a country that has long practiced official censorship.

There are indications that Weiss has received special treatment at Twitter according to a recent report. According to Twitter employees, Weiss “was given access to Twitter’s employee systems, added to its Slack, and given a company laptop.”

The level of access to Twitter systems given to Weiss is typically given only to employees, one of the people familiar said, though it doesn’t seem she is actually working at the company. Matt Taibbi, the other newsletter writer through whom Musk has released the Twitter files, didn’t seem to receive this degree of access, the person added. – Business Insider

On the day that Weiss published her first Twitter Files entry – guaranteed to receive voluminous traffic – Weiss launched a new, apparently abundantly-funded anti-censorship media company that features a number of valuable writers in the field.

It appears that Weiss continues to be on a roll. This could have significant consequences.

If Weiss does manage to leap to the front of the anti-cancel movement, as it appears she’s attempting, her outsized influence could cause other participants to defer to her on Israel-Palestine and steer them away from opposing the cancellation of Palestinians and of those who support their inalienable rights.

The first test will be what the Twitter Files project decides to investigate, and what it does not.

*Two of these “Israeli” deaths were actually foreign workers.

UPDATE: Since this report was published, Twitter took two actions to suppress information on Palestinians:

  • Twitter suspended a major Palestinian White House journalist.
  • If Americans Knew recently attempted to run a Twitter promotion of an important news report by two respected Israeli journalists published by a major Israeli newspaper: Israeli guards called him “the Christian” to insult him, then beat him some more – Since Israelis learned this thoroughly reported, factual information, we felt that Americans, whose government gives Israel billions of their tax money every year, should also learn of it. Without informing us, Twitter stopped the ad. When we discovered this, Twitter claimed the ad violated their “Inappropriate Content policy.”

Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew, president of the Council for the National Interest, and author of Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel. She first spent time in Gaza and the West Bank in early 2001 as a freelance journalist.


TWITTER FILE THREADS (updated as new threads are posted)

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