Friday, January 18, 2013

Gatestone Update :: Khaled Abu Toameh: Facebook's "Accidental Mistake" and Free Speech in the Arab World, and more



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Facebook's "Accidental Mistake" and Free Speech in the Arab World

by Khaled Abu Toameh
January 18, 2013 at 5:00 am
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Many Palestinian journalists, and those in the Middle East, are forced to use Facebook to publish what their own media will not accept. But the problem becomes worse when Facebook itself starts removing material that bothers dictatorships and tyrants. One can only hope that the same Facebook employee who "accidentally" removed the article will make the same mistake and and close down the accounts belonging to terrorist organizations and their leaders. It is the duty of Facebook and Western societies to side with those seeking freedom, and not to be complicit in suppressing there voices.
"All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship." — George Bernard Shaw
Earlier this week, Facebook closed down this writer's account for "security reasons," arguing that he had posted an item that violates its terms of use.
Twenty-four hours later, Facebook issued a "sincere apology" and said that a member of its team had "accidentally removed something you posted on Facebook. This was a mistake."
Although Facebook did not say which "problematic" item had prompted it to take such a drastic measure, apparently it was referring to an article that had been published by Gatestone Institute: The Palestinian Authority's Inconvenient Truths.
Facebook's move came at a time when Arab dictatorships in general, and the Palestinian Authority in particular, have been cracking down on Facebook users.
During the past year alone, a number of Palestinian journalists and bloggers were arrested by Western-funded Palestinian Authority security services in the West Bank for criticizing the PA leadership on their Facebook pages.
Among those detained was Esmat Abdel Khaleq, a university lecturer in journalism. She was held in detention for two weeks for posting comments on her Facebook page that allegedly insult Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Many Palestinian journalists, and those in the Middle East, are forced to use Facebook to publish what their own media will not accept. The media in the West Bank is mostly controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which has repeatedly demonstrated a large degree of intolerance toward any form of criticism. The same applies, of course, to most Arab dictatorships.
Arab governments have obviously become wary of the use their critics are making of Facebook to air their grievances and opinions. In some countries, including the Palestinian Authority, intelligence services have set up special teams to monitor Facebook and other social media networks in search of critics and "dissidents."
But the problem becomes worse when Facebook itself starts removing material that bothers dictatorships and tyrants.
One can only hope that the same Facebook employee who "accidentally" removed the article will make the same mistake and close down accounts belonging to terrorist organizations and their leaders.
Take for example, the account of senior Hamas official Izzat al Risheq, or the numerous accounts that promote hatred and violence and are openly affiliated with terrorist and jihadi groups.
All one has to do is log in to these accounts, especially the ones in Arabic, to see how most of them are engaged in all forms of incitement.
Those behind these pages are not seeking to achieve progress by "challenging current conceptions," as George Bernard Shaw noted. Instead they are using Facebook, among others, to spread messages of hate and abuse against anyone who does not share their views.
Many Arab and Palestinian journalists and intellectuals have long been waging a fierce campaign to get rid of censorship in their countries. Some have even paid with their lives to achieve this goal, while many others have been arrested or are facing intimidation and terror. It is the duty of Facebook and Western societies to side with those seeking freedom, and not to be complicit in suppressing their voices.
Related Topics:  Khaled Abu Toameh

Showdown between UN Human Rights Council and Israel?

by Anne Herzberg
January 18, 2013 at 4:30 am
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While thousands were being butchered by the Assad regime in Syria, the Human Rights Council outrageously passed a resolution condemning Israel for the "suffering of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan." Of course, none of the actors at the HRC offered to take concrete steps, such as repealing Agenda Item 7, to end the systemic bias at there.
Another major confrontation is brewing between Israel and the United Nations. On January 29, Israel is scheduled for its quadrennial Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council (HRC). Following the March 2012 Council session, however, Israel's foreign minister ceased all contacts with the HRC due to its obsessive bias and double standards targeting the Jewish State. As a result, Israel will not participate in UPR.
This has UN officials very worried, and for good reason. If Israel fails to show up for UPR, this may force the HRC to end the stranglehold of abusive regimes over the institution, and implement long overdue reforms.
UPR was instituted as the focal point of the newly-created HRC in 2006, which was established as a correction to its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. The Commission was disbanded after being hijacked by dictatorships and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The huge embarrassment was compounded by a singular focus on Israel. According to UN Watch, approximately half of all country-specific resolutions condemned the Jewish state.
The Commission's standing agenda included the notorious "Item 7," meaning that Israel was the only country singled out at every session. Inevitably, this resulted in incessant discussion of alleged Israeli violations against Palestinians. By 2005, the situation had deteriorated to the point that UN Secretary General Kofi Anan remarked, "the Commission's ability to perform its tasks has been . . . undermined by the politicization of its sessions and the selectivity of its work."
UPR was created to ostensibly remedy the pervasive one-sidedness by implementing a peer review of the human rights records of every UN member state once every four years. It was heavily promoted by officials from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Europe, and the UN as the linchpin of the HRC and proof of its "reformed" and universally-concerned character, despite the perpetuation of Agenda Item 7 on Israel. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in particular lobbied extensively for UPR.
In spite of the promises, the new HRC differed little from the Commission. Dictatorships and Islamic regimes continued to dominate the council and its leadership. Resolutions against Israel outnumbered those issued against any other country by orders of magnitude, and 5 of the first 9 special sessions targeted Israel. Prompted by the Arab League and the OIC, coupled with intensive campaigning by HRW, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, and other NGOs, there have been at least four separate "fact-finding" missions aimed at Israel, most notably the Goldstone Mission. Follow-up committees, reports for Goldstone (ignoring the repudiation of the report by Judge Goldstone himself), and the other inquiries continue to be placed on the agenda at every HRC session – wasting precious time and resources.
And although every country participated in the first round of the UPR process, which concluded in 2011, the meetings usually consisted of dictators patting each other on the back for their stellar human rights records. Bashing Israel and Canada stood in for "constructive dialogue."
Based on this sorry history, the March 2012 HRC session was the last straw for Israel. While thousands were being butchered by the Assad regime in Syria, the HRC outrageously passed a resolution condemning Israel for the "suffering of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan." Due to intense lobbying by several European-government funded NGOs, including Al Haq and Badil, seeking to lay the groundwork for a new campaign against Israelis at the International Criminal Court, the HRC also initiated another fact-finding mission against Israel. This time, Israel decided to disengage entirely from the farce.
Once HRC officials realized that Israel's decision would also affect UPR, they panicked. UPR can only work if there is 100% state participation. Without UPR, the façade of a reformed HRC is now in jeopardy. On November 28, 2012, the HRC President sent a desperate letter to Israel trying to guilt it into participation by ironically promoting the "universality" of the process. When Israel didn't bite, the HRC met this week and openly chastised Israel for refusing to participate in the discredited framework.
In concert with the UN, NGOs predictably began issuing condemnations. The NGO WILPF, in Orwellian fashion, lamented that "Letting the non-cooperation of a State produce a double standard in the UPR process and setting such a precedent would undermine its object and purpose," while ignoring the decades of double standards aimed at Israel. No doubt, similarly self-righteous statements will soon appear from HRW and others.
Of course, none of these actors offered to take concrete steps, such as repealing Agenda Item 7, to end the systemic bias at the HRC. And in typical HRC fashion, Venezuela was selected to preside over Israel's UPR in absentia.
The fact is that the UN, HRW, and the other organizations that are responsible for the dysfunctional state of affairs at the HRC have no one to blame but themselves. Some have engaged in half-hearted efforts to end the bias, while others have actively encouraged it through activities like the immoral Goldstone process. If the collapse of UPR is what it takes to force real change at the HRC and to end the stranglehold of abusive regimes at that institution, it will be worth it.
Anne Herzberg is the Legal Advisor of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution, the author of "NGO 'Lawfare': Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict," and the co-editor of "The Goldstone Report 'Reconsidered': A Critical Analysis".
Related Topics:  Israel  |  Anne Herzberg

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