Twitter has revealed that it blocked over 20 accounts belonging to Hamas and Hezbollah to meet demands issued by Israel.
In the first half of 2018, the social media giant blocked over 20 accounts belonging to senior figures of Hamas and Hezbollah, including those of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum and Rawhi Mushtaha, a close associate of Hamas’ leader in Gaza Yahya Al-Sinwar.
Twitter’s decision came after it received a letter from the Cybercrime Department of Israel’s Ministry of Justice on 26 June demanding that it “permanently close” the accounts in question. The letter – published by the Times of Israel yesterday – cited Article 24 of Israel’s Counterterror Law which “states that any act of solidarity with a terror organisation, including any publication of support in its actions, is an offense punishable by three or five years’ imprisonment”.
“We would like to point out that Article 23 [of] that law states that facilitating or aiding terror organisations is also an offence,” the letter continued, before going on to provide a two-page list of the accounts Israel wanted to be blocked.
According to the Times of Israel, “13 of the accounts belonging to senior Hamas officials have [since] gone blank, save for a statement saying that the account ‘has been withheld in Israel in response to a legal demand’”. It also seems that Hamas – which governs the besieged Gaza Strip – was disproportionately targeted by the request, with Naim Qassem, the second-in-command of Hezbollah, being the only official belonging to the Lebanese group to appear on the list.
This is not the only time Twitter has bowed to Israeli pressure to restrict content and accounts. Earlier this month it emerged that Twitter has been enforcing Israel’s gag order on details of its botched operation in Gaza, instructing a number of media outlets to remove posts revealing the identity of Israel’s undercover operatives. The Electronic Intifada (EI) disclosed that it had received a message from Twitter instructing it to delete a tweet linking to a story about the operation, despite the fact that, as a US-based organisation, it is not required to comply with the gag order Israel places on its own media.
In June, Israel’s Security Minister Gilad Erdan also wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and its executive chairman, Omid Kordestani, telling the company to close Hamas and Hezbollah accounts. Erdan wrote that “giving terrorist organisations the freedom to operate and disseminate messages of incitement through your network is a violation of the Israeli law. If Twitter does not respond to the Israeli demand, it will be subject to legal measures that Israel may take against it”.
It now seems that, given the fact that the Justice Ministry’s letter was sent on 26 June, Erdan’s request formed part of a targeted and coordinated campaign by various departments of the Israeli government to pressure Twitter to comply with its requests. Both Erdan and Ayelet Shaked – the Israeli Justice Minister – have effectively waged war on social media giants, passing the so-called “Facebook Bill” which would authorise Israel’s court to issue orders to delete internet content and lobbying Facebook to delete content to avoid being subject to fines or a usage block in Israel.