Snapchat Scraps Pro-Palestinian Group's Filter After Pressure from Pro-Israel Activists
Pro-Israel activists sharing photos on Snapchat at the world’s leading pro-Israel conference were in for a surprise this year: a filter that condemns Israel’s decades of ethnic cleansing.
That was the plan, at least. A pro-Palestinian group purchased a filter for the social media application to coincide with the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, held March 26-28. The filter design slammed AIPAC for "supporting theft and murder." Snapchat's geofilter feature would have made this design available to everyone who used the phone application in the area of the conference, at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center.
On the morning that the conference began, just two hours after the geofilter went into effect, however, the influential social media company canceled the group's order.
"We've received a number of complaints about this Geofilter, so we've taken it down," wrote Team Snapchat in an email obtained by AlterNet.
The organization that paid for the filter, American Muslims for Palestine, was disappointed by the news.
"We were excited to have had a snapchat geofilter available for use this weekend at the AIPAC conference," wrote Kristin Szremski, director of media and communications for the pro-Palestinian advocacy group, in an email to Snapchat. "We were very disappointed to learn that you suspended the filter based upon complaints you received."
"Why does Snapchat feel it can succumb to pressure from one group with a particular political viewpoint while suppressing free speech of a group with an alternative viewpoint," Szremski asked the company. "Does Snapchat support human rights?"
A Snapchat spokesperson subsequently said the filter "does not follow our policies or community guidelines." The company noted that its ad policies prohibit "content that demeans, degrades, or shows hate toward a particular race, gender, culture, country, belief, or toward any member of a protected class."
American Muslims for Palestine rejects the claim that its filter violated these guidelines, but there was nothing further it could do.
"Our filter did not do any of those things," Szremski told AlterNet over the phone. "Our filter stated a political fact: which is that, AIPAC, as the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the United States, supports the occupation of the Palestinian people. That's what we were saying. We were not disparaging Jews or Judaism. We weren't even directly talking about the state of Israel. We were talking about a lobbying group that supports policies that violate international law and infringe on Palestinian human rights."
"We find their argument a little specious, because were they really concerned about the content, they could have rejected it in the first place, when we applied," she added. "Why is it that you can cater to one group that is complaining?"
American Muslims for Palestine had planned to collect screenshots of Snapchat posts that used the filter and display them on a Tumblr blog. Given the design, the group had thought pro-Israel conference attendees who did not look closely might mistakenly take photos with it, in what Szremski described as a kind of "ironic activism."
“We wanted to get out a message that AIPAC, as the largest pro-Israel lobby group, supports the theft of Palestinian land, the occupation and Israeli violence that has claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians,” she explained.
Snapchat has more daily users than Twitter. The social media application, in which users share short-lived photos that disappear after 24 hours, has become wildly popular, especially among younger people. Investors estimate Snapchat may be worth $20 billion, and analysts say its ad revenue could reach up to $1 billion in 2017.
The unique Snapchat protest idea would have been a first in the pro-Palestinian movement. AIPAC, the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S., is an ardent advocate for Israel’s far-right government. Palestinian human rights advocates hold demonstrations outside of the group's annual conference every year.
This year saw the largest Jewish-led protests against AIPAC in history, organized by the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow. The Palestinian-led organization Al-Awda also held a large demonstration, in collaboration with the ANSWER Coalition.
As AlterNet has reported, violent extremists from the Jewish Defense League, which is recognized as a right-wing terrorist group by the FBI for planning bombings and assassinations, attacked Palestinian and leftist protesters outside the AIPAC conference. Two members of the JDL were charged with a hate crime for assaulting a 55-year-old Palestinian-American professor, in an attack that was caught on video.
The protests came at a particularly sensitive moment. The United Nations published a report just two weeks before stating that "Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, which amounts to the commission of a crime against humanity." (Intense pressure by the U.S. forced the U.N. body to take down the report, and the U.N. under-secretary general who oversaw it was compelled to resign, although she stood by its findings.)
The AIPAC 2017 protests also coincided with the beginning of President Trump’s administration. Both major parties in the U.S. guarantee diehard support for Israel, regardless of its violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. President Barack Obama had boosted annual U.S. military aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to a staggering $3.8 billion per year, in the largest military aid package in U.S. history. Trump has indicated he may ramp up support for Israel even further.