July 1, 2021
For nearly a day, Twitter allowed a vile, antisemitic tweet from a former member of Congress to appear on its platform, where it collected thousands of engagements.
Then it disappeared. A few hours later, it reappeared.
It was on Monday that former Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney shared a picture of the original World Trade Center Twin Towers burning with the text “Zionists did it.” She added “The Final Piece of the Puzzle.”
The trope resurrects the conspiracy theory that Jews orchestrated or knew ahead of time about the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Backlash was swift. American Jewish Committee (AJC) immediately reported the tweet and reached out to Twitter to explain why it was antisemitic.
AJC CEO David Harris tweeted: “This blood libel — trying to shift blame for the 3000 deaths on 9/11 from al-Qaeda to “Zionists” — is one of the most outrageous examples of antisemitism imaginable,” he wrote. “Note: It comes from an ex-Congresswoman, whose hatred for Israel & those who support it clearly knows no bounds.”
Asked about the suitability of @cynthiamckinney tweet below, @Twitter described it as “strong political commentary.”— David Harris (@DavidHarrisAJC) June 29, 2021
Think about it.
A blood libel against “Zionists,” a toxic conspiracy theory & a boldfaced lie are nothing more than, um, strong political commentary.
Meanwhile, Twitter called the tweet “strong political commentary.” Under pressure to reconsider, the social media giant removed the tweet Tuesday morning declaring it to be “in violation of its rules,” but restored it later that afternoon without explanation. It remains there at the time of this writing.
Why It’s Antisemitic
Blaming Jews, Israelis, or Zionists for the 9/11 terrorist attacks is one of countless conspiracy theories that have spread antisemitic beliefs that blame Jews for the world’s worst tragedies from medieval times until the present day.
Mere hours after four commercial jets struck the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, malicious rumors started circulating that Israel or the Mossad helped plan the attacks. Alleged motives included attempts to persuade the U.S. to attack Israel’s enemies, to divert public attention away from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, to help Zionists take control of world affairs, and to convince Americans to support Israel.
One conspiracy spread by the Hezbollah-run satellite television channel Al-Manar claimed that 4,000 Jews did not report to work, or "called in sick" that morning because they had advance warning.
Most of the conspiracy theories echo timeless tropes such as those found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fraudulent document from the early 20th century about a Jewish plot to seek world domination. They also perpetuate the blood libel, widespread blame of Jews for unconnected murders and other horrific crimes that for centuries have sparked horrific violence, persecution, and massacres of Jewish people and communities.
For Twitter and McKinney, A Pattern
McKinney, now a college professor in Bangladesh, has a history of spouting anti-Israel rhetoric, accusing Jews of hindering her political aspirations, and associating with prominent antisemites.
During her six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives starting in 1992, she repeatedly condemned U.S. aid to Israel. She also participated in the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which delegitimized Israel and turned into an antisemitic hate fest. Last year, she cast doubt on the number of Jewish Holocaust victims.
The restoration of McKinney’s antisemitic tweets once again calls into question Twitter’s commitment to combating anti-Jewish hate on its platform.
For years, it has allowed Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to use his multiple accounts to incite terrorist attacks against Israel. Khamenei has repeatedly violated Twitter rules in Persian, English, Spanish, and Arabic.
According to its standards, Twitter does not allow users to “engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter.” Tweets also cannot “deceptively share synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm.”
“Tweets such as these have real-life consequences for Jews,” said Holly Huffnagle, AJC’s U.S. Director of Combating Antisemitism. “Jews are made less safe every second Twitter allows antisemitism to persist on its platform. In the very least, the tweet should be labeled with a warning, such as "you are about to see conspiracy/disinformation.”
Last summer, it took Twitter 48 hours to remove antisemitic tweets by UK grime artist and rapper Wiley that included conspiracy theories and compared the Jewish community to the Ku Klux Klan. The slow response prompted a roster of celebrities and many others to boycott the platform for 48 hours, using the hashtags #NoSafePlaceForJewHate and #48HoursSilence.
Likewise, scores of people have condemned Twitter for allowing McKinney’s post to remain. Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” replied to McKinney by calling her out.
“This is grotesquely antisemitic at a time when antisemitic hate crimes are surging around the world,” he tweeted.
This is grotesquely antisemitic at a time when antisemitic hate crimes are surging around the world.— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) June 28, 2021
U.S. Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) also condemned Twitter’s apathy, “Why is Twitter turning a blind eye to Antisemitism?” he tweeted. “Conspiratorial crackpots like Cynthia McKinney have no business being on any social media platform.”
Thank you, Rep. @RitchieTorres, for taking a stand against antisemitism.— American Jewish Committee (@AJCGlobal) June 29, 2021
Social media companies have a responsibility to ensure that hate is not free flowing on their platforms. https://t.co/Tm4TzKghsT
It’s been three days since McKinney tweeted her vile antisemitic message and it’s still there.