In Israel

By Paul Biggar, originally published on his website.

A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same Whatsapp group [1] as a suspected militant [2]. Where are they getting this data? Is WhatsApp sharing it?Lavender is Israel’s system of “pre-crime” [3] – they use AI to guess who to kill in Gaza, and then bomb them when they’re at home, along with their entire family. (Obscenely, they call this program “Where’s Daddy”).

One input to the AI is whether you’re in a WhatsApp group with a suspected member of Hamas. There’s a lot wrong with this – I’m in plenty of WhatsApp groups with strangers, neighbours, and in the carnage in Gaza you bet people are making groups to connect.

But the part I want to focus on is whether they get this information from Meta. Meta has been promoting WhatsApp as a “private” social network, including “end-to-end” encryption of messages.

Providing this data as input for Lavender undermines their claim that WhatsApp is a private messaging app. It is beyond obscene and makes Meta complicit in Israel’s killings of “pre-crime” targets and their families, in violation of International Humanitarian Law and Meta’s publicly stated commitment to human rights. No social network should be providing this sort of information about its users to countries engaging in “pre-crime”.

It’s important to note that already Meta is taking extensive part in the Israeli-led and US-backed genocide, including significant and well-reported suppression of content supporting Palestinian freedom, as well a new anti-“anti-zionist” policy that is used to shut down dissent of Israel’s crimes [4].

Why is Meta doing this? Why is Meta so happy to share metadata about group membership with Israel – a run-around the idea of a “private” social network – and to be complicit in the genocide?

Let’s look at their leadership, in particular the three most senior leaders who have close ties to Israel.

Their Chief Information Security Officer, Guy Rosen, is their most senior policy decision maker. He is Israeli, lives in Tel Aviv [5], and was in the Israeli military in Unit 8200. Unit 8200 is the Israeli NSA and is the department that built and runs Lavender. Insiders tell me that Rosen is the person most associated with the anti-“anti-zionism” [4] policies, and is also responsible for the suppression of Palestinian content.

Mark Zuckerberg, Meta founder and CEO has also been a significant supporter of Israel’s propaganda. Zuckerberg gave $125k to Zaka, one of the groups that created and continues to spread much of the original Oct 7 false atrocity propaganda, including the discredited “Oct 7 mass rape” hoax [6].

Meanwhile former COO and current Meta board member, Sheryl Sandberg, has been on tour spreading the same discredited propaganda [6]. Claiming her advocacy is for victims of sexual violence, she somehow ignores the long history of Israeli rape of Palestinians, especially in Israeli jails, where thousands of prisoners are held on “administrative detention” for months without trial or legal representation. Combined, these demonstrate that Sandberg’s tour is about spreading Israeli propaganda which has been used to kill over 33,000 Palestinians, and is not about protecting women [7].

This allyship with Israel from the most senior parts of Meta’s governance – CISO, CEO, and board member – sheds light on why Israel’s military is able to get this information from WhatsApp, a supposedly “private” app.

Questions for Meta

To ensure that the world can trust WhatsApps claims of privacy and safety, Meta must answer the following questions:

  • Did Meta provide information (including inputs or training data) used by Lavender, Gospel, or Where’s Daddy to the Israeli government?
  • How will Meta prevent private information being used by governments to kill WhatsApp users and their families?
  • Does Meta believe that Israel’s actions towards civilians in Gaza and with Lavender comply Meta’s Human Rights Policy?
  • If not, why has Meta not revoked all access to the Israeli government that may put civilians at risk?
  • Why has Meta not released their transparency report for the 2nd half of 2023?
  • What was the level of knowledge of WhatsApp metadata sharing with the Israeli government, including whether it was to be used for military purposes, among Meta leadership, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CISO Guy Rosen?
  • Will Meta immediately rescind access to any WhatsApp information from the Israeli government, army, and law enforcement?

Without answering these questions, it seems impossible to take seriously any claim that WhatsApp is a private messaging application.

 

Notes

[1] From the +972 article:

Included in this guide are several examples of the “hundreds and thousands” of features that can increase an individual’s rating, such as being in a WhatsApp group with a known militant, changing cell phone every few months, and changing addresses frequently.

[2] Though, I believe “suggested militant” is a better name, given the complete lack of evidence or verification that Israel employs before bombing their entire family.

[3] I call this pre-crime as there is no evidence provided that a crime or any violence has been committed by the target, or that the target has had any part in violence or uprising against Israel [3b]. In fact, the +972 article makes clear there is no attempt at finding or reviewing evidence, nor any due diligence to prove that the target is a valid target under humanitarian law.

[3b] It is separately worth noting that being a member of Hamas is not illegal or even wrong: Israel’s occupation of Gaza is illegal under international law, and Hamas’ resistance against the IDF is legal and moral. (Hamas’ October 7th violence against civilians is of course illegal and immoral; in the exact same way as the IDF’s violence against civilians before and after October 7th is illegal and immoral).

[4] Here is Jewish Voice for Peace’s thoughts on Meta’s anti-zionism policy, via The Intercept:

“As an anti-Zionist Jewish organization for Palestinian freedom, we are horrified to learn that Meta is considering expanding when they treat ‘Zionism’ — a political ideology — as the same as ‘Jew/Jewish’ — an ethno-religious identity,” said Dani Noble, an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the groups Meta has contacted to discuss the possible change. Noble added that such a policy shift “will result in shielding the Israeli government from accountability for its policies and actions that violate Palestinian human rights.”

[5] I couldn’t verify he still lives in Tel Aviv, he claims he did in 2022.

[6] One of the largest pieces of Israeli propaganda that they have pushed relentlessly, is that of mass sexual violence on October 7th. This is a deliberate claim to dehumanize Palestinians, along with many other discredited Oct 7 atrocity claims, to allow Israel’s genocide of Gaza with the support of the West. They even ran focus groups on it.

Despite significant reporting, there is little to no evidence of any rapes by Hamas on October 7, much less the widely reported “mass rape”. Naturally, it is impossible to prove that something didn’t happen, but the existing claims are being deliberately pushed despite the lack of evidence.

It is well put by Mondoweiss:

Over the past four months, a concerted propaganda campaign, mounted by the Israeli government and amplified across various Western media outlets, has accused Hamas of using rape as a weapon of war on October 7. Allegations that Hamas planned and carried out a systematic campaign of sexual violence (with acts ranging from the deeply grotesque to the outright fetishistic and bizarre) have been used to paint the Palestinian resistance as inhuman and to justify Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza. Recently, analysis demonstrating the fallacious nature of these claims — the fabrications, factual errors, and journalistic malpractice, the non-credible witness and first responder testimonies, the Israeli military affiliations of key sources, as well as the absence of any forensic evidence or video or photographic proof — has broken through into the mainstream.

The NYTimes story has been completely discredited, mostly due to a podcast made by the story’s lead reporter, Anat Schwarz, who herself said that her detailed investigation found no evidence:

After seeing these interviews, Schwartz started calling people at Kibbutz Be’eri and other kibbutzim that were targeted on October 7 in an effort to track down the story. “Nothing. There was nothing,” she said. “No one saw or heard anything.” She then reached the unit 669 paramedic who relayed to Schwartz the same story he had told other media outlets, which she says convinced her there was a systematic nature to the sexual violence. “I say, ‘OK, so it happened, one person saw it happen in Be’eri, so it can’t be just one person, because it’s two girls. It’s sisters. It’s in the room. Something about it is systematic, something about it feels to me that it’s not random,” Schwartz concluded on the podcast.

An in-depth report of what evidence exists can be found in The Intercept article, which links to the broad body of reporting, including from Max BlumenthalMondoweiss, the Electronic Intifada, and Tech for Palestine’s own Oct 7 Fact Check.

As many have pointed out, we must indeed believe women about the sexual violence they experience. However, there are not in fact any women making claims about sexual violence they experienced on October 7th. Indeed, Haaretz reports that police cannot find the alleged victims, nor connect evidence to them. There is one alleged victim from the NYTimes story, and their family denies it. In fact, Zaka, the first responders who are the primacy source of discredited October 7 propaganda admit that the evidence is their “imagination”:

Its workers are not trained forensic scientists or crime scene experts. “When we go into a house, we use our imagination,” said Yossi Landau, a senior Zaka official, describing the group’s work at the October 7 attack sites. “The bodies were telling us what happened, that’s what happened.” Landau is featured in the Times report, though no mention is made of his well-documented track record of disseminating sensational stories of atrocities that were later proven false.

Every claim I’ve seen about sexual violence is eventually traced to Zaka’s invented claims, including all news reports I’ve seen in Israeli and Western media. These claims are often laundered by pointing to other reports such as the NY Times, or through the non-investigative report from United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Pattent, which was also based on the same claims without any further investigation.

[7] A similar point was made about her book, Lean In, when it was published in 2013. Rather than addressing systemic issues in the workplace, many felt she told women to suck it up and deal with it and that her advocacy was actually about supporting existing power structures instead of women, like she is supporting Israeli propaganda today.

*****

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