Twitter to MKs: Unlike Trump tweets, Khamenei’s ‘eliminate Israel’ posts are ok

Regional policy chief tells Knesset committee Iranian leader’s tweets calling for Israel’s destruction don’t violate company rules, are seen as mere ‘foreign policy saber-rattling’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks to a group of residents of the city of Qom, in Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks to a group of residents of the city of Qom, in Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

A Twitter official on Wednesday said that the tweets in which Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei calls for Israel’s destruction do not violate the company’s rules against hate speech, and indicated that they are considered mere “foreign policy saber-rattling.”

“We have an approach toward leaders that says that direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on military-economic issues are generally not in violation of our rules,” Ylwa Pettersson, Twitter’s head policy for the Nordic countries and Israel, told the Knesset’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, via video-conference.

She was responding to a question by pro-Israel activist Arsen Ostrovsky, who had asked why Twitter attached a special label to a recent tweet by US President Donald Trump noting that it violated the company’s rules, while the Iranian leaders’ many tweets about his wish for Israel to be destroyed are left untouched.

On May 29, Twitter for the first time attached a warning label to Trump’s tweet about the riots that broke out in the US following the killing of George Floyd.

“I just want to fine-tune [Ostrovsky’s] question: Calling for genocide on Twitter is okay, but commenting on the political situation in certain countries is not okay?” asked MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who was leading the discussion.

“If a world leader violates our rules but there is a clear interest in keeping that up on the service we may place it behind a notice that provides some more context about the violation and allows people to click through if they wish to see that type of content,” Pettersson replied.

Twitter’s Ylwa Pettersson addressing a Knesset committee, July 29, 2020 (screen shot)

“That’s what happened for the Trump tweet: that tweet was violating our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line of that tweet and the risk that it could possibly inspire harm and similar actions.”

Trump’s May 29 tweet ended with the words: “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”

In addition to the warning label, Twitter disabled the public’s ability to “like” the post, but decided not to remove it “so the citizens can see what their political figures are commenting [on] and hold them accountable for it online,” said Pettersson, who spoke to the Knesset meeting via Zoom.

Pettersson did not comment specifically about the incendiary tweets by the Iranian leader.

“Wow. Twitter just admitted that tweets calling for genocide against Jews by Iranian leaders DON’T violate its policy!”, Cotler-Wunsh tweeted after the session ended. “This is a double standard. This is antisemitism.”

Hours after the Knesset session, Khameini posted a tweet calling the US “Satan” and Israel its “chained dog.”

Calls for ‘armed resistance’

Last month, The Times of Israel provided Twitter with several examples of Khamenei urging Israel’s elimination, including an explicit call for “armed resistance” — terrorism — against Israel, asking why these tweets do not violate the company’s official guidelines on world leaders, which include a ban on the promotion of terrorism.

According to Twitter’s rules on terrorism and violent extremism, “there is no place on Twitter for … individuals who affiliate with and promote [terrorist group’s] illicit activities… Our assessments in this context are informed by national and international terrorism designations.”

A spokesperson for Twitter replied to The Times of Israel by saying these tweets “are not in violation of our policies at this time,” pointing to the company’s policy according to which “foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules.”

The Islamic Republic of Iran, whose leadership routinely advocates the elimination of Israel, is considered a leading state sponsor of terror, which openly and proudly supports groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, all of which seek to eradicate Israel via terrorist means. In April 2019, the US designated Iran’s own Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

In 2014, Khamenei posted on his twitter account a nine-point plan explicitly proposing the elimination of Israel.

A poster from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s website calling for Israel’s destruction that uses the term “final solution,” which usually refers to the Nazi policy of genocide against Jews during the Holocaust. (via

In May of this year, Khamenei’s Facebook page featured a poster endorsing Israel’s destruction that invoked the term “final solution.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused him of calling for the genocide of Jews.

Khamenei in response confirmed he seeks Israel’s destruction but not the annihilation of all Jews and noted that Iran would support any nation or group that fights against Israel. “Eliminating the Zionist regime doesn’t mean eliminating Jews. We aren’t against Jews. It means abolishing the imposed regime & Muslim, Christian & Jewish Palestinians choose their own govt & expel thugs like [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Khamenei wrote on his Twitter account.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 22, 2018 shows members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) marching during the annual military parade which markins the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran. – Iran’s top security body called an urgent meeting on January 3, 2020 over the “martyrdom” of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by the United States in Baghdad, semi-official news agency ISNA reported. The United States announced earlier that it had killed the commander of the Islamic republic’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, in a strike on Baghdad’s international airport early on Friday. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

At Wednesday’s Knesset debate, Cotler-Wunsh, MKs and pro-Israel advocates urged Twitter to do more to protect Israelis and Jews worldwide from anti-Semitic hate speech.

Yogev Karasenty, who is responsible for the fight against anti-Semitism at Diaspora Affairs Ministry, said some 200,000 anti-Semitic tweets were found on Twitter in the past two months.

There has recently been significant improvement in how social networks deal with the anti-Jewish material, “but it’s not enough,” lamented Yaakov Hagoel, the vice chair of the World Zionist Organization. Posts that target Muslims or the LGBT community are removed promptly, but when it comes to anti-Semitic posts, “they dodge, ignore and drag their feet,” he said.

Cotler-Wunsh, a freshman lawmaker from the Blue and White party, said that Israel does not necessarily expect Twitter to delete anti-Semitic posts but rather to attach labels to them explaining to users why they are problematic.

Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Avishai Finkelstein)

“I’m not making the case for removing all content. I would suggest flagging the context as anti-Semitic. I believe there is a lot more learning that can be done this way,” she said.

She also called on Twitter to implement the working definition of anti-Semitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which has recently been adapted by many countries, and which considers certain forms of anti-Israel agitation to be anti-Semitic.

“We are already using the IHRA working definition when we do develop our policies and internal documents we train our content operators with. So we’re aware of it and are using it,” Twitter’s Pettersson replied.

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