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ZOA Condemns Google: Google Earth Is A Platform For Anti-Israel Propaganda

July 16, 2008

Contact: Morton A. Klein
Phone 1: 212-481-1500

In a letter dated July 15, 2008, to Dr. Eric Schmidt, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Google Inc. (Google), with copies to Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google’s Co-Founders and Presidents, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) condemned Google for knowingly permitting Google Earth to “become a vehicle for promoting false and demonizing political propaganda about Jews and Israel.” The ZOA called on Google to stop “promoting and disseminating misinformation that misleads its users.” At a minimum, according to the ZOA, Google Earth must start distinguishing the political propaganda “from the factual geographic information on the Google Earth satellite map.” Google Earth should assign “the information to a separate ‘layer’ or packet that users would have to specifically and deliberately download and install in order to see.” In addition, Google must make “it clear that the information in this separate layer was generated by outside individuals, that it is not necessarily accurate or reliable, and that Google does not endorse it.” (To read the ZOA’s letter, click here.)

Google Earth is a geographic resource for its users. According to the site, it “lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings and even explore galaxies in the Sky.” But when it comes to Israel, according to the ZOA, Google Earth has become a platform for anti-Israel political propaganda, which the ZOA described in detail in its letter to Google.

The first problem is immediately apparent when Google Earth users “fly to” the satellite map of Israel. They “are immediately greeted with two rectangles prominently displayed on the map with the words, ‘Every Human Has Rights.’” Clicking on the rectangles, users do not get geographic information about the locations where the rectangles appear on the map. Instead, “they are treated to political propaganda about the suffering of Palestinian Arabs allegedly as the result of the so-called Israeli ‘occupation.’” According to the ZOA, because this information appears by default on the Google Earth map, users will reasonably think that that it is accurate and reliable, “when in fact, it is nothing more than politicized propaganda that conveys falsehoods to Google Earth users about Jews and Israel.”

In its letter to Google, the ZOA described a second problem relating to the orange dots that litter Google Earth’s entire map of Israel. When Google Earth users roll their computer mouse over many of the dots, they see the words “Nakba – The Palestinian Catastrophe,” conveying the blatantly anti-Israel message that the creation of the State of Israel was a disaster and a mistake. This message was posted by an individual named Thameen Darby, who admits (according to an Associated Press report) that his own record of factual accuracy and reliability is questionable. Yet according to the ZOA, Darby’s anti-Israel propaganda “dominates” the Google Earth site map of Israel, even though the map is supposed to function as “a geographical resource for its users.”

The ZOA’s letter points out that when Google Earth users click on Darby’s orange dots, “they are greeted with the message that ‘this is one of the Palestinian localities evacuated and destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.’” These postings then link to “palestineremembered.com,” an anti-Israel propaganda site that “promotes the historical falsehood that the Land of Israel was Arab land taken by Jewish colonizers and that therefore, the Jewish State of Israel is a wrong that needs to be undone.” The ZOA’s letter says that the statement is not only “historically false. It is also an expression of anti-Semitism, according to the U.S. government. In a recent report on Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism, the U.S. Department of State recognized that a contemporary way in which anti-Semitism is manifested is by ‘denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.’ Google has made itself a party to this expression of anti-Semitism on Google Earth, by giving the false and hateful anti-Israel propaganda a public platform that reaches hundreds of millions of users, and giving the propaganda an aura of credibility that it does not deserve.”

The ZOA’s letter notes that Kiryat Yam, one of the cities in Israel that Darby claims was a Palestinian village destroyed by Jews, has had to resort to legal action to bring the truth to light. The city – built by Holocaust survivors on barren and unsettled land – is suing Google for defamation to restore its damaged reputation. Despite this, Google Earth’s policy has not changed; Darby’s political propaganda still dominates Google Earth’s map of Israel, to the detriment of Google Earth users who continue to trust and rely on the information on the map as true and accurate because it comes from Google.

The third problem identified by the ZOA in its letter to Google has to do with Google Earth’s satellite map of the Gaza Strip. One of the yellow dots that Google Earth users will automatically see when they view the region links to “photographs that changed the world – Mohammed al-Durrah.” As the ZOA pointed out, “these photographs have absolutely nothing to do with the geography of the area.” Moreover, recent legal proceedings in France “strongly suggest that these photographs depict staged events intended to demonize and incite hatred of Jews and Israel.” According to the ZOA, the photos (and their accompanying narrative) “have no place on Google Earth.” If they belong anywhere on Google Earth, it would be in a separate layer that users would have to deliberately download and install. The information would have to be labeled clearly as content that users, not Google Earth, have generated. And Google Earth would have to make it clear to users that Google Earth does not vouch for the accuracy or reliability of this information.

The ZOA called on Google to stop being a vehicle for anti-Israel political propaganda, by taking several easy steps. According to the ZOA, “the most basic step would be to remove all of the postings altogether. Google Earth screens material before it is added to the site; the site is not a free-for-all. Google should decide that any placemarks that go beyond showing the geography of Israel (or of any other region of the world) should be relegated to a separate ‘layer’ or packet that users would specifically and deliberately have to download and install in order to see.”

In addition, the ZOA urged Google to have “a conspicuous disclaimer on each such posting, making it clear that (1) the posting was made by an outside individual, not by Google; (2) Google does not vouch for the posting’s accuracy or reliability; and (3) Google Earth users are cautioned not to rely on the posting for accuracy or reliability.”

Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, questioned whether Google’s actions comport with its Code of Conduct: “The very first line of Google’s Code of Conduct for its employees says ‘Don’t be evil.’ The Code stresses that Google should act according to the highest standards of ethical business conduct, so that Google can earn the trust of its users. With its emphasis on acting honorably, it’s difficult to fathom how Google can justify not responding to complaints about the anti-Israel propaganda on Google Earth. It’s a poor reflection on Google that the company considers it ethical to permit Google Earth, which is intended to be a geographic tool, to become a platform for anti-Israel propaganda – especially since many, if not most, users will rely on and believe the content to be true because it came from Google.”

Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, criticized Google, in particular, for allowing Google Earth to promote and disseminate anti-Israel propaganda lies: “Google markets Google Earth as a reliable resource and teaching tool. It even publishes a Web site for teachers to use in the classroom. The company can’t have it both ways. It can’t benefit from a reputation as a credible source of information and yet take a hands-off approach when users post information on the map of Israel that is false and hateful. Google exercises editorial control over some of the content on Google Earth, but not when it comes to anti-Israel falsehoods.

“At the initiative of Deborah Fidel, Esq., President of the ZOA’s Pittsburgh district, we intend to counter the falsehoods on Google Earth with truthful information about Israel, including by documenting the Jewish people’s historical, religious and legal claims to the Land of Israel, and by recording every incident of Arab terrorism, together with the personal stories of the Israeli victims of those terror attacks.

“We consider what Google is doing as anti-Semitic, maybe not in its intent but in its effect. That Google is the company involved here is particularly troubling. According to several media sources, including Haaretz, a respected Israeli daily newspaper, and Moment magazine, a national Jewish monthly, Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders, has said that he and his family ‘left Russia because of anti-Semitism.’ That he would now permit his company to become a vehicle for anti-Semitism is appalling.”

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