Facebook Removes Israeli Artist’s Cartoons

by Becca Hoekstra

According to an online journal covering Palestinian and Israeli affairs, Facebook removed cartoons against racism and capitalism drawn by Tel Aviv illustrator and animator Mysh, whose work often critiques the Israeli government. At least one of the images has since been re-uploaded, with an apology from the company.

According to the independent online journal +972, Mysh’s recent works have “been incredibly popular on Facebook, shared and linked by thousands of Israelis.” The article argues that when his pieces started to receive international attention, Facebook began to censor Mysh. Mysh’s art is “critical and provocative,” says the artist, but the pieces “are not inciting to violence, pornography or extremely graphic.” He prefers to use Facebook to promote his art rather than running his own website.

The first piece to be removed, “The Real Superpower,” features a naked Clark Kent with an ‘S’ carved onto his chest by a looming Lex Luthor. Mysh suspects the image was removed for nudity: Facebook heavily limits images of nakedness, and has a strict no pornography policy.

A few days later, Mysh found that another image, “A Problem of Self Esteem,” was also taken down and he was unable to sign into his Facebook account. He was banned from the site for 24 hours and warned that his page would be removed if any more images were flagged.

“A Problem of Self Esteem” was inspired by a race riot in Tel Aviv that took place in May. More than 1,000 Israelis protested against refugees and asylum seekers living in the south part of the city.

The beefy man’s back features popular racist slogans in Hebrew, such as “A good Arab is a dead Arab;” “Death to the Sudanese,” “Run over the Dosim” (a degrading name for Orthodox Jews);”Russians to Russia, Ethiopians to Ethiopia,” and more, according to +972. Facebook claims zero tolerance for any hate speech; however, Mysh’s piece appears to be critiquing the language instead of promoting it. One commenter on Facebook, Seth David Tobocman, said that “Mysh has just about nailed the secular Zionist mindset with these drawings”.

After a third piece, “Green Sabrah,” was removed, Mysh felt “there was something systematic here, and that [he had] to take care of it.” He wrote to Facebook, who issued the artist and apology for mistakenly removing content. The image was re-uploaded on May 31st.

Mysh works as illustrator, character designer, animator and film director, and teaches art for animation in Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. He is 34. You can read the entirety of the article about Mysh and Facebook’s removal of his work here.

As a private company, Facebook has a right to set their own requirements about the content their users put online, and users are obligated to follow such guidelines. However, Facebook’s policies about visual content and what seems to many people an uneven adherence to their own policies both have many people concerned about the implications for free expression.

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Becca Hoekstra is studying journalism in San Francisco, California.