The message, which has been deleted from the recipient’s name, says: We are looking into the question of how to interpret the attacks on the Zionists to determine whether the term was a proxy for attacking the Jewish or Israeli people.
The message ignited a firestorm, and activists have been circulating a petition calling on the platform to halt any potential changes in the way Facebook modifies the word Zionism.
The two parties agree that the term is often used as part of racist speech that is accurately described as hate speech and should be removed.
Meanwhile, the term is also used by Jewish critics for specific Israeli policies, in particular the country’s settlement policy.
Classifying the term as hate speech stifles those criticisms, at least on Facebook.
The petition stated: We are extremely concerned about Facebook’s proposed review of hate speech policy to consider the Zionist an agent of the Jew or the Jews, and this is the wrong solution to a real and important problem.
Facebook denied there were any plans to reclassify the word in its hate speech policy, but it did not question the validity of the email or deny that the platform’s classification for the term Zionist was under review, saying that it had not made a decision yet.
A Facebook spokesperson said: Under our current policies, we allow the term Zionist in political speech, but we remove it when it is used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis in an inhuman or violent way, and this does not mean that we want to change our policy.
The Jewish Voice for Peace sees the e-mail as part of a broader campaign to change the way the platform deals with criticism of the Israeli government.
The organization said: Restricting the word Zionist as part of a policy of hate speech will not make the Jewish people safer, and the proposed change via Facebook will only prevent its users from holding the Israeli government accountable for harming the Palestinian people.
She added: Social media companies should allow people to hold their governments accountable to them, not protect governments from accountability.