Jewish groups welcome Facebook, Twitter pledge to crack down on hate speech


Jewish groups welcomed a pledge by four internet giants to crack down on online hate speech, though some questioned the firms’ commitment to act.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft on Tuesday signed a code of conduct with the European Commission that requires them to delete the majority of reported illegal hate speech within 24 hours, The Telegraph reported.

The European Jewish Congress offered an “enthusiastic welcome” to code of conduct” in a statement Tuesday. The World Jewish Congress reacted more coolly in a statement the same day, voicing “skepticism about the commitment of these firms to effectively police their respective platforms.”

YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others “already have clear guidelines in place aimed at preventing the spread of offensive content, yet they have so far utterly failed to properly implement their own rules,” the CEO of the World Jewish Congress, Robert Singer said in the statement.

“Tens of thousands of despicable video clips continue to be made available although their existence has been reported to YouTube and despite the fact that they are in clear violation of the platform’s own guidelines prohibiting racist hate speech … Nonetheless, YouTube gives the impression that it has been cracking down on such content. Alas, the reality is that so far it hasn’t.”

Last week, France’s Union of Jewish Students, or UEJF, and the anti-racist organization SOS Racisme sued Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for failing to remove anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic content, Le Parisien reported.

The two groups, together with SOS Homophobie, said that on March 31 and May 10, they found 586 examples of such content. Only 4 percent of the content was deleted by Twitter, 7 percent by YouTube and 34 percent by Facebook, the groups said.

In 2013, the Paris Court of Appeals issued a landmark ruling forcing Twitter to block the hashtag #UnBonJuif — which means “a good Jew” — and to remove the thousands of associated anti-Semitic tweets that violated France’s law against hate speech.

The ruling was a turning point in the fight against online hate speech in France and beyond because it caused Twitter to abandon its previous policy of applying as little censorship as is permissible in the United States, where Twitter’s head office is based and where there are fewer limitations on free speech than in many countries in Europe.

YouTube has since permanently banned videos posted by Dieudonne, a French comedian with 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews.

In 2014, Facebook removed the page of Soral, the Holocaust denier, for “repeatedly posting things that don’t comply with the Facebook terms,” according to the company. Soral’s page had drawn many complaints in previous years.

Despite complaints of partial compliance on hate speech removal by the internet giants, European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor, celebrated the accord Tuesday as “a historic agreement that could not arrive at a better time.” It is “very important” that governments and online companies “work in tandem to make the internet a safer space for all,” he said.

The President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, was also optimistic, saying in a statement that “Internet hate leads to a culture of fear. We hope that today’s announcement will be the first step in combatting that culture.”

Overheard at the DLD Tel Aviv Digital Conference


“Hey, Jackson! How’s your startup coming? Still living the dream?”

“We’re not really fancy yet. We still need to have that discussion.”

“Let me be Israeli for a minute and not be politically correct.”

“Let’s do it after Rosh Hashanah. Don’t let me forget, dude.”

“It’s good to laugh about Microsoft, just like it’s good to laugh about Yair Lapid.”

“They’re a pain in the ass, but you can’t get rid of investors. It’s very hard.”

“Really? People want to monitor their urine on their iPhone?”

“You’re kidding, how much?” “I don’t know — you’ll have to ask them. But an incredible amount.”

“My nephew was in this unit. They give them super hot projects like Iron Dome. Now, after that, everything looks easy.”

“The Chinese are hungry. The Thai are not so hot on Israel, but the Chinese are. So are the Taiwanese.”

“There’s so much money here on this small island.”

“I don’t care where you find them, just find me the startups.”

“I know someone who knows the woman who was almost kidnapped in Jerusalem.”

“If you get caught without a business card, you’re gonna get f—ed, man.”

“It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for him, because he has high blood pressure.”

“No, she couldn’t come. She’s doing a hackathon in Westfield over the weekend.”

“Look, if you want, you could have a presence for a couple thousand dollars.”

More from the conference: 

Los Angeles Clippers sale to Steve Ballmer finalized, NBA says


Steve Ballmer, the former head of Microsoft, has completed his $2 billion purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, ending a saga that began when former team owner Donald Sterling was heard making racist remarks to his girlfriend on a tape recording.

The deal closed after a California appeals court confirmed the right of Sterling's estranged wife Shelly to sell the team on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, the National Basketball Association said on Tuesday. The NBA Board of Governors had approved the sale, and has added Ballmer as a Clippers member of board of governors.

The $2 billion price tag for the franchise was the highest paid for an NBA team. The team, which began in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, has never won a NBA championship and last year finished with a 57-25 record, losing in the Western Conference semifinals to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Shelly Sterling struck the deal with Ballmer in May, a month after the NBA banned her 80-year old husband, following revelations of his privately taped remarks imploring the girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not to publicly associate with black people.

Sterling's remarks, which were made during the Clippers' playoff run, sparked public outrage and prompted sponsors to cut ties with the team.

The team's interim CEO, Richard Parsons, testified at a probate trial that head coach Doc Rivers was ready to quit if Sterling remained the owner the team and that the team's players would do the same.

The 58 year old Ballmer is worth an estimated $21.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine, and is the 31st wealthiest person in the United States.

Reporting by Ronald Grover Steve Ginsberg, and Mary Milliken; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Jeffrey Benkoe

Microsoft Corp., Israel agree to strategic cooperation


Israel and the Microsoft Corporation have agreed to a strategic cooperation to advance computing technology.

Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer met on Monday in Israel with government officials to discuss the cooperation.

A series of memorandums of understanding will be signed in the coming days by Israel's Chief Information Officer Carmela Avner and Microsoft Israel CEO Danny Yamin, according to reports.

The agreements to be enshrined in the memorandums are in the areas of technological innovation; promoting open government policies; use of technology to reduce bureaucracy; dealing with large databases; information security and privacy protection; development of online government services; collaborative projects; and promoting Israeli technologies and start-ups, according to The Marker, the business publication of Haaretz.

Balmer met on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Netanyahu and Balmer discussed Microsoft's commitment to Israel, its investments in the local market, and the impact it is having, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.

“This is my fourth visit to Israel and I am always excited and inspired by the sheer technological ingenuity of its people and entrepreneurs, a key reason why it’s such an important market for Microsoft,” Balmer said.

Also on Monday, Microsoft launched its Windows 8 smartphones in Israel.

Chinese billionaire invests $30 million in Israeli startup


An Israeli startup company has received a $30 million investment from China’s richest man.

Billionaire Li Ka Shing has invested in the navigation technology firm Waze, which will put the money into supporting its application’s more than 7 million drivers and launch a traffic-reporting platform in China, the Israeli business daily Gloves reported.

The Waze free mobile application helps drivers find the shortest route to their destination and provides data on traffic conditions provided by its users. The company also has a social network allowing drivers to report directly to each other on road conditions. Its users live in 45 countries.

Other shareholders include Microsoft and Qualcomm.

Video courtesy of WazeGPS1.

A coup for Hebrew U — Gates to accept award


NEW YORK (JTA)—Usually a “mazel tov” would go to the person being honored, but this week the American Friends of the Hebrew University is accepting congratulations for convincing one of the world’s richest men to accept an award.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates will receive the inaugural Einstein Award, the American fund-raising arm of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem announced Monday.

The award, which will be presented to Gates in December at a gala dinner in New York, is named for Albert Einstein, who helped found the university. It will be given only rarely to those who have made a significant impact on humanity, according to the organization’s executive director, Peter Willner.

American Friends officials say this is the first time that Gates is accepting an award from a Jewish or Israeli organization.

“We have been talking for a long time about creating the award and giving the award,” Willner said. “But we recognized that if we gave the award, it would be given infrequently because it has to go to an individual that has not only changed the world in terms of what they have done in changing their own industry, but in changing humanity.”

Only Gates was considered to be the first recipient of the award, which has been in the works for six years, Willner told JTA.

American Friends, which raises about $60 million annually for Hebrew University, was in discussions with Gates for about a year and a half before he accepted the award. Ultimately, according to Willner, Gates decided to attach his name to the university because of its vast work and research in sustainable agriculture.

Whereas the Rockefeller Foundation was perhaps the most influential charitable foundation in the 20th century, many observers of the philanthropic scene these days are pointing to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since its launch in 1994, the foundation has given away more than $16 billion. And its efforts appear only likely to increase, with Warren Buffet announcing in 2006 that he would donate some $30 billion of his wealth to the foundation.

Gates stepped down last month from his job at Microsoft to work full time at the foundation.

The vast majority of the foundation’s money has gone to health and humanitarian projects in the developing world.

In January, the foundation gave $875,242 over three years to Hebrew University to develop novel methods for controlling mosquito vectors of malaria and other diseases, according to a database of grants on the foundation Web site

.

Proceeds from the dinner will help fund cutting-edge plant and animal science research at the Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences in Israel.

“We are honored that The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the American Friends of the Hebrew University have chosen Bill Gates as the recipient of the first-ever Einstein Award,” the Gates Foundation told JTA in an e-mail statement. “Both Bill and Melinda believe deeply that all lives have equal value and began their foundation to help ensure that inequities are reduced in the United States and throughout the world.

Bill Gates to receive Einstein award from American Friends of the Hebrew University


American Friends of The Hebrew University announced today that Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates will be honored with the first Einstein Award in recognition of his philanthropic endeavors and impact on the world through Microsoft.

According to organizers, the award marks the first time that Gates has accepted any award from a Jewish/Israel-related organization. It is among the first philanthropic announcements from his foundation since Gates ceased day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft on June 27 in order to dedicate himself full-time to duties at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates will be honored at a gala dinner to be held in New York in December 2008. Proceeds from the dinner will help to fund plant and animal science research at The Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences in Israel. The Faculty, which is the first and only degree-granting academic institution of its kind in Israel, has become a world leader in the development of innovations such as drip irrigation, soil solarization, aquaculture, functional foods and new techniques for wastewater reclamation.

“The Einstein Award represents the creation of a continuum of great minds and was inspired by the legacy of Albert Einstein, a founding father of our university who wrought a profound revolution in human understanding of our world,” said Hebrew University President, Professor Menachem Magidor in a press release. “The award pays tribute to today’s most original, creative and effective thinkers. Bill Gates is a most worthy recipient — like Einstein, he is a leader whose actions stem from the knowledge that human progress includes alleviating human suffering.”

More from the press release:

“As the founder, chief software architect and chairman of Microsoft, Gates led the company to become the worldwide leader in business and personal software, services, and solutions. He began his major philanthropic efforts in 1994 when he created the William H. Gates Foundation, which focused on global health. Three years later, he and Melinda Gates created the Gates Library Foundation, which worked to bring public access computers with Internet connections to libraries in the United States. The two groups merged in 2000 to form the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”

“Today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is organized into three programs — Global Development, Global Health, and United States. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people — especially those with the fewest resources — have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. The foundation supports grantees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Internationally, it supports work in more than 100 countries.”

“Stated AFHU President George A. Schieren: ‘We are truly privileged to be honoring Bill Gates, who in addition to his revolutionary approach to information technology, is making a profound difference in the lives of millions worldwide confronting hunger, resource scarcity and health threats — all of which Israel faced and has successfully overcome since 1942, when The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences was established.'”

“The Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty is currently rolling out its “Feeding the World through Sustainable Agriculture” campaign. Departments are being organized to form a pioneering interdisciplinary four-Institute model. Physical campus improvements and program innovations will enable scientists to accelerate their work in addressing world hunger, malnutrition and environmental threats, particularly as affects people in developing nations and semi-arid climates. In addition to educating Israel’s students, the Faculty’s Division of External Studies educates international students from more than 150 countries.”

Bill Gates last days at Microsoft

Jews join the quest for space commerce


In the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a commercial Pan Am Space Clipper flight carries civilians to the wheel-shaped Space Station V, which features a Hilton Hotel and a Howard Johnson’s. Naturally, the calls to Earth via videophone are handled by AT&T’s forerunner Bell, and the charges for the call go on American Express.

While the film’s rampant commercialism was more social commentary than foresight, recent technological advances have boosted private enterprise into a field once considered government’s exclusive domain.

Commercial space interests are now playing a critical role in the dawn of the second space age — one built on business ventures and international cooperation. Instead of Hilton and Pan Am, the corporate names associated with the commercialization of space include Budget Suites and Virgin.

A new space race by corporate interests is being fueled by the dreams — and wallets — of prosperous entrepreneurs. Their investments are leading to the kind of technological developments that seemed like science fiction a decade ago. And Jews are represented in all aspects of the field, from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to former NASA director turned consultant Dan Goldin.
“It’s at every level. You see Jews in leadership positions as well as rank-and-file engineers and lawyers,” said Mike Gold, a Brandeis graduate who serves as corporate counsel for Bigelow Aerospace, a commercial spacecraft and space habitat company founded by Budget Suites mogul Robert Bigelow. “It’s part of the dream that a lot of people share.”

The tantalizing prospect of manned space travel was first realized by Yuri Gagarin’s flight aboard the Soviet-made Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, which was followed by the U.S. team of Alan Shepard and John Glenn in NASA’s Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962.
Immediately after the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1968, air carriers Pan Am and TWA started taking reservations for future flights to the moon; Pan Am logged more than 90,000 reservations.

The Reagan administration provided the legal framework for private space travel in 1984 with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Act. Under government regulations, the FAA’s Office for Commercial Space Transportation oversees private space launches, while the Office of Space Commercialization, part of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service, coordinates space-related issues, programs and initiatives within the Department of Commerce.

But space tourism continued to be viewed as the stuff of “2001” until former JPL scientist Dennis Tito paid $20 million to U.S.-based Space Adventures to visit the International Space Station on April 28, 2001, with the assistance of Russia’s federal space agency. His seven-day space holiday, and that of three other space tourists, has brought the dream of civilian space flight another step closer.

But the reality on the ground is that the industry carries tremendous pressures, especially to build successful business strategies that don’t rely on a few wealthy entrepreneurs’ bank accounts.

“One of the reasons why there hasn’t been a lot of truly commercial ventures in the space industry to date are the large upfront capital requirements,” said Lawrence Williams, vice president for international and government affairs at SpaceX, who is Jewish and came to the industry through communications work for the Clinton administration and Bill Gates’ satellite project Teledesics. “That’s why typically it’s only been governments that have been involved in this.”

The first private space flight took place on June 21, 2004, when the commercial suborbital craft, SpaceShipOne, reached a point more than 100 kilometers above the earth. The estimated $25 million cost of developing SpaceShipOne, which was built by Scaled Composites and went on to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4, was underwritten exclusively by Microsoft’s Allen.
His Mojave Aerospace is now licensing the technology to VirginGalactic, which plans to send up 500 people annually on a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo ships starting in 2008. The reservation list currently stands at about 65,000 people, with suborbital trips costing $208,000 per passenger.

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, Space Island Group and Bigelow Aerospace know that establishing a profitable presence in space must be based on more than just enabling passengers to experience seven minutes of weightlessness or allowing private citizens to live aboard an orbiting space hotel for a week. Industry experts say the only proven revenue stream thus far has been satellite development and satellite launches.

Alon Gany, head of the Fine Rocket Propulsion Center at Technion–Israel’s Institute of Technology, said that space investment from Israel’s private sector is tied almost exclusively to satellite technologies.

“One of the main efforts is the improvement of communication satellites. The other thing is developing specific components that are necessary for advanced satellites, like high-resolution cameras and cameras in different wavelengths, like infrared,” he said.
Risk-averse firms are looking to opportunities that can turn a profit — from satellites launches and NASA supply contracts to unique research and development in a zero-gravity environment.

“There’s all sorts of new drug treatments and biotech development that you can do in microgravity that you can’t do on Earth. It’s like opening up a whole new laboratory where all the rules are different because everything reacts differently,” Bigelow Aerospace counsel Gold said.

Gold, 33, said his work for Bigelow Aerospace is the fulfillment of a longstanding dream fed by the first space age.

“I grew up a ‘Star Trek’ fan, my grandfather worked on the Apollo missions, and I always had a huge interest in space.

Unfortunately, my interest was directly proportional to my lack of skill in the sciences, which is why I had to find my way to it via law,” he said.

Gold says that while space travel carries inherent dangers, private industry stands to lose more from a catastrophic loss than the federal government.

“Even without government regulation, we’re already highly incentivized. If we want to have industry here, customers and participants need to have a safe, reliable and affordable system in place,” he said.

As private industry prepares to stake claims in space following government’s Lewis-and-Clark-like exploration of the final frontier, many experts believe that a side benefit of putting more civilians in orbit will be a greater push for peace on Earth, especially in hot spots like the Middle East.

U.S. Firms Kowtow to China Censorship


If an American enters “Li Zhi” or “Shi Tao” in the search engine at Yahoo! News, more than 400 stories turn up, none of them flattering to Yahoo! But those articles won’t appear if you search for those words, or countless others deemed subversive by officials, on a computer in China.

For nearly a decade, not only has Yahoo! allowed the Chinese version of its search engine to be censored; worse, it has also turned over to Chinese state security the IP and e-mail addresses they have sought in order to nail and jail dissidents. When an American-based multinational is complicit with a police state’s worst practices, at the very least it takes the zing out of the exclamation mark in its branding.

Shi Tao, 37, was a reporter for the business daily, Dangdai Shang Bao. A year ago, he was sentenced by Beijing to 10 years in prison for “divulging state secrets abroad.” His offense was e-mailing to non-Chinese Web sites the warning that the Beijing government told his newspaper and others not to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. According to the text of the verdict, it was Yahoo! Hong Kong that enabled Chinese investigators to track the posting on a foreign Web site to Shi’s yahoo.com.cn e-mail account and to the IP address of his computer.

This month, another such case was reported. Li Zhi, a 35-year-old ex-civil servant from Dazhou, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for criticizing the corruption of local officials in online discussion groups, also had Yahoo! to thank for handing over to the police his e-mail address and user-name.

Yahoo! is not alone among American media companies kowtowing to the People’s Republic. Google, despite its “Don’t Be Evil” motto, has also agreed to abide by Beijing’s censorship guidelines. Microsoft’s MSN Spaces censors its Chinese-language blogs.

The Chinese police’s surveillance infrastructure is located in thousands of routers sold to them by Cisco Systems and programmed by Cisco engineers. It enables the authorities to suppress “subversive” key words and identify visitors to banned sites.

When pressed, these companies’ apologists offer the when-in-Rome defense: If you do business in other countries, you have to follow their laws and practices. But that argument conveniently forgets the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which outlaws bribery by U.S. firms, no matter how common or licit it might be in the countries where they do business. It also ignores the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which conditioned U.S. trade relations on Soviet emigration policies.

If complicity with bribery deserves outlawing, then why not censorship? If Soviet repression of Jews’ human rights could be part of our economic policy, then why not Chinese repression of dissidents?

Defenders of American-enabled cyber-snitching claim that foreign investment in China will liberalize Chinese society. The more they taste the goods, services and rising standard of living delivered by Western free markets, it’s said, the more political freedom the Chinese will demand.

Unfortunately, it’s the reverse that seems to be happening. The more that Western companies yearn for billions of yuan, the more willing they have been to compromise human rights values, if that’s what it takes.

Every major advance in technology has generated both utopian and dystopian visions of the future. The optimistic version of what will eventually happen is that the Internet is inherently, wonderfully uncontrollable. The genie out of the bottle is freedom’s ally; new provocative commentators, using new technologies like podcasting, and employing new workarounds, like IP anonymity software, will eventually make the Web a censor’s worst nightmare.

The countervailing vision is Big Brother. Recent revelations about warrantless wiretapping in the United States remind us how sophisticated the black arts of snooping are. If the limits on their use in a democracy are the subject of fierce debate, imagine how fragile are dissent, privacy and civil liberties in authoritarian societies that brook no compromise on state power.

No one knows which version of the future will prevail. Recently, the House Human Rights Subcommittee held a hearing about the ethical responsibilities of Internet firms. Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft and Cisco were summoned. The expected arguments on both sides were aired: trade, capitalism and technology were depicted on the one hand as liberators of the human spirit and on the other as accessories of human rights abuses.

Since it’s a crapshoot what direction the information revolution is really heading, surely the right path for an America that doesn’t merely mouth its moral values is to hold Yahoo! et al’s feet to the fire. The Web prides itself on being self-regulating; what about a cyber-rally on behalf of human rights, along with a reminder of consumers’ economic power?

Internet companies, rather than hunkering down and trying to get away with what business practices they can, could create voluntary codes of conduct that go beyond apparently hollow mottoes. The mere threat of government regulation could do wonders to focus the corporate mind. Any or all of that would be way better than what we’re doing now: rolling the dice that benevolent geeks and prosocial hackers will inevitably outwit the thought police and their kangaroo courts.

Martin Kaplan is associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication, where he founded and directs the Norman Lear Center (