Anti-Israel rallying cry being reviewed by Facebook oversight board is tied to 'violent campaign,' expert says

'From the river to the sea' phrase is being investigated by Meta

An expert on the Middle East tells FOX Business that the phrase "from the river to the sea" — which Facebook's independent oversight board is now considering whether to designate as hate speech — is "inextricably linked" to a "violent campaign to get rid of Israel." 

David Adesnik, a Senior Fellow and Director of Research at the nonprofit Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is speaking out after Facebook's oversight board announced plans to review the phrase, citing three instances of users reporting it as supporting terrorism. In all three of those instances, Meta chose to take no action. 

"Is it a call to abolish the state of Israel? That is the plain meaning of the phrase. If there should be one entity, from the river to the sea — Palestine — that means removing the entity that is there right now," Adesnik told FOX Business on Thursday. 

"What is the means of removing that entity? Historically, since this phrase originated... the consistent use of it is largely by people who would favor what they would call armed resistance — which usually includes killing civilians — of taking over Israel," he continued. "So it was inextricably linked to the idea of a military or armed and violent campaign to get rid of Israel."

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Anti-Israel protest in London

A pro-Palestinian activist holds up a sign reading 'From the river to the sea Palestine will be free' during a protest in London in November 2023. (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"Obviously, there has also been a campaign to say otherwise. You can’t fix permanently the meaning of a word, even if you put it in a dictionary. People can decide they want to change how it is used," Adesnik also said. "Many protesters are now asserting that it means something else, and I think really what is going on is they want to be able to chant the same things as whether it's people in Gaza — without taking responsibility for what those things really are." 

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But ultimately, he says the phrase "should be fairly, objectively assessed that it is a call for one ethnic group dominating another." 

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Anti-Israel rally in Queens, NYC

Anti-Israel protesters hold a rally in the Queens borough of New York City on Wednesday to commemorate the 76th anniversary of Nakba Day. The Nakba, meaning "catastrophe" in Arabic, is marked by Palestinians on May 15 to remember the expulsion of hun (Selcuk Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The oversight board is now seeking public comment on the matter, saying it is open to arguments that Meta's decision to take no action was incorrect. 

"The Board selected these cases to consider how Meta should moderate the use of the phrase given the resurgence in its use after October 7, 2023, and controversies around the phrase’s meaning. On the one hand, the phrase has been used to advocate for the dignity and human rights of Palestinians. On the other hand, it could have antisemitic implications, as claimed by the users who submitted the cases to the Board," it wrote. 

The board notes that any finding it makes regarding the phrase would not be binding on Facebook. It says it can only offer the platform recommendations for its moderation policies. 

Columbia Protests

Anti-Israel demonstrators at an encampment at Columbia University in New York City on April 22. (Getty Images)

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The phrase has become ubiquitous at anti-Israel protests taking place across the U.S. The U.S. House of Representatives condemned "From the river to the sea" as antisemitic in a bipartisan vote last month, despite its use by fringe Democrats. 

FOX Business’ Anders Hagstrom contributed to this report.