Following the publication of this article, the Belgian embassy in Tel Aviv unblocked me on Twitter. I will continue to hold them accountable.
Social media can be a powerful tool to shine light on wrongdoing by governments.
These governments use social media to spread propaganda presenting their activities as benign.
So it’s understandable they don’t like it when journalists or critics point out their hypocrisy – especially over their alleged championing of human rights, while in fact they cozily collude with war criminals and cold-blooded killers.
On Twitter, I was blocked by Hélène Le Gal when she was the French ambassador in Tel Aviv.
I am blocked by Jon Hanssen-Bauer, the Norwegian ambassador to Israel.
When a Twitter user blocks you, it makes it very difficult to see, respond to or retweet what they post. That is useful if someone is being abusive to you.
But if the person who blocks you is a public official, they are putting a big obstacle in the way of holding them accountable.
Last year, I was also briefly blocked by the EU embassy in Tel Aviv – though that was reversed and a European Union spokesperson claimed that I was blocked “unintentionally.”
For more than a year I was blocked by the most notorious Twitter user on Earth: President Donald Trump.
However, I and dozens of other people were unblocked after a successful lawsuit challenging Trump brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
Federal judges upheld an important principle: Officials using social media in their government roles violate constitutional free speech rights if they block members of the public because of their views.
While binding only on American officials, this ruling ought to be instructive to any official who claims to represent a democratic government.
Yet this week, I was blocked by @BelgiumInIsrael, the official Twitter account of the Belgian embassy in Tel Aviv.
I have long used Twitter to challenge Belgium’s support for Israel as it commits crimes against Palestinians.
Recently, for example, I objected to how the Belgian embassy in Tel Aviv was promoting a concert to raise money for the Jewish National Fund, a racist organization backed by the Israeli state that is deeply involved in ethnically cleansing Palestinians from their land:
I wrote to the Belgian foreign ministry to ask why I was blocked and what laws or policies permit public officials to block journalists or critics.
The foreign ministry’s answer did not explain why I have been blocked, nor did it commit Belgian officials to refrain from this profoundly undemocratic practice.
It did however repeat claims about Belgium’s alleged support for human rights – the type of falsehoods that need constantly to be challenged.
It is true that Belgium sometimes expresses anger when, for example, Israeli occupation forces demolish Belgian-funded projects for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
But mild words of protest have no impact on a rogue regime like Israel’s, especially when Belgium and other EU states continue to reward Israeli leaders for their crimes with closer cooperation and trade, including with Israel’s war industry.
Belgium’s lethal trade
Government reports document that Belgium carries on a brisk and lethal arms trade with Israel.
In 2013, for instance, Belgium bought more than $10 million worth of machine guns from Israeli weapons maker Rafael.
In the first half of 2016 the Belgian military spent more than $2 million on guns, flame throwers, grenade launchers and munitions from Israel.
In 2017, the Belgian military bought at least $1 million more of such weapons from Israel.
These examples are just a small part of the picture.
In 2015, Elbit Systems, Israel’s biggest weapons manufacturer, secured a $150 million contract to supply “smart vests” for the armies of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Elbit has also supplied automated gun turrets for Belgian armored vehicles.
No doubt all such weapons have been “field tested” and “battle proven” – as Israel’s war industry often brags – during decades of military occupation and aggression against Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and other people of the region.
And the deadly trade goes both ways: In 2017, for example, Belgium transferred target tracking technology and other weapons systems to Israel worth about $2 million.
This included “computers used in bombing, guns and gun control systems for weapons.”
It is no wonder that Belgian officials don’t like anyone challenging their self-delusion that they are champions of human rights and supporters of peace for Palestinians.