The Future of Free Speech (FoFS) is an independent, non-partisan think tank located at Vanderbilt University. FoFS’ comment focuses on some of the issues identified by the Oversight Board and particularly Meta’s human rights responsibilities in relation to using the phrase “From the river to the sea”, including freedom of expression, freedom of association, and equality and non-discrimination. This submission will also show how a contextual analysis of the phrase does not justify, from necessity and proportionality perspectives, the introduction of restrictions that would otherwise affect the right to freedom of expression.

Key takeaways

  • The expression under scrutiny has long been used by various actors around the globe in political debates and protests related to the Israel-Palestine conflict, including the current tensions.
  • Any decision regarding the use of such a political slogan must also consider the impact that this may have on the use of this phrase beyond the ongoing situation in the Middle East.
  • There is little scope under international human rights law for restrictions on political speech or debates on matters of public interest.
  • It is difficult in this case to identify a target or vulnerable group, since expressions fundamentally aim at criticizing the leadership and policies of a state involved in an armed conflict that divides global public opinion.
  • The phrase “From the river to the sea” cannot be attributed as such and without any other evidence or context to violent groups or individuals promoting the use of violence.
  • Even though this is a phrase that could be potentially used, in certain cases and contexts, to advocate incitement to antisemitic hatred or violence, an assessment of the phrase as such, and without any other contextual element does not meet the Rabat Plan of Action threshold regarding hate speech.
  • Only in a context where the phrase is accompanied by explicit references to acts such as ethnic cleansing or endangering the existence of the current state of Israel could it potentially fall under the scope of article 20.2 ICCPR or fulfil the requirements of necessity and proportionality under article 19.3 ICCPR.
  • The phrase does not entail a minimally identifiable and specific call to action other than the sensitization of public opinion and the demand for international measures.
  • The risk of direct causation of harm is clearly absent.
  • Decisions from national authorities in democratic states have acknowledged the importance of considering the phrase in its specific contexts and generally treated it as protected speech, absent further elements that point to antisemitism or incitement to violence.


Download Full Submission



Read the press release here.

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