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Why Apple was wrong to pull iPhone app at Israel's behest

The US computer giant removed the "ThirdIntifada" app under Israeli pressure.

The Arabic word intifada -- literally meaning "to shake off" but usually translated as "uprising" or "resistance" -- has strong political and historical connotations in the Arab world. The First and Second Intifadas were two popular Palestinian uprisings over the past three decades against the Israeli occupation.

That Apple attempted to capitalise on the social turmoil of these events by launching an iPhone application under the name "ThirdIntifada" is thus not the smartest move the company has ever made. The Arabic-language app was released a few days ago, and provided consumers with news reports and editorials, as well as details of upcoming protests and nationalistic Palestinian material.

Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government has been quick to take the offensive, and Apple has since removed the app at the request of the Iraeli state.

But this small and seemingly benign episode raises questions about Apple's political entanglements, and the extent of Israeli influence.

Israel recently appealed personally to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to take down a Palestinian Third Intifada page that had attracted more than 350,000 fans. After initially refusing, Facebook, too, complied.

Arguably, Apple should not have agreed to publish the app in the first place -- or at least changed its name to something less politically volatile. The company enforces stringent guidelines for the applications it approves, and has previously rejected or blocked apps that it considers offensive or inflammatory. Earlier this year, Apple pulled an app offering to "cure homosexuality" after more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for its removal.

While the Intifada app may indeed be deemed offensive by some Zionist groups, it seems unlikely that such a fuss would have been made for a similar app detailing the Egyptian or Tunisian protest movements -- or, for that matter, the recent protests in Britain against government spending cuts.

The question here is not just about Apple's murky politics, Palestinian antagonism or Israel's far-reaching influence, but about the role of a state -- any state -- in pressurising an international organisation to withdraw one of their products. Two wrongs, as the saying goes, don't make a right.

Whichever way you look at it, this example sets a worrying -- if not wholly unexpected -- precedent for future dealings between Palestinians and the Israeli state.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is a freelance journalist currently living and working in London. She has written for the Sunday Express, the Daily Telegraph and the Economist online.