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Call for ICANN to dump anti-Semitic partner

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2023, Domain Policy

A senior Jewish member of the ICANN community is calling on the Org to end its partnership with a company run by a Palestine-born Jordanian businessman who recently broadcast some outrageously anti-Semitic remarks.

Jeff Neuman of JJN Solutions and Dot Hip Hop, who has spent the last quarter-century involved in countless ICANN community roles, made the plea in an open letter he posted on his blog today following remarks by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh on Jordanian TV on October 12.

The letter follows an exchange at the ICANN Annual General Meeting in Hamburg last week in which Neuman raised concerns about some on-site graffiti that he considered anti-Semitic.

Abu-Ghazaleh’s comments, rather than being just some coded anti-Semitic dog-whistles, appear to directly attempt to justify the Holocaust, according to a translation by Middle-East media monitoring organization MEMRI.

Along with some less-extreme anti-Semitic tropes, he said, during an interview discussing the war in Gaza:

The Jews do not have any ideology. All they care about is money and interests. I had a friend who was a German cabinet member. I once asked him: ‘When Hitler, may God forgive him, carried out the Holocaust, why didn’t he finish the job and kill all the Jews?’ He said to me: ‘It’s the other way around, but don’t tell anyone I said this. He left a group of them on purpose, so that people would know why we carried out the Holocaust. When you would be tormented by them, you would know the reason.’

It turns out the Talal Abu-Ghazzaleh Organization (TAG-Org) that he runs hosts an instance of ICANN’s L-root server in Jordan — one of scores of redundant nodes at data centers around the world — and Neuman wants this relationship terminated.

Revealing that family members were killed in the Holocaust, he says in his letter to ICANN leadership:

I believe ICANN must take immediate action to remove this instance from TAG-Org and find a new home for this instance. In addition, ICANN should make an unequivocal statement ASAP that it does not condone such hate speech and that it will not have any partnerships whose founders or leaders espouse such views.

TAG-Org’s relationship with ICANN does not stop at the L-root instance, however. Abu-Ghazaleh is a noted champion of intellectual property rights in the Middle-East region and his companies are naturally involved in the domain industry and ICANN community.

TAG-Domains, part of Abu-Ghazaleh Intellectual Property (AGIP), is an ICANN-accredited registrar specializing in brand protection services. It has only about 1,200 gTLD domains under management.

And the group seems to be intimately involved with the Arab Center for Dispute Resolution, the only ICANN-approved UDRP service provider in the region. It was approved in 2013 with an application managed by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Legal and there appears to be an ongoing relationship.

Neuman, who makes it clear he is not currently holding ICANN at fault for its partnerships, does not appear to be calling for ICANN to end these other relationships with the Abu-Ghazaleh group and I don’t think the Registrar Accreditation Agreement has a morality clause anyway.

Since Abu-Ghazaleh’s comments have come to light, two IP news publications — Managing IP and IAM — have publicly distanced themselves from him.

Managing IP said it was reviewing all awards it had given to AGIP and removing the company’s profile from its site, while IAM said it was removing Abu-Ghazaleh from its IP Hall of Fame.

While to my knowledge Neuman is the only person to date to ask ICANN for a similar censure, his voice does carry weight. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone else in the community who’s put in as many hours and knows as much about ICANN policy-making.

I think it’s quite likely ICANN will say something condemning racism in response; I’m less certain that it will pull the plug on the Amman L-root or do anything concrete to distance itself from the Abu-Ghazaleh companies.

ICANN chair Tripti Sinha has already expressed dismay at graffiti that Neuman considered anti-Semitic that appeared for 24 hours on a mural at ICANN 78 in Hamburg last week.

Saying on Twitter that the graffiti implied endorsement of the murder of Jews and that he felt unsafe at an ICANN meeting for the first time, Neuman used the Public Forum last Thursday to ask ICANN’s board of directors to condemn such behavior.

“This is not the place to make statements like that,” Sinha said, referring to the graffiti. “This is meant to be a safe place for discourse and interchange of ideas. so please do not engage in any kind of political dialogue and hurtful dialogue.”