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Palestine flag suggestion for iPhone users typing ‘Jerusalem’ sparks online controversy

Apple says the appearance of the emoji is unintentional and will be changed, amid praise and rebuke from social media users
The Apple logo hangs in front of an Apple store on 21 March 2024 in Chicago, Illinois (AFP)

Tech giant Apple has sparked a wave of both criticism and support after iPhone users discovered that the Palestinian flag automatically flashes up as a suggested emoji when some users type "Jerusalem" on their keyboards.

Several iPhone users noted the emoji following a software update, which the company has claimed is the result of a bug and will be changed with the next update.

But social media erupted over the news.

The status of Jerusalem has long been a matter of contention. 

In 1967, Israel occupied and annexed the eastern part of the city - which Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state - in a move that has never been recognised by the international community or international law.

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Israel, however, claims the entire city as its "eternal and united" capital, which is why the update has caused outrage among pro-Israel commentators.

British television presenter Rachel Riley on Tuesday accused the tech giant of antisemitism. She noted that typing other capital cities into her iPhone did not lead to their nation’s flags being suggested.

"Showing double standards with respect to Israel is a form of antisemitism, which is itself a form of racism against Jewish people," she said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Middle East Eye found that the Palestinian flag is recommended to iPhone users who type "Jerusalem" under UK English dictionaries, while no flag is recommended when other capital cities are typed in - including Tel Aviv, which the international community widely accepts as Israel's de facto capital, where most countries have their diplomatic missions.

Meanwhile, several pro-Palestine users have praised the Apple update and emoji saying: "Can’t stop the truth" and "Excellent" - with one praising Apple as "based".

Based is a popular term used on X to express approval and respect.

Some users also suggested that the emoji was an intentional move by a programmer.

Speaking to The Sun, Eylon Levy, a former Israeli government spokesman, asserted that the glitch was "part of a global wave of hostility we're seeing against Israel".

"Clearly a bizarre glitch that I can only attribute to human error at Apple," he said.

However, Apple has told multiple news outlets that the appearance of the Palestinian flag emoji is a bug and will be changed in the next software update.

According to AppleInsider, due to "Apple's extensive use of machine learning and analyzing texts from millions of users, it's possible that the prediction system made the connection between the text string and the emoji on its own".

Middle East Eye has contacted Apple for comment.

In early April, the company faced another related controversy, when nearly 300 current and former Apple employees signed an open letter accusing the company of "wrongfully terminating" or disciplining several workers for expressing support for Palestine by wearing pro-Palestinian articles of clothing.

"We humbly ask that Mr. Cook and the rest of the executive team end their silence on this crucial subject, and make it clear that Palestinian lives matter," the letter said.

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