Google has been profiting from the sale of T-shirts glorifying Palestinian militant group Hamas by advertising the garments, it can be revealed, days after the UK government banned its political wing as a terrorist organisation.
The military arm of the Islamist group – which controls the Gaza strip and does not recognise Israel’s right to exist – has been proscribed in the UK since 2001, but the entirety of Hamas was designated a terrorist organisation last week.
The move, announced by Home Secretary Priti Patel in a bid to crackdown on anti-semitism, came into force last Friday. It makes it a criminal offence to be a member of Hamas or even wear clothing suggesting an individual is a supporter – those in breach of the law could be jailed for up to 14 years.
Despite this, The Independent found the internet giant has in the days since been displaying adverts for T-shirts bearing the message “HAMAS ARMY”, emblazoned with a picture apparently depicting a fighter from the terror group wearing a jacket with a Palestinian flag.
Google had been advertising the £9.93 shirts – for sale via another website – at the top of the “shopping” section of its search engine. One of the adverts even highlighted a “price drop”, pointing out they were previously £19.26.
The adverts appeared after a search was made for “Hamas” on the shopping section of its search engine. A message next to the adverts explained that Google received payment in return for displaying them.
“Products and offers that match your query. Google is compensated by these merchants. Payment is one of several factors used to rank these results,” it said.
Separately, the garments also appeared as items within the “shopping” section, which showcases goods sold on other websites, although vendors do not have to pay for them to feature.
After being presented with The Independent’s findings, Google removed the adverts and listings within hours.
“We prohibit ads or products that are made by or in support of terrorist groups. In this case, we removed the ads and listings from our platform. We enforce our policies vigorously and take action when they are breached,” a spokesperson said.
It comes after Google’s parent company, Alphabet, posted a record quarterly profit of $18.93bn (£14.3bn) in October as it was boosted by a surge in advertising revenue.
Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl said: “It is completely unacceptable for Google to accept advertising on its platform promoting materials glorifying a banned terrorist organisation with blood on its hands.
“Google has done the right thing in removing the advertisement but in future must be held responsible for due diligence on all of the products it allows to be advertised on its platform.”
The T-shirts were being sold by Teepublic, a website that describes itself as “the world’s largest marketplace for independent creators to sell their work on the highest-quality merchandise”.
Teepublic – which says that it does not manually screen content before it is displayed on its website – allows users to upload designs and pays them when items are sold.
Teepublic had also been featuring other items designed by the “independent creator” behind the “HAMAS ARMY” T-shirts, including children’s versions of the garments, as well as mugs, masks, hoodies and stickers. It is not clear how many, if any, of the “HAMAS ARMY” T-shirts have been sold to date.
The website, owned by Australian firm Redbubble, removed the T-shirts from sale after being contacted by The Independent.
A Teepublic spokesperson said: “TeePublic uses technology and human review to scan the more than 10 million works uploaded and offered for sale by users on the marketplace, in order to identify content that potentially violates our terms and conditions.
“The designs referenced do go against our content restrictions prohibiting incitement and glorification of violence, so they have been removed and the account has been permanently suspended.
“Though TeePublic employs robust proactive review measures and screens for this type of content regularly, some designs that don’t adhere to our guidelines still become available on the marketplace.”
Under the Terrorism Act 2000, “a person in a public place commits an offence if he … wears an item of clothing, or… wears, carries or displays an article, in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”. Those found guilty under this part of the legislation face jail terms of up to six months and/or a fine.
Last month, a man admitted terror offences after wearing T-shirts supporting banned Palestinian militant groups. Feras Al-Jayoosi, 34, wore clothing referring to the military wing of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Golders Green, an area in north London with a large Jewish population, earlier this year.
The move to make the entirety of Hamas a terrorist group was backed by Labour, and brings the UK in line with both the EU and United States. Explaining its proscription of Hamas, the UK government’s website states: “Hamas is a complex but single terrorist organisation. Hamas commits and participates in terrorism. Hamas has used indiscriminate rocket or mortar attacks, and raids against Israeli targets.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We expect tech companies to tackle terrorist content on their platforms and respond to emerging threats quickly. We are pleased Google acted so swiftly here, and we will continue to work with companies to ensure it remains a priority.”