The Proliferation of Online Anti-Semitism

The four French Jews who were recently killed in the kosher supermarket attack in Paris were buried in Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot Cemetery on January 13.

In his eulogy, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin commented on the murders. “This is sheer hatred of Jews; abhorrent, dark and premeditated, which seeks to strike wherever there is Jewish life.” 

Rivlin spoke about the increase of attacks on Jews that have occurred in recent years. “It would be dangerous to deny that we are talking about anti-Semitism, whether old or new. Regardless of what may be the sick motives of terrorists, it is beholden upon the leaders of Europe to act, and commit to firm measures to return a sense of security and safety to the Jews of Europe; in Toulouse, in Paris, in Brussels, or in Burgas.”

He expressed the fears that Jews hold in Europe, now, because of frequent beatings, vandalism, and attacks on synagogues and Jewish communities. “It is no longer possible to ignore or remain ambiguous, or to act weakly or with leniency against rabid anti-Semitic incitement. Ignorance and violence will not simply go away on their own.”

With an uptick in anti-Semitism, not just in Europe, but also in the United States and throughout the world, concerned leaders are analyzing how to stop these vicious acts against the Jewish People.

One place that anti-Semites have been misinforming the public, encouraging negative attitudes towards Jews, is on the Internet. But in the name of First Amendment rights, Internet companies have refused to take material off of their sites that encourage racism, incitement, and lies. Much of this classic anti-Semitism is full of fabrications and blood libels. Moreover, cyber demonization of Jews could be poisoning the minds of fanatics and fueling the fire for more attacks.

According to Israeli Ambassador Gideon Behar, “Every new development in the cyber world is being used to integrate this kind of hate.  When we compare it to other forms of racism, it is prevalent on the Internet.”

Behar is the Director of the Department on Combating Anti-Semitism for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is raising public awareness of cyber discrimination and prejudice against Jews, while also pressing Internet companies to get the hate material off the Web.

In his office, Behar and others conduct searches on You Tube, Facebook, Google, Yahoo Answers, Instagram, and Wikipedia to prove how prevalent the bias is. The propaganda is massive. Articles, caricatures, videos, and photos are aimed at defaming the Jewish race and spreading falsehoods.

According to Behar, the Internet is an important platform, especially for vulnerable school children who are being given tasks by their teachers to find out information. A child may pose a question on Yahoo Answers, and an anti-Semite may answer their question. The answer is not challenged and the information remains on the Internet. Behar says that anti-Semites use this for their own purposes in every language.

For example, an app was created about two years ago for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. You could download it onto mobile phones in Arabic before the app was finally removed from the Internet.

Another example is that a Twitter account was created for Adolf Hitler. There were 770,000 followers before Twitter stopped it.  

“The Internet influences life on the ground,” Behar states. “It creates more motivation to attack Jews. It gives legitimization to that. Then, you have more motivation to attack them verbally or physically.”

Today, most European countries have regulations against hate speech and Holocaust denial. There is legislation that can be appropriated and a court in France has ruled against Twitter in the past.  But, a proliferation of materials that denigrate Jews remains in Cyberspace. It takes persistence and action to get Internet companies to delete this information.

At one time, for instance, there were #good Jew and #bad Jew hashtags. Behar says people could connect through these hashtags. “And, it was removed because of an appeal by the Union of Jewish Students in France. But, a thing like that cannot happen in the United States because of the First Amendment.”

Behar points out that the interpretation of the First Amendment enables every kind of hate speech and racism. He wants companies, governments, and organizations that deal with the WorldWideWeb to do something about the magnitude of these materials that are flooding public sites. “Actually, by not putting boundaries on them, they are creating a danger for democracy, western values, and our civilization as a whole.”

There should be protection on the Internet that allows free speech to continue, according to Behar, but at the same time protects individuals. If someone is interested in anti-Semitism or racism the search engines will reinforce this. People will get information they want to see and hear, and will not be supplied with other views.

On Behar’s computer he views Jew Watch, the biggest anti-Semitic website on the Internet. He says it ranks ten times higher than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial site because there are people who can manipulate the search engines.

Holocaust deniers, for example, can affect the algorithms so that their Web pages will be viewed before Holocaust materials that describe the truth of what happened during WWII. (Such algorithms tend to heavily weigh the number fo clicks a site receives. Just get a few hundred poeple to keep clicking, and you can raise a site to the top of the page.) People end up learning, first, what Holocaust deniers are propagating.

Behar thinks this is an unfair practice. “They influence the search engines so people will come to their Web sites, and not to good, honest Web sites on the Holocaust. The Internet is not naïve. We need to influence the norms so the norms will protect us.”

By sharing his knowledge, Behar hopes that there will be better reporting of Internet abuse and more scrutiny of information, especially materials that could stir up violence against Jews. He believes Internet providers and companies should have policies that prohibit the spread of hate in Cyberspace. They can enforce this by using technology such as filters.

The idea is to allow a child to learn about the history of the Jewish People without coming up against animosity towards Jews, first. Behar claims it is the responsibility of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to make changes. “In our world, we share the Net together. If it has become hostile to Jews and other groups, how can we live?  The Internet reinforces ideas; and, if your ideas are negative, you are already being re-enforced with negative ideas.”

Societal involvement is critical. The public can write talkbacks. Every Internet platform has a policy of reporting incitement. Behar is encouraging people to make their voices heard. But, he also believes that sites like Twitter, used by terrorists worldwide, should change their policy.

Anti-Semitism is not only a Jewish problem. Behar sees it as a world problem. “History shows us it starts with the Jews and continues to other minorities, and it never ends with the Jews. It is a global threat. It tells us that we must take action now. “

Behar wants to see more resources devoted to fighting the proliferation of cyber anti-Semitism

“If we want to preserve our society and democracy, we must pay very high attention to what is going on the Internet today; and, to protect the Internet and protect free speech from this hatred.”