Why does an article defending the right to boycott Max Brenner elicit a call for gassing Jews? And why does an article on Israel’s security barrier elicit a call for the drowning of all Jews in Australia?
Posting a comment under an online article about Foreign Minister Bob Carr and aboriginal affairs, a certain David G wrote: “Lets call a spade a spade here forget about Zionists they are Jews! there are 125,000 of them in Australia and our Government feel a need to keep them happy because of their money and power. We should run the Jew Bastards [sic] out of the country just like what they do to non-Jewish [sic] in Israel the quicker the world is rid of these Jew bastards the better for peace in the world. Any one got a spare Gas chamber [sic] but this time lets do it for real.”
This is but one example of the vile and often genocidal anti-Jewish responses to online articles that are critical of Israel.
Two factors are involved.
With the Internet, racism and vilification are easily and widely propagated, often with few restraints. The Internet media and the print media operate under different editorial oversight, publishing guidelines and civil law, with the former acting with almost unfettered freedom, and the latter acting within prescribed parameters. The problem is that the law has yet to catch up with technological developments. This is especially true for matters of bigotry, hatred and vilification on the Internet. Even websites ostensibly espousing an anti-racist agenda often fail to uphold those principles when it comes to Jews and the State of Israel.
The second factor is the growing social acceptability of anti-Semitism when it is cloaked as anti-Zionism. Support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel has become a part of the orthodoxy of the contemporary political Left. The Left prides itself on its progressive, anti-racist beliefs and policies, yet when it comes to Israel, left-wing media articles and posted comments frequently cross the line into outright anti-Jewish racism.
Indymedia Australia provides a valuable study on how anti-Israel articles often end up producing anti-Jewish commentary.
Indymedia hosts articles about current events and upcoming protests, and each article provides the opportunity for comments by readers. Some examples of anti- Semitic comments that have appeared in Indymedia follow:
In Defending the Right to Boycott Max Brenner, “Anonymous” wrote: “I can organize a train ride and instead of saying it is a shower I will tell them it is where the Gentiles keep their money then they will run into the gas chamber to rip off the Gentile and I will slam the door shut behind them. Or if they have not built a gas Chamber [sic] yet we can Bulldoze down [sic] their houses with them in side [sic] and give them a taste of their own medicine!”
In Don’t be Another Brick in Israel’s Wall, “Psycho Bill” wrote:
“We need to wipe Israel off the map we should cut the heads off all the people that have stolen land from the Palestinian people and celebrate by drinking their blood we will eat their children and rape their wives [only the good looking ones] then feed the left overs to the Pigs, If [sic] you think this approach is a bit excessive we can gas the bastards or build walls around every synagogue in Australia then fill it with water and drown the scourge of the earth that go there. Lets face it and be honest it’s the f***ing Jews that are the problem and until we have the guts to admit it we are wasting our time. Line all the f***ers up and shoot the Jewish pigs. It’s no wonder Hitler took to the Bastards [sic].”
Other comments, all in articles supporting calls for a boycott of Max Brenner chocolate shops, included murderous incitement with the comment: “we [sic] need to pick up a machine gun and when these Zionist scum are all gone we will be free!” to charges of decide with “Zionists are the pigs that bombed Israel into existence through Terrorism [sic]. Israelis are the pigs that live there today. And Jews were the pigs that killed Jesus.”
There were also comments with fabrications about the Talmud, falsely claiming that it states that “Gentiles were made by god to serve the Jew and it is not a sin to kill a Gentile” and also claims that “Yes it is true Jews run the world.”
Some of these and other anti-Semitic comments remained on the website for weeks, with apparently no objections raised, no internal monitoring of comments, and no concern for the propagation of vilification, racism and genocide.
It was only when the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) contacted Indymedia about the anti-Semitic posts that Indymedia removed some of them. Indymedia acknowledged the problem of anti- Semitism on its website and was cooperative in removing some of the material once it was pointed out.
However, other comments, those critical of Israel but couched in anti-Jewish terms, were considered a gray area, not anti- Semitic per se, and were not removed.
ECAJ then provided Indymedia with information on what constitutes anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic criticism of Israel, including the document Working Definition of Antisemitism sourced from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
After an increasingly heavy stream of anti-Jewish comments, Indymedia instituted a new regime to block the racists whereby all comments had to be checked by a moderator before publication. This enabled Indymedia to weed out racist comments from publication on its website.
The case study highlighted four aspects of the issue of anti-Semitic comments in response to articles critical of Israel.
First, that articles critical of Israel are a magnet for anti-Semites and are used as a vehicle to express their Jew-hatred.
Second, that those critical of Israel who may not think of themselves as anti-Jewish often fall into using anti-Jewish rhetoric and stereotyping.
Third, that website owners often have little knowledge about the nature of anti- Jewish racism and how it manifests, as shown in their difficulty in identifying anti-Semitic criticism of Israel as racist, even when traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes are used.
And fourth, there is a laxity by website owners in monitoring their websites for racist commentary and removing it.
Unfortunately, in too many cases, it is often only because of complaints of racism that owners are forced to clean up their websites. Individuals and organizations, especially those on the Left, who wish to criticize Israel should exercise responsibility, uphold their anti-racist principles, and monitor their own websites effectively to ensure no racist comments are published in the first place.
They also need to learn how to identify anti-Semitic content within anti-Zionist material, and to distinguish between anti- Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israel.
Monitoring of and complaints about anti- Semitism on websites should not be the job of Jewish individuals or organizations, or others, but should rest with the website owners. They have the same responsibilities and should operate with the same level of care as owners of print media.
There are many in the independent and online media who would do well to heed the observation of Prof. Irwin Cotler, former Canadian justice minister, that “the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers – it began with words.”
The writer is the research officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the officially elected representative organization of the Australian Jewish Community.