US holds conference on combating online antisemitism

State Department calls on social media platforms to adopt IHRA definition.

‘FACEBOOK, GOOGLE and Twitter remove some things, but usually society is not disturbed by defamation.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘FACEBOOK, GOOGLE and Twitter remove some things, but usually society is not disturbed by defamation.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo kicked off the first-ever US government-sponsored conference on fighting online antisemitism this week by noting results from Israel’s tracking system: In the first eight months of 2020, 1.7 million messages on Twitter and YouTube were identified as promoting hatred toward Jews.
Pompeo said that 37,000 of these posts were related to a conspiracy theory that Jews were behind the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Trump Administration is combating Jew hatred wherever we find it,” the secretary said. “Nowadays, bigots everywhere can spread antisemitism anonymously online.”
The online confab was titled Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium: Conference on Internet antisemitism. Social media representatives, academics, religious figures and NGO leaders came together with Israeli and US officials to discuss how to fight the age-old hatred toward Jews in new mediums, such as social media platforms.
“Contemporary antisemitism feeds off its more traditional precursors, often focusing on the State of Israel, which, for the antisemite, is the manifestation of the collective Jew,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told conference-goers.
“The neo-Nazi, the ultra-Left revolutionary, the Islamist militant might agree about nothing else, but they all do share a common hatred toward us, and that hate is awash across the internet,” he said.
“We must fight this online hatred vigorously,” he continued. “If the social media giants fail to do so, and they do, then it’s necessary for governments to act. The United States government is acting.”
The State Department recommended that social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of antisemitism, as the State Department has done.
According to IHRA, antisemitism is a “certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Incorporated in its definition are 11 illustrations of antisemitism, with four focusing on the Jewish state.
The State Department also provided guidance for people to fight antisemitism online. In addition to being able to identify it through the IHRA definition, individuals can and should call on social media giants to take down antisemitic posts. They should also form alliances to combat this type of rhetoric.
Speaking to participants, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, director of the Global Social Action Agenda at the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, stressed the conference’s importance given that the internet has become the primary driver of antisemitism worldwide.
“Social media platforms are the main delivery systems of anti-Semitic hate. That is why the Simon Wiesenthal Center continues to monitor, expose and cajole the major players to degrade the online capabilities of anti-Semites, racists and terrorists,” he told The Media Line.
Among the participants were dignitaries from around the world, including the United Arab Emirates, which recently establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
Dr. Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, a member of the UAE’s Federal National Council and chairman of the international steering board of Hedayah: The International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism, addressed both online antisemitism and the Abraham Accords, which established ties between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem.
“We feel t[hat as a] community of tolerance, if we don’t have the Jewish community, it won’t be complete,” Al Nuaimi said during the conference.
“This is like building a tower: There [are] windows, door, floors. It won’t [be] complete unless you have the Jewish community in that building – so now it’s completed,” he explained.
“The Middle East is changing, and now we have an opportunity to show to others that we need to live together, we need to respect each other, we need to believe… everyone has the right to believe in the religion he believes in…. We should create a culture where we seek protection for everyone, and for their values and their community,” he stated.
Al Nuaimi contends that schools are integral to the battle against online antisemitism.
“I think it’s very important to start with education, because even in many Western countries, [there are] laws that prohibit this narrative, but unfortunately it still [has persisted] for decades,” he said. “The laws will only counter [antisemitism after the fact]; it won’t work [as a strategy for] prevention.”
He also argues that to stop antisemitism, religious leaders from different backgrounds should collaborate to extol the worth of all faiths, and use role models that young people admire. By way of example, he cited soccer players in the UAE for promoting coexistence.
At the event’s conclusion on Thursday, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat antisemitism Elan S. Carr said the conference was already making inroads.
He noted that Facebook had amended the terms and conditions agreement for use of the platform and would ban posts involving Holocaust “denial or distortion.” He added that the social media giant would soon provide offenders with links to sites that provide accurate information about the Holocaust.
However, controversy threatened to overshadow the conference when Politico reported on Wednesday that under Pompeo, the State Department was expected to designate Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and Oxfam as antisemitic for their alleged support of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and withdraw funding.
Accusations of antisemitism against these organizations are not new. In 2019, HRW Country Director Omar Shakir was deported from Israel under a law that allows Jerusalem to ban entry to foreigners who initiate or express solidarity with the BDS movement.
In response to the report, Amnesty said in a press release: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the founding document of our work and our guiding light, came together precisely because of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people. These accusations [against the organizations] are an affront to anyone who believes in the human rights movement.”
Eric Goldstein, deputy director for HRW’s Middle East and North Africa region, used the term “preposterous” in describing the reported plan.
“We use the same standards when reporting on government abuses around the world,” he told The Media Line. “That’s why the State Department quotes our reports year after year, including our reports on abuses by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Such a designation would be a gift to repressive regimes, who would use it in an effort to discredit our exposure of their abuses.”
However, not everyone agreed that allegations of singling out Israel for special attention were far-fetched.
“Amnesty International has helped to legitimize and sustain the big lie [of] Israel-Apartheid, falsely accusing Israel of ‘collective punishment’ and ‘war crimes,’” the Wiesenthal Center’s Cooper told The Media Line.
“Instead of denouncing Hamas for their use of children against Israel, they promote the lie that Israel targets Palestinian kids. HRW accuses Israel of war crimes against Gaza when Israel defended herself against Hamas terrorism. They support BDS and try to smear Israel as major violator of international human rights law,” he continued.
“In other words,” Cooper said, “they earned their reputations when it comes to the Jewish state.”
Read more articles from The Media Line.