Mr. Musk: Help us fight back against surging Antisemitism - opinion

It seems like most of the world has remembered to forget the lessons of the holocaust. In recent days, it has been impossible to ignore the poison of antisemitism spreading across social media.

 Elon Musk and Twitter (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Elon Musk and Twitter
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

This month we commemorated the 84th anniversary of the tragedy of Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass), the night in 1938 when Nazis unleashed an organized pogrom destroying Germany's synagogues and rounding up 30,000 Jews to send to concentration camps. 

It marked the beginning of the end of German Jewry and the precursor of the Holocaust that would soon destroy European Jewry and lead to the mass murder of 6 million Jews.

In 2022, it is clear much of the world has remembered to forget the lessons of the Shoah. We are confronted with surging antisemitism on both sides of the Atlantic, with violence against religious Jews in New York City almost a daily occurrence, with Jews shunning any outward display of their religion in world capitals, with calls for French and German Jews to get out, and with Jewish students subject to intimidation and worse on elite campuses.

And in recent days, it has been impossible to ignore the poison of antisemitism spreading across social media, with celebrities like Kanye "Ye" West and Kyrie Irving sharing conspiracy theories and antisemitic posts, blaming the "Jewish underground media mafia" for numerous alleged wrongdoings and alleging that "Jewish people have owned the Black voice." 

Antisemitism may be history's oldest hate, but when it's coupled with the unprecedented marketing power of social media, it spawns devastating consequences for the Jewish people and institutions.

We are fighting back, but the first step in combatting any cancer is the need to define its parameters.

Fortunately, there is one tool that can accomplish both: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA Working Definition) addresses various types of antisemitism, including justifying the killing of Jews in the name of radical ideology, Holocaust denial, and denying the Jewish right to self-determination in the State of Israel. The definition also provides real-life examples that show antisemitism in its myriad forms. 

It is for these reasons that the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has signed a letter with more than 180 other NGOs from around the world urging Twitter's new owner Elon Musk, to curb hate and antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition. With a clear and wide-ranging definition at its disposal, Twitter can take meaningful steps to ensure that frequent antisemitic abuse is not overlooked.

Twitter has become one of the world's preeminent social media platforms for online discussions, where citizens, elected officials, and the media exercise their right to free expression and engage in healthy and productive conversations. As I and others hope for its continued success as a platform for civil discourse and to be that "common digital town square," we would like to see Twitter use Musk's tech-savvy and sophistication to implement technological solutions that will curb antisemitism, utilizing the IHRA working definition as a tool.

The IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism is the world's most recognized definition of anti-Jewish hate and was adopted by the US State Department and 37 other national governments, as well as hundreds of local governments, universities, law enforcement agencies, civil society organizations and international bodies around the world.

Unfortunately, there are ongoing attempts to reject IHRA by anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activist actors who want to mainstream their hate toward the only Jewish democratic state in the world. They are worried that the adoption of the IHRA definition will curb and curtail their campaigns to demonize and delegitimize Israel. Thankfully, however, the IHRA definition continues to be adopted by more countries, organizations and companies who understand the multiple layers of classic and new antisemitism. 

To effectively degrade Jew-hatred on social media platforms, we need social media giants, led by Elon Musk's Twitter, to adopt IHRA as part of their online rules of engagement.

No one action can turn the tide against antisemitism, but by adopting and applying IHRA to Twitter, Mr. Musk can help lead a long-delayed effective online counterattack against hate.

In the 20th century, Jews learned the hard way that words can lead to deadly actions. In the 21st century, we dare not turn over social media's powers to hate-mongers and antisemites. Mr. Musk- we need you to take the lead in changing Twitter. When you do, others will follow.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights NGO. He also serves as Vice Chair of The US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Rabbi Cooper has been a longtime activist for Jewish and human rights causes and is an acknowledged expert on online hate and terrorism.

This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Patricia Teitelbaum.