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  • Writer's pictureAvi Abraham Benlolo

Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium

‘Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium’

US Hosts Vigorous Conference About On

line Antisemitism

Avi Abraham Benlolo, Human Rights Defender

“We are not going to stand by” charged Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, Orit Farkash-Hacohen in a strong speech given at today’s US Government’s first ever sponsored conference on Antisemitism. Justifiably railing against social media platforms, she said they have “crossed the red line” of free speech, she called on them to step up and take responsibility for the antisemitism that has become pervasive online.  

Its unfair Farkash-Hacohen said that Iran’s leader called Israel a “tumour” yet Twitter has refused to remove his tweets; even though there have been calls for his account to be suspended for contravening hate speech policies.  As I have written before, the Jewish world and friends of Israel is troubled by the rising tide of online antisemitism, despite the recent changes that are being made by platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.  Mark Zuckerberg recently announced on his own Facebook page that he is removing all Holocaust denial postings – perhaps in anticipation of this conference.

Opening remarks were given by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who sponsored the conference alongside his Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, Elan S. Carr. Pompeo drew on his faith and the Judeo-Christian tradition.  He did not mince words claiming that the “Jewish state” is under attack by countries like Iran who has gone as far as blaming Israel for Covid-19.  Social media platforms, said Pompeo, must adopt the antisemitism definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as part of their terms of service. 

“We must fight online hatred vigorously” said Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu from Jerusalem following Pompeo’s remarks. He called on governments to act and reminded the forum that today, antisemitism focuses on Israel as the “collective Jew”.  That of course is the parallel distinction being drawn: that no matter what embodiment Jewish people present at any given period in history (including Medieval Spain he said) anti-Semites will always find a way to blame and hate the Jews. 

But it was perhaps the British MP The Rt. Hon. Michael Gove who was most concise and articulate in his stand against antisemitism and in support of the State of Israel.  Serving as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Gove said, “antisemitism is a threat to us all.  What begins with the Jews, does not end with the Jews”.  Right he is. He called for the purging of online hate and concisely and clearly said, “peace is spreading…security for the Jewish people is being nurtured…we will fight with the Jewish people to defeat hatred”! What more can anyone ask for?

Darkness is approaching in Europe said Gove. Antisemitism is a virus that eats away at our society, infecting ideas, academia and science. It brews hostility to Israel and sows dangerous conspiracy theories, creating fear and division. This was the general sentiment of the speakers today, all calling for more action against internet providers. To this extent, for several years, I have been calling for the re-institution of Section 13 of Canada’s Criminal Code – which allowed for the removal of online hatred. 

Even while Neo-Nazism is strengthening across Europe and antisemitism increasing, the European Commission’s Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life, Katharina von Schnurbein said that Holocaust denial and distortion is illegal across the European Union.  This approach differs from the American model, while Canada has less tolerance to hatemongers. Likely a matter of enforcement as she articulated, speech that incites violence is illegal both on and off line. An interesting suggestion, was her articulation of a universal code of conduct where in Europe, online platforms must remove hate speech within 24 hours or be penalized. 

And while there were many more exceptional testimonies and instruction including from academics, it was one of the last testimonies of the day by Ms. Luciana Berger, a former Jewish Labour Party politician.  Having gone through the turbulence of Jeremy Corbyn, she attested at having received thousands of antisemitic messages.  In the end, she said she had little choice but to resign from the party – a party that was institutionally antisemitic. Still, it was noted earlier that the British people voted against antisemitism in the last election.

Antisemitism, the conference organizers said, has real life impact as experienced by Ms. Berger. No one strategy to combat it is enough. Everyone recognizes that multiple strategies including its removal from social networking platforms is critical to its riddance.  Congratulations to Secretary Mike Pompeo, Elan Carr and Ellie Cohanim on spearheading this important initiative and continuing to draw attention to the evil that is antisemitism.  Onward.

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