Op-Ed: Terror and Anti-Semitism on the Internet
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards...
”The explosive rise in Internet usage in the present century has brought with it a new way of transmitting a wide range of classic anti-Semitic images and messages. Terrorist, racist, bigoted and anti-Semitic sites have emerged in large numbers and are often linked to each other. Traditional hate groups such as neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and skinheads, proliferate on the Net. Very different activist groups have built coalitions in the name of anti-globalization, anti-Americanism and attacking Israel.
“In 1995 there was one hate site, Stormfront. It is still active and has hundreds of thousands of postings.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Digital Terrorism and Hate Project, in its fourteenth year, currently monitors over 15,000 hate and terror-related sites. The exponential growth of viral social networking however, makes the numbers game increasingly irrelevant, as a single posting, image, song or YouTube video can reach untold thousands and beyond.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. For three and a half decades, Rabbi Cooper has overseen the SWC’s international social action agenda, which ranges from worldwide anti-Semitism, Nazi war crimes and restitution, to extremist groups and tolerance education.
He observes: “One can put up any website on the Internet, resurrect and dress up any idea, while targeting one’s message to specific audiences. In this medium, one can even say that Jews drink the blood of their victims - and not be challenged or rebuked on the spot. Major anti-Semitic themes include September 11 mythology, Holocaust denial, blood libel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
"The Internet provides a powerful platform for well-known anti-Semitic themes, and forms part of a much larger online sub-culture of hate.
“A number of factors make the Internet attractive to hate promoters. It is cheap, difficult to monitor and virtually impossible to keep a message off the Internet. Furthermore, it knows no borders; consequently, a minor player in a hate movement can now become a global operator.
“The cataclysmic threats from international terrorism have led to a major shift in how lawmakers and opinion makers in American society view the Internet. September 11 became a wake-up call in the United States. The main issue is no longer personal freedom of speech but rather, basic communal safety. Regarding terrorism, there is a welcome trend away from being reactive to online threats, to becoming pro-active. In the post-September 11-world, the authorities cannot afford to arrive after a terrorist event has taken place. To effectively stop terrorist acts, they must act before disaster strikes.
“Despite this welcome development, because of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, Americans are resistant to government interference in (mere) ‘hate’ speech. This helps to account for the fact that the U.S. is the offshore digital capital of hate. One example: Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, Nazi books, which were illegal in Germany, were published there and then mailed throughout Germany. Websites forced off German servers have since appeared on American ones.
“To reduce the number and impact of hate sites, we must constantly engage online companies to do their share. When we deal with companies like Facebook, Google and YouTube, we do our cause no favors by challenging the free-speech principle but rather, insist that the companies hold subscribers accountable when they violate the companies’ own rules.
“There is a contractual agreement generated every time an online user presses the ‘I agree’ button. When you sign on for their service, you have to follow their rules. And their template online contracts give these companies the power to remove postings and even service. This approach yielded positive results and led to the deletion of many thousand websites, forums and Facebook pages.
At present, we give an imperfect Facebook a B+ for their cooperation in this arena. Youtube rates a D- and Twitter a Not/Applicable. They have yet to even acknowledge their service is regularly abused by terrorists.”
Rabbi Cooper says Jewish groups must do much more to monitor the Internet because of the dangers involved. “As taxpayers in democracies, we have a right to ask the authorities to put part of that money into ensuring that terrorists do not destroy our democratic societies. When confronted with specific online threats from those supporting terrorism, we also have the right and obligation to seek protection from authorities. In addition, we must be vigilant and proactive to combat the political struggle against Zionism and Israel, and the growing campaigns to besmirch Judaism.
“We need a consortium approach to these challenges, which includes governments, law enforcements, intelligence agencies, NGOs, and the Internet community at large. Another big challenge remains to make educators, parents and the media grasp the scope of danger that an uncontrolled Internet presents to the values of democracy.
"At the same time, online bigotry, anti-Semitism and terrorism present ever-evolving threats to Israel and the Jewish people.”