From Nuclear Iran to Online Hate

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center visits Toronto.

Dan Verbin , | updated: 5:00 AM

Rabbi Abraham Cooper was in Toronto last week to address members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center on a range of issues of importance to the Jewish community.

Speaking with Shalom Life, Cooper, the Associate Dean of the center, noted that Toronto has 24,000 Simon Wiesenthal Center members out of a total of 400,000 worldwide.

“Canada’s grassroots support is very loyal. I wanted to give them a perspective and update,” he said.

One of Cooper’s biggest concerns at the moment is Iran’s nuclear program. He recently met with a senior official of the White House’s National Security Council to address a Congressional vote on the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty in which Israel was named for the first time, but Iran was not mentioned.

In terms of what to do to ensure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, he said, “Everyone’s hoping and praying that the sanctions that are in place, at least on paper, will have an effect.”

He also believes that efforts have to “ratcheted up” to make sure that overseas subsidiaries of companies don’t use loopholes to continue trading with Iran. For instance, there was a recent report that German firms are continuing to help the Iranian regime even though they are not supposed to.

It’s perfectly understandable to focus on the existential threat of a “homicidal maniac like Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who want to do in Israel and the Jews,” said Cooper. However, he and his colleagues have visited the United Arab Emirates twice where they met with top government officials and the UAE is just as worried about Iran as Israel is. He explained how from the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai, you can see the three islands of Abu Moussa, Greater Tunbs and Lesser Tunbs, which are currently are under Iranian control (the UAE believes that these Persian Gulf islands belong to them).

Just across the water, the “Iranian threat is an existential threat to [the UAE’s] very nice world order where oil is an ATM machine to them and the United States has provided cover all of these decades.”

The message Cooper heard from UAE officials: If the bomb isn’t stopped, they are going to have to make a deal with the devil.

“They are not sleeping at night; this has nothing to do with Israel,” he said. “In fact, they are hoping that the United States and Israel and others will get together to take out that threat.”

According to Cooper, many American diplomats, journalists and experts are way off course when they say, “What would be so bad if Iran gets the bomb? It will make Israel behave and make the Arabs thank us so what’s the big deal?”

“This is an issue that much more profound because when they go nuclear, so does Egypt, so does Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE will have no problem with their chequebook to do the same. Can you imagine a Middle East in which every zip code has nuclear weapons? Nobody there who we spoke to wants to do it, everyone there will do it. So the stakes are much higher and go far beyond our concerns for our families and friends in Israel. It’s the whole region.”

He would have liked to see President Barack Obama up the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government a lot earlier. Right now, however, he “seems to be on it.”

He also mentioned that the US government needs to do much more to support the pro-democracy movement in Iran, saying that in the past the American government has always used its power to support dissident movements – for example, with Voice of America broadcasts –in places like the former Soviet Union.  

Cooper also touched on digital hate crime. Each year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center puts out a report on Digital Terrorism.

“The online battle between pro-terrorists and pro-democracy activists is raging,” said Cooper. “It may be a silent war but it’s a very real war.”

Cooper, who meets with Internet corporations such as Yahoo, Google and Facebook, explained that in the U.S. because of freedom of speech, they approach online hate by asking companies to take down offending sites citing violations of terms of usage.

“We’ve generally been very successful at that, taking offline thousands of websites and other hateful postings,” he said. “You and I both know that that doesn’t mean these groups and individuals don’t try to re-organize and find another way to come right back on, through another service. That’s a kind of ongoing guerrilla warfare.”

As far as he is concerned, Canada has the best approach in the world to such matters, especially with our anti-hate laws. Cooper, who deals with Canada’s IP association, said that it takes usually no more than a phone call or an email to a Canadian ISP for a hate site that has crossed the line to be removed.

He said that “Canadians reach for their best instincts” while Europeans are mired in bureaucratic minutia of the sort that generally makes dealing with the removal of anti-Semitic or racist content very tricky.

Social networking seems to be the new battlefront, with many serial haters using Youtube postings to spread their vile messages.

That said, Cooper is quick not to blame the Internet or technology for “spreading the poison.” It’s the other way around, with the hatemonger responsible, from the days of the mimeograph up to today with Facebook.

“When we talk about Canada, we hold it up as an example because it’s really a combination of the private sector, law enforcement, the media and the public,” Cooper commented. “Overall, it works really well. I’m sure there is a lot of frustration about the offshore addresses that these people end up using. It’s a struggle.”

(Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life)