Rampant online anti-Semitism has taken “a page from the marketing strategy of ISIS” as bigots utilize the Internet and social media to create their own echo chamber and target audiences “to abuse, threaten or recruit,” a leading voice in the fight against hate said.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told PJM that over the campaign season he heard from many young, Jewish reporters who had never personally experienced anti-Semitism. “Then they wake up one morning and they’re attacked,” he said. “That’s a game changer.”
Searching for keywords such as “kike” and hashtags such as #ZioNazi, the Anti-Defamation League uncovered 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets reaching 10 billion Twitter users spanning the earlier part of the campaign season from August 2015 to July 2016.
At least 800 journalists were the target of those anti-Semitic tweets, while the 10 most targeted journalists, all Jewish, received 83 percent of the tweets directed at media, according to last month’s report compiled by ADL’s Task Force on Hate Speech and Journalism.
Twitter accounts responsible for just 16 percent of the anti-Semitic tweets had been suspended. Sixty percent of anti-Semitic tweets were replies to tweets from journalists. Non-Jewish journalists also received anti-Semitic messages, “presumably intended to be either an insult or threat.”
After Julia Ioffe wrote a profile of Melania Trump for the May issue of GQ magazine, the barrage of tweets she received included one calling her “filthy Russian kike” and others sent the journalist photos of concentration camps with captions such as “Back to the Ovens!”
New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman has “received images of ovens, of himself wearing Nazi ‘Juden’ stars, and of Auschwitz’s infamous entry gates, the path painted over with the Trump logo, and the iron letters refashioned to read ‘Machen Amerika Great.’”
Ben Shapiro has been called a “Christ-killer” and a “kike,” among other anti-Semitic tweets. Commentary editors John Podhoretz and Noah Rothman were also cited as receiving a flood of tweets from anti-Semites.
Federalist contributor Bethany Mandel told ADL that she has received anti-Semitic tweets before, but the volume and apparent coordination stands out in this year’s attacks. “One user tweeted about her for 19 hours straight, and she received messages containing incendiary language about her family, and images with her face superimposed on photos of Nazi concentration camps.”
Though social media and websites have allowed anti-Semites to anonymously spread hate, it’s also being disseminated through vandalism and old-fashioned propaganda. A $10,000 reward was offered to find those responsible for defacing a Maryland middle school’s restroom with multiple swastikas. A Montana synagogue asked for police protection after their town was littered with American Nazi Party fliers.
Rabbi Cooper told PJM that the “challenge to Donald Trump and his administration is to come up with robust ways to push back against that echo chamber.” It’s not just a matter of counter-messaging, he said, but setting and moving forward with priorities.
Trump the candidate, he noted, did speak against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, and a president can do plenty on that front particularly as the current Department of Education has been “AWOL on anti-Semitism on campuses.”
“From where I sit, tuned with realities on the ground, it is important to hope that this administration will combat anti-Semitism at home and globally,” he said. “…We have a long way to go and a lot of that has to do with leadership — not just of a president, but leaders of universities, students, Jewish organizations.”
Acknowledging the “corrosiveness” of this campaign season — “a warning shot across the bow for all of us” — the rabbi said we may not have to look to Washington for solutions but to the activism in our own communities.
“In the world we live in today, what the Internet has delivered is that everything global is local and every local incident is global. Rhetoric, hate, violence, terrorism in Europe against Jewish communities should remain right at the top of our list… we’re going to need a cadre of young, committed and self-assured Jewish student leaders to step up right now.”
Cooper emphasized that “hate is not new but the delivery systems are” — social media enables anyone to “attack anyone you want without real consequence” while the companies behind the platforms do “next to nothing.”
As a private company, he noted, Twitter can set whatever rules they want for users. “There’s always going to be ways for people to express their hatred,” the rabbi said, yet with the “tsunami of hate” and “ludicrous comments” from white nationalists and socialists “folks at the helm of social media are most interested in driving up numbers of usage and not taking social responsibility seriously.”
Taking advantage of that system to wage “day in, day out” attacks, he said, underscores how “bigots, haters, racists will take whatever democracy gives to them and go with it,” making it “so easy for that kind of invective and disgusting material to wash up directly into the faces of people who were just expressing their views.”‘
A social media company that doesn’t respond to reports of hate “didn’t break laws,” but “did break their responsibility to the social contract.” Facebook has been “a little better” at responding to online anti-Semitism and hate. “You have a responsibility if you’re in the middle of this to set some rules and live by them.”
Cooper said the United States should not tackle hate speech in the way the European Union does as “it’s not the government’s responsibility — we don’t want to change our First Amendment rules, but there’s a lot of stuff in between that can and should be done.”
With endorsements for the GOP nominee coming from the likes of David Duke and a Ku Klux Klan newspaper, Cooper opined that Trump is not responsible for the hatred expressed by some of his supporters “but he and his campaign could have done more in real time to push back against that afterwash that was coming again and again and again.”
The rabbi, who has been at the Wiesenthal Center since its 1977 founding and oversees their Digital Terrorism and Hate Project, said people should not just ignore anti-Semitism whenever, wherever it surfaces.
The more reports Twitter receives on what is out there, the more pressure on the company to act. If people can get through to a human being to make the complaint, the impact is greater. Users can also send the Wiesenthal Center a copy of the digital hate communication or a link.
And if people think “is my one incident going to make a difference” in a sea of online abuse and reports, Cooper stressed that speaking up “will impact understanding and activism.”
“The one thing people should not do is nothing,” he added, noting that “we want to maximize speech and minimize intervention” but when that crosses into hate it can take a concerted effort to combat it — for example, it took years of pressure on Twitter to get the company to implement changes to help combat rampant terrorist propaganda and recruitment.
Cooper gave the Obama administration credit for the 2013 appointment of Ira Forman, former executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-
“Donald Trump ran as the ultimate outsider,” the rabbi said. “We should all pray for his success, but we’re moving in some ways into unknown and uncharted territory.”
“Jews will have an important role to play… if the next four years are based on anger, we’re all in trouble.”