Jun 26, 2022
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Israel has a “moral obligation” to assist Diaspora communities faced with rising anti-Semitism both online and in the public sphere, according to Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai.

The minister presented a report prepared by his ministry’s anti-Semitism Cyber Monitoring System (ACMS) to the government on Sunday that highlighted a significant increase in online anti-Semitism across multiple channels throughout 2021, with dramatic spikes in May during Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Shai’s conclusion: There is an inextricable tie between Israel’s actions and the Jewish world and therefore “Israel needs to take responsibility and do more to help combat anti-Semitism around the world.”

ACMS is a real-time social media monitoring system developed and operated by Sayiqan Cyber Technologies on behalf of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. It uses artificial intelligence and semantic analysis technologies.

This past year, ACMS monitored five social platforms: Twitter, 4Chan, 8Kun, BitChute and Stormfront, recording 3.5 million anti-Semitic posts written by 422,000 users.

The report showed that the vast majority of anti-Semitic content ACMS tracked was shared on Twitter (94%), where there were 3.34 million anti-Semitic posts—a 31% increase from 2020 to 2021.

Among the alternative sites, 4chan led with 57.2% of the rest of the hate speech recorded, followed by BitChute (28.6%), according to the report.

Shai noted that these five networks only constitute a small portion of the anti-Semitic rhetoric online, which can also be found on Facebook, TikTok and other platforms, as well as in closed social networking groups where exchanges are difficult, if not impossible, to track.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of anti-Semitic posts on Twitter were what the ACMS defines as “new anti-Semitism,” meaning they referred to Zionists, Israel, the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad intelligence agency or other terms related to the State of Israel.

Only 21% of references were “classic anti-Semitism” and 5% Holocaust denial or distortion.

There was a 1,200% increase in the number of anti-Semitic posts on all five platforms that included a call for violence against Jews, Zionists and Israel in May 2021 compared to May 2020. On Twitter specifically, there was a 230% increase in anti-Semitic posts between April and May 2021 alone.

The report also said that COVID-19 restrictions prompted a fresh wave of anti-Semitism, with opponents of coronavirus restrictions blaming the Jews for the pandemic and accusing them of benefiting from the health crisis, or comparing COVID restrictions to those experienced by Jews during the Holocaust.

Anti-vaxxers, specifically, perceived Israel as the enemy, since it was the first country to mass-vaccinate its population.

“Israel and world Jewry have a shared destiny,” Shai said. “The State of Israel therefore needs to take responsibility and do more to help combat anti-Semitism around the world. If Israel is the home of the Jewish people, then it needs to address their concerns wherever they might be.”

He told JNS that Israelis who believe that they are exempt from anti-Semitism if they live in a sovereign state with a strong army are “naive. Anti-Semitism will reach us one way or another. So, there is no reason to distinguish between Israel and the Jewish world.”

‘Strong correlation’ between online and offline violence against Jews

University of Haifa professor Gabriel Weimann, who has been at the forefront of the battle against online anti-Semitism, said he welcomes the ministry’s report.

“It is very alarming, especially to those people who are not aware of the statistics,” said Weimann.

However, he cautioned against making too much of a leap between last year’s events—COVID-19 and the Gaza war—and anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism was not invented, driven or created by these two events,” Weimann told JNS. “Many of the statistics here reflect an outbreak of open anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, most of it was there long before [these events]—what I would call dormant hate.”

Though he said that the “strong correlation” between the rise in anti-Semitic discourse online and real-life violence against Jews in certain countries should be examined.

“If you look at the breakdown, countries where they had a huge increase in postings also see a huge increase in the number of attacks,” Weimann said. “There is not a full causal relationship, but it is very clear that the two are correlated.”

Numbers shared in the ministry’s report from other studies back up Weimann’s assertion. For instance, data from the Anti-Defamation League show that real-world anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 115% from May 11, 2021 to May 31 over the figures for May 2020.

A separate report by the United Kingdom’s Community Security Trust showed that real-world anti-Semitic incidents rose by 330% in the 30-day period starting with the increase in Israel-Palestinian tensions on May 8, 2021.

German police recorded the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents nationwide since 2001, the report said, noting that “Jews and people thought to be Jews were violently attacked during the Israeli military operation, and Jewish homes, synagogues and Holocaust memorials became the target of pro-Palestinian activists.”

‘We should make this a global war’

Shai said the report is meant to spur the government into action and offered practical steps that his ministry is considering, such as focusing on increasing diplomatic action in the international arena.

“We must put pressure on governments to enforce laws” that protect Jews against anti-Semitism, Shai told JNS.

He added that Israel must also help support nonprofit organizations that are on the front lines and provide communities with practical tools in the case of an anti-Semitic emergency, such as the one that happened in Texas on Jan. 15.

“We have enormous sources of experience and knowledge for how to handle emergencies, and we have to share those experiences with communities and organizations,” Shai said.

He has also proposed establishing a central governmental authority dealing with combating anti-Semitism so that Israel can “pull all of our efforts together and coordinate a response, something which is rarely done.”

Shai has also asked for increased funding.

The government on Sunday approved a decision to provide Yad Vashem Holocaust museum with an additional NIS 29 million per year but did not yet vote on money for the efforts Shai described.

Weimann also offered practical advice, including establishing a group of “online warriors”—people equipped with the knowledge to fight back on online platforms.

In addition, he highlighted that there is often a “fusion or collision of hatred,” meaning that people who are anti-Semitic also tend to hate gay people, be anti-Muslim or xenophobic in general, and sometimes even anti-liberal or anti-women, for example.

“We should make this a global war,” he said.

And most importantly, both Shai and Weimann posited that Israel specifically, and the Jewish people in general, must go on the offensive.

“We have to take the initiative and be proactive and ask ourselves what we can do,” Shai said. “Anti-Semitism will be around forever, but this does not mean we have to sit back and let it grow.”

Reprinted with author’s permission from Jewish News Syndicate