Enar

Action Day Against Antisemitism – Countering antisemitic hate speech online

By ENAR team

9 November 2016 - 9 November is the commemmoration day of ’Kristallnacht’, a pogrom against Jews throuhout Nazi Germany in 1938. Antisemitism is still very much present in Europe today, and online antisemitic hate speech is exploding. What can be done to counter this worrying trend?

Antisemitism is not new to Europe. Yet it is still a reality for many European Jews. Events such as the deadly attacks against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen in 2015 and at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014 have highlighted the urgency of tackling Antisemitism in Europe.

But beyond these tragic killings, Jews experience insults, hate speech, harassment, attacks against property, desecration of places of worship, and physical violence on a near-daily basis across Europe. Research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency shows worrying trends when it comes to experiences of discrimination of Jews in the EU and fear of verbal or physical attacks, in particular in France, Belgium and Hungary. In this context, it is particularly worrying to see that online antisemitic hate speech, especially on social media, is exploding across Europe.

This situation is legitimately provoking a climate of fear among Jewish communities in Europe. Many feel forced to hide the fact that they are Jewish or have a Jewish background for fear of retaliation. Jewish organisations and representatives are receiving threats and are under police protection.

In this context it is urgent to tackle racist and antisemitic speech, in particular its worrying proliferation online. Not only is hate speech having a very damaging effect on the groups targeted in and of itself, but can lead to a climate of violence. Many Jews in Europe face threats to security in all walks of life; at school, in the streets, by places of worship, and now this is being mirrored in the online space.

Such discourses are also present in the public political spheres. When such discourses are propagated by public figures, politicians or the media, their impact is all the more damaging. Politicians have a significant influence and special responsibility as opinion shapers. They must act responsibly and be held accountable for their statements.

Despite EU legislation on combating racist violence, there are still gaps in the implementation by Member States. Racist crimes need to be properly investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned. This should include cases of hate speech inciting racist hatred or violence, including on online platforms.

We need to step up action to prosecute instances of antisemitic online hate speech. For this, we need to acknowledge some specific trends of Antisemitism on social media. Identified by CEJI in the Get the Trolls Out project, Antisemitism online takes five main forms: (1) conspiracy theories about Jews (2) the use of ‘jewish’ ‘israeli’ and ‘zionist’ as synonymous terms (3) myths and stereotypes about Jews (4) the denial of the Holocaust and (5) denial of Antisemitism.

These trends help to both perpetuate hate against Jews whilst simultaneously normalising, excusing and legitimising hate speech online. This is creating a cycle in which antisemitic hate speech online increases, yet the wider consequences are overlooked.

Online platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter can play a role in removing hate speech and have made some commitments towards this, but ultimately this cannot replace law enforcement. Cooperation between all stakeholders - law enforcement bodies, support services, civil society and companies - is essential.

When it comes to racist speech by politicians, it is important to set up mechanisms to condemn and sanction those who resort to hate speech. In the European Parliament for instance, discussions are underway to introduce internal legal instruments to sanction hate speech by MEPs within the Chamber. This will stop the growing feeling of impunity and lack of democratic accountability.

Individuals and civil society also have a strong role in countering hate speech. Following the No Hate Speech Movement’s Action Day countering anti-Semitic hate speech, individuals and organisations can counter hate speech. Using the tool No Hate Speech Watch, online content that expresses hate speech against Jews can be flagged, providing the opportunity to explain why content should be challenged. Individuals are not powerless in the fight against hate speech, and all can play a role.

Antisemitism and hate speech undermine human rights and democracy in Europe. We have a shared responsibility to speak out against them, not just on this Action Day Against Antisemitism, but every day of the year.

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