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Tackling anti-Semitism in Europe on the streets and in cyberspace

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MOIRA SCHNEIDER

While there has been a rise in anti-Semitism since 2000, last year the number of anti-Semitic acts and threats in France went down about 50 per cent which, he says, is “very good news”.

When the numbers were analysed, however, several reasons for this were pinpointed. “Firstly, for the past two years (in the wake of the deadly attack on the Hypercacher kosher food superette in Paris), we have had thousands of soldiers and police in front of all the synagogues, Jewish schools and community centres, that probably prevented a lot of anti-Semitic acts.

“Secondly, we observed a movement of anti-Semitic threats from real life to the Internet where people are much freer and it’s less dangerous to post anti-Semitic comments and threats.”

There has recently been a worldwide increase in the phenomenon due to cyber hate – the use of electronic communications technology to spread anti-Semitic, racist, bigoted, extremist or terrorist messages or information.

“We also noted a move from anti-Semitism to anti-Zionism – the justice system does not yet know what to do with anti-Zionism, even though politicians at the highest level have labelled it a new form of anti-Semitism.

“We realised that things have shifted, and we have to keep up with the newest forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Semites,” Ejnes told the SA Jewish Report at the World Jewish Congress (WJC) National Community Directors’ Forum.

A global campaign to convince Internet companies to face up to their responsibilities in this regard, is in the pipeline – there are programmes in place with the WJC to drive this and call in the companies.

What about the “freedom of speech” argument that they are likely to face? When they were approached in 2014, they said that they were American companies and subject to United States law which provides for free speech in its First Amendment.

Three years later, the narrative has changed in that the French government is pushing for greater application of French law in which hate speech, racism and anti-Semitism is forbidden.

“We tell the Internet companies – we can attack you in justice or we can work with you and little by little we bring them to the table of negotiation and decision.

“As an example, Holocaust denial is forbidden in France and Germany. So, whenever there is a comment which is obvious Holocaust denial, (the Internet companies) would remove it in France and Germany, but anybody elsewhere could see it.

“So, they have the tools. It’s a real combat,” he says of the situation. “We always give them the example: ‘You know very well how to combat child pornography and nudity’ (by American standards these are totally unacceptable) ‘but you don’t know how to combat anti-Semitic comments.’

“They explain that it’s much more complicated, but little by little, we are making progress. Now we have special reporting tools and they react pretty well.

“We’re now trying to wipe the Internet in France of anti-Semitic content – it will be difficult, but we’re working with very high-quality people. Our aim is to combat hate in general, because we realise that in teaming up with all people who combat hate – racism, sexism, anti-LGBT – they will fight with us.”

The Internet companies don’t operate on moral grounds, Ejnes points out, but rather on economic principles. ‘If we can’t get them on the ethics side, we’ll get them on the commercial side. Ideas include a campaign headlined “Who wants to promote hate on the Internet?”

“If we start a real campaign to prevent their clients investing in commercial campaigns in the media, we’ll start talking seriously with them.”

The French Jewish community has very good relations with the authorities at all levels making sure that the Jews are protected in fighting rising anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, there is a feeling of non-tranquillity – mothers are not confident having their children in the streets of the French towns, they’re not confident with them walking in the street with a kippah.

Despite this, Ejnes does not agree with Barcelona’s chief rabbi who, after the recent terror attack in that city, told his congregation that Europe was lost to radical Islam and urged Jews to move to Israel.

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