Congressional hearing tackles anti-Semitism in social media

Social networking sites present a new and dangerous medium for spreading anti-Semitism, panelists told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.

The April 14 hearing, titled “Combating Anti-Semitism: Protecting Human Rights,” looked at the proliferation of hate speech through social media alongside such concerns as anti-Semitism being masked as anti-Israelism or anti-Westernism.

Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s special envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism, favored “positive talk” as a means of combating the hate, while some Jewish groups said using legal means to remove the incitement was the better way to go.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) asked Rosenthal about how to combat the reappearance of the blood libel—the falsehood that Jews use gentile blood to make matzah—popping up in the Middle East through television and the Internet.

“The answer to bad and hateful speech is good speech,” Rosenthal replied. “There are examples where there is incitement to violence and we raise it with the television stations and with the NGOs on the ground.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that rather than countering hate speech with positive speech, companies should enforce their policies on hate speech.

“We all click a gray button that says ‘I agree.’ Have you ever taken the time to read what you are agreeing to?” Cooper asked. “It’s a contract and it does not allow for hate speech.”

Working with companies to remove sites that violate the terms of agreement has been successful, he said, noting a positive relationship with Facebook, which has 400 million users.

Cooper showed the panel anti-religion and anti-Semitic Web sites, including a Facebook page called “Zionism Terminator,” and spoke of suicide bomber games and others in which the player commits atrocities such as gunning down Haitian survivors.

The concept of the lone wolf is also alarming, he said, referring to James von Brunn, who last June gunned down a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Von Brunn, who died in January, maintained a Web site blaming Jews and African-Americans for an earlier jail sentence.

Other panelists included Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of Human Rights First; Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs; and Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Massimino, whose written testimony included a 10-point plan for combating hate crimes, urged the Congress members to press the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe “to live up to the commitments they have already made” to effectively track and combat hate crimes and for the U.S. to make its presence known on the issue.

Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Ron Klein (D-Fla.) also attended at the hearing, which was convened by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations.