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Growing calls to combat antisemiti­sm on Twitter

180 civil rights groups implore Elon Musk and Twitter to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemiti­sm

- This article was written in cooperatio­n with the AdoptIHRA Coalition.

From Kanye West to Kyrie Irving, antisemiti­sm is going mainstream, and social media is helping to spread the message of Jew-hatred. In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League recorded 2,717 antisemiti­c incidents throughout the US, a 34% increase from the 2,026 incidents recorded in 2020, while the number of antisemiti­c incidents in 2021 increased by 78% in the UK and 75% in France.

Perhaps not coincident­ally, antisemiti­c tweets on Twitter have been increasing. According to a peer-reviewed study by the Institute for the Study of Contempora­ry Antisemiti­sm (ISCA), between January and August 2020, some 11% of conversati­ons about Jews and 13% of conversati­ons about Israel on Twitter were antisemiti­c in nature. In May 2021, during Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls military campaign against Hamas, the Twitter hashtag #HitlerWasR­ight was tweeted approximat­ely 17,000 times in one week.

In an unpreceden­ted joint effort to stem the tide of antisemiti­c speech on Twitter, 180 nonprofit and civil rights organizati­ons are calling on Elon Musk, head of Twitter, to update the company’s anti-hate policies and adopt the Internatio­nal Holocaust Remembranc­e Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemiti­sm.

Granted, antisemiti­sm was rampant on Twitter before Musk took over. However, it seems that the coalition of 180 nonprofit groups believes that Musk’s fresh perspectiv­e and unique technologi­cal expertise, using the IHRA definition as a tool, make it the opportune time for Twitter to improve its policies.

The IHRA definition includes various types of antisemiti­sm, such as justifying the killing of Jews in the name of radical ideology; Holocaust denial; and denying the Jewish right to self-determinat­ion in the State of Israel. The signatorie­s of the letter to Musk include leading Jewish organizati­ons throughout the world, such as B’nai B’rith Internatio­nal, the Jewish National Fund-USA, the Board of the Deputies of British Jews, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Maccabi World Union, and European Leadership Network (ELNET).

The IHRA definition of antisemiti­sm has been officially adopted by the US and 37 other national government­s, as well as numerous local government­s, universiti­es, law enforcemen­t agencies, civil society organizati­ons, and internatio­nal bodies worldwide, including the UN and the EU.

The IHRA definition states, “Antisemiti­sm is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestat­ions of antisemiti­sm are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individual­s and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutio­ns and religious facilities.” Eleven examples of antisemiti­sm accompany the definition to help showcase how it can

manifest itself in many different forms.

By adopting the IHRA definition, Twitter will be able to remove antisemiti­c tweets or clearly label them with a warning message to readers that the tweet contains antisemiti­c content. The letter’s signatorie­s state their willingnes­s to work with Musk to make Twitter the “modern public square” that he envisions, tackling hate without limiting freedom of speech.

THE JERUSALEM Post interviewe­d members of three of the sponsoring organizati­ons to understand the significan­ce of the IHRA definition, why it is important for Twitter to adopt it, and how antisemiti­sm affects the communitie­s served by these organizati­ons.

“In order to fight discrimina­tion, we need first to define it,” says Daniel Citone of the Solomon Observator­y on Discrimina­tion (Solomon Osservator­io Sulle Discrimina­zioni), a signatory of the letter who is based in Rome. The Solomon Observator­y is a volunteer organizati­on that combats antisemiti­sm and other forms of discrimina­tion in Italian society.

Citone explains that people frequently disguise their antisemiti­c comments with what they term legitimate criticism against the State of Israel. “We need this definition because it is antisemiti­sm hidden mostly behind anti-Zionism,” he says.

Citone points out that Twitter today is used to spread ideologies, political positions and opinions. “Freedom of speech is a pillar of Twitter,” he says, “but freedom of speech needs to have limits, like many other rights that we have, because if one goes past the limits, one can offend other people.” He cautions that history teaches that words can often turn into actions.

Another organizati­on among the 180 signatorie­s of the letter is the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemiti­sm and Policy (ISGAP). Dr. Charles Asher Small, founder and head of ISGAP, says that the IHRA classifica­tion of antisemiti­sm is important because it defines antisemiti­sm in its contempora­ry form.

“The IHRA definition was one of the first definition­s that included questions surroundin­g the demonizati­on of Israel and blaming Jews for affiliatio­n and associatio­n with Israel,” he says. “It is wonderful that more countries are adopting it. State and provincial government­s, municipali­ties and universiti­es are beginning to adopt it, as it touches on key elements of antisemiti­sm.”

Antisemiti­sm, adds Small, is an indicator of the state of society. “Antisemiti­sm is an early warning system for the general health of society. We can see extreme Right, right-wing nationalis­ts, white supremacis­ts, the extreme Left, and political Islam and anti-democratic movements are attacking the democratic center. Even though these three social movements are very different, they use antisemiti­sm as a key element of their ideology and political agenda.”

Small notes that it is important that public and private organizati­ons, such as Twitter, deal with issues of discrimina­tion in society and strengthen democratic values and principles. “I believe that most social media networks deal with other forms of discrimina­tion in a more comprehens­ive way,” he says.

“I think there is more awareness of other forms of discrimina­tion in society, such as gender inequality, sexism and racism. When it comes to antisemiti­sm, people are confused about contempora­ry manifestat­ions. Having a clear definition helps our understand­ing, and once we understand it, we can combat it,” he says.

In Small’s view, the post-COVID economy – which has created disparitie­s between rich and poor, and has fragmented society – has created social, economic and political conditions ripe for antisemiti­sm. “We saw this a few weeks ago with Kanye West and other disciples of the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan’s ideology, using the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the notion of replacemen­t theology, where African-Americans are the true Jews, and white Jews are the impostors,” Small explains.

“As obscene and irrational as it is, it is gaining traction in the African-American community, in the hip-hop community and among athletes. If you go to social media, a lot of the rhetoric is supportive of Kanye West.”

Small adds that the fact that private companies took social responsibi­lity and distanced themselves from West and the hatred he caused actually reinforced the trope that the Jews are all-powerful.

“Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter and others need to have social responsibi­lity not only to defend the Jewish citizens of these countries,” he points out, “but to protect civility and democratic principles. It is urgently required that we all act with responsibi­lity when it comes to all forms of discrimina­tion and hatred, including the rise of antisemiti­sm.”

ILAN SINELNIKOV, 30, president and founder of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), was born in Israel before moving to the US as a teen with his family. In 2011, Sinelnikov, then a freshman at the University of Minnesota, encountere­d Israel Apartheid Week on campus. In response, he and a group of friends registered a student club called Students Supporting Israel. Within two years, the club was attracting 100 people per event. Today, it boasts clubs at 200 universiti­es in the US, Canada and Argentina.

Since its founding, SSI has passed resolution­s in 14 student government­s across the US and Canada calling for the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemiti­sm by student government­s.

Sinelnikov explains that there is a great deal of ignorance in the general community about antisemiti­sm. “Students, especially non-Jews, don’t necessaril­y know what antisemiti­sm is,” he says. “It’s one thing to hear about it, but it’s another thing to recognize it. The IHRA definition provides the best tools to recognize the problem.”

He adds that there is a great deal of antisemiti­sm on the Twitter platform and points out that antisemiti­c tweets by celebritie­s can have a great deal of influence. “Kanye West has more followers on Twitter – 31.4 million – than the number of Jewish people in the world,” Sinelnikov notes. “When celebritie­s disparage the Jewish people or the State of Israel, they are helping to spread antisemiti­sm because their followers will believe it.

“Twitter, as a responsibl­e platform, should have a way to monitor and recognize what is antisemiti­c. I am not promoting shutting down these people, but these comments should be flagged as antisemiti­c content according to the IHRA definition.”

Sinelnikov spends a great deal of time with students on campuses and says that antisemiti­c messages on social media are difficult for Jewish students to handle. “When you see something, and you know it is against you but there is no way to protect yourself, it is hard,” he says. “A celebrity can have many followers, but if you are a student with 500 followers, no matter how much you scream, people will not hear you the same way as people who use the platform to spread antisemiti­sm. It makes you feel powerless.”

Will Elon Musk and Twitter respond favorably to the letter from the coalition of 180 Jewish organizati­ons and adopt the IHRA definition of antisemiti­sm? Will labeling antisemiti­c tweets lessen antisemiti­c behavior and lead to a more constructi­ve exchange of ideas across the Internet? No one expects that antisemiti­sm can be completely eradicated from social media, but it is hoped that adopting the IHRA definition will help people recognize antisemiti­sm and keep it in check.

The IHRA definition of antisemiti­sm has been officially adopted by the US and 37 other national government­s

 ?? (Photos: AdoptIHRA Coalition) ?? TEXT OF letter sent by 180 civil rights groups requesting that Twitter adopt the IHRA definition of antisemiti­sm.
(Photos: AdoptIHRA Coalition) TEXT OF letter sent by 180 civil rights groups requesting that Twitter adopt the IHRA definition of antisemiti­sm.
 ?? ?? ANTISEMITI­C TWEETS would be flagged with a content warning.
ANTISEMITI­C TWEETS would be flagged with a content warning.

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