The many blog and information sites on the internet are attractive to many habitues precisely because they sometimes seems to be the last bastions for free expression. But free expression does not necessarily guarantee civility. Anyone who peruses comments on many of the major websites can confirm that there is considerable garbage mixed in with the occasional pearl. Racist, homophobic and bigoted comments of all types sometimes prevail, but it is up to the reader to filter out the trash and unless a comment is obscene or threatening in a specific way it is best just to ignore it. It is hard to imagine that anyone is actually inspired or motivated by the muck that appears in the internet comments sections.
But ignoring the dirt is not enough according to the New York City based Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Despite the best efforts by Tel Aviv’s industrious tribe of hasbara and the considerable self-censorship that already takes place, many comments on websites discussing recent developments in the Middle East are highly critical of Israel’s behavior. That is unacceptable to ADL, which would prefer to route the negative commentary to some limbo where it will never be read or even block the authors from access to the site. The caustic comments are now being referred to as “cyber hate.”
For those who are not familiar with ADL, it is a group established one hundred years ago to combat bigotry directed against Jews. It is generally considered to be a major component in the Israel Lobby. The ADL National Director since 1987 has been Abe Foxman.
ADL has recently been meeting in California with a British group called the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, which included the Community Security Trust (CST). The CST advocates physical response to anti-Semitic incidents, to include the equipping and training of organized “self-defense” forces. CST is controversial in the UK, partly because many British Jews believe they are adequately protected by the police. It has also been criticized because its Director is the highest paid head of any Jewish organization in the country and its finances are alleged to be non-transparent.
An article entitled “Web giants unite to fight online hate” described the purpose of the California meeting. It reported that a “game changing” agreement was reached with Twitter, Facebook, Google and Microsoft to take steps to stop “the proliferation of racist and abusive comments” and to “force racism and hatred from the web.” This will be accomplished in part by “tougher sanctions against those who post abusive messages.” The internet companies, who already have the ability to automatically block content that they disapprove of, will devise proactive strategies to deal with the problem while being guided in the process by the ADL, “a leading anti-Semitism watchdog” which has been designated the “co-convenor” of the project.
The issue of online hate is important to all web users as efforts to define and then curb it will affect everyone who works on the internet. There are, of course, constitutional rights to free speech that would be impacted by anyone trying to define what is or is not “hate” and there will be an inevitable tendency on the part of anyone seeking to come up with definitions to expand the scope to favor particular constituencies. Given the participants and the combatting anti-Semitism theme of the gathering, there should be no doubt that the meeting in California was only concerned with criticism of Jews and Israel and quite likely will have no interest whatsoever in controlling the much more widespread disparagement of Muslims.
Assuming that the ADL will be the focal point for future developments, it might be interesting to look at its track record in defense of civil liberties for anyone who is not Jewish and who might also be subjected to vilification that amounts to hatred. The ADL, which has trademarked the expression “Imagine a World without Hate,” claims to be against all forms of discrimination and bigotry but its actual focus is on perceived bias against Jews. It recently celebrated its hundredth birthday with a gala dinner in New York City attended by Vice President Joe Biden, who enthused “…I mean this sincerely: You have become America’s conscience. You have become the conscience of this country, no matter what the issue. You have been a pillar of the Jewish community, but you reach out and you have reached out your embrace for all communities. ”
All communities aside, Abe Foxman would be unemployed if he couldn’t demonstrate that the world is awash with anti-Semitism. In a recent foray in self-justification, he was interviewed by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz where he restated his belief that Israel and the Jewish people are constantly under threat just because they are what they are, a contention that inter alia supports his $563,000 salary. And lest there be any confusion, Foxman also explained to Haaretz how he defines an anti-Semite. It is someone who criticizes Israel but doesn’t say anything good about it. By that metric, he calls Professor John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby, an anti-Semite. He has also stated that former President Jimmy Carter has been “engaging in anti-Semitism.” Foxman conflates most criticism of Israel with being an anti-Semite.
Foxman see prejudice against Jews everywhere he looks but has trouble seeing bias within himself. He endorses spying on American Muslims just because they are Muslims and therefore untrustworthy while leading the charge against the building of an Islamic cultural center near ground zero in New York City. He criticizes peace groups because they oppose Israel’s attacks on its neighbors and has also taken shots at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the German government, human rights activists, environmentalists, civil rights groups and anti-apartheid organizations.
Foxman defended his opposition to the New York Islamic center by maintaining that “Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational. Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would characterize as irrational or bigoted.” He later called his statement an “inarticulate quote” but has never backed away from his contention that he believes that Jewish suffering is both somehow different and provides unique entitlement.
More recently Foxman has criticized race riots in Tel Aviv targeting Africans, who have been described by leading Israeli politicians as “infiltrators” and a “cancer,” while carefully and repeatedly noting that the violence was in response to crimes committed by the refugees, his way of always exonerating Israeli actions while delivering the mildest possible slap on the wrist. In contrast to his generous understanding of what he sees as the Israeli dilemma on migrants he is tough on his fellow American citizens who oppose the millions of illegals in the US. In May 2010 he referred to Arizona’s illegal immigrant legislation as an example of “nativism” and “bigotry,” manifestly “mean spirited” and xenophobic. He has not commented on the statement by Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai that Africans must learn that “Israel is for the white man.” Even Foxman might find it difficult to explain that one.
It is possible that Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft were unaware of Foxman’s comments or that ADL itself has a history of behavior that some might consider either bigoted or racist. A notorious espionage case involving the organization became public twenty years ago in 1993. The police investigation ultimately exposed illegal activity that had taken place during at least forty years prior to that date, revealing that the organization had been running a private nationwide spy operation. The information obtained on American citizens and organizations was routinely shared with Israeli intelligence.
The ADL referred to its spying as maintaining “confidential investigative coverage” of Arab activities in the United States but the San Francisco police raid on ADL offices revealed that there were files on 600 organizations and more than 10,000 individuals, many of whom were neither Arabs nor in any way connected to the Middle East. Three quarters of the information was from city, state, and federal files, to include those belonging to the FBI that had been obtained illegally. Groups targeted included the NAACP, the ACLU, labor unions and a number of organizations considered to be supportive of “black anti-Semitism.” ADL even had a file on Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh, who had been killed in 1985 by a bomb in his office, to include an office floor plan and keys. There was a public outcry over the extent of the spying and the city of San Francisco prepared to prosecute ADL and its officers, but the Clinton Administration Justice Department instead opted to halt the FBI investigation and do nothing.
Most recently, the ADL again showed its true colors, presumably also unknown to Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft. It became peripherally involved in a controversial poster campaign on New York City buses and subway stops denigrating Muslims that even the New York Daily News described as “shocking” and “incendiary.” The posters were provided by Pamela Geller, noted high profile Islamophobe. One poster says “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s In the Quran,” directing viewers to the site Islamic-JewHatred.com. A photo of Hitler also appear on the poster before the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority deemed the graphic too offensive and ordered it removed. The ADL, in its presumed guardianship of a world without hate, examined the content and declared that while Geller “frequently crosses the line into racism when she criticizes Islam…in this particular case…it does not appear that she has done so.”
Perhaps it would have been considered reasonable “due diligence” for Google to Google and Microsoft to Bing the Anti-Defamation League and Abe Foxman on the internet before entering into an agreement to sign on to their agenda. Internet users don’t really need yet another control mechanism designed to favor Israel and its interests and the constantly repeated claims regarding the alleged surge in anti-Semitism are getting tiresome. Most internet users are sensible and recognize hate and bigotry when they see it, meaning that tinkering with access to the system will accomplish little and only discredit the overall integrity of the product. It is something that in the long run will hurt consumers as well as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter.