Keynote speech by Ronald Eissens during the INACH/ADL Global Summit on Internet Hate, 17 & 18 November 2008, Washington D.C.
Let me start by thanking the ADL and Chris Wolf for making this into a great conference. I’m pleased to be here in the United States, in fact I’m always happy to come here but this time is doubly joyful since America has voted massively for hope. Hope for America and hope for the world. Now, step into my time machine, we’re going back 2000 years.
The first dissemination of antisemitism comes to us from the Alexandrian Apion, a Greek-Egyptian philosopher and writer. When the great library of Alexandria burned down, Apion’s Egyptian History burned with it. We only know partly what was written in those books because the Roman historian Tacitus quotes some of the content. Another source for Apion’s antisemitism is to be found in the work of the historian Titus Flavius Josephus, the former Jewish military leader Joseph ben Matthias. Josephus wrote a treatise called ‘against Apion’ in which he attacks and refutes Apions’ ideas, which probably makes him the first advocate against antisemitism.
Apion described Jews as sinister and revolting, barbaric because of the practice of circumcision. Apion was not unique, many popular believes about Jews during those days –we’re talking about the year 30- were extremely negative. Because of the Shabbat, Jews were thought to be lazy. Jews were thought to sacrifice humans during strange rites – the blood libel throwing its shadow backward - Jews were considered anti-social and worshipped only one god, which in those polytheistic times was considered to be foolish and alien, although some of the Greek intellectuals thought the idea as such was very stylish. Apion’s antisemitism was quite popular with the Greek elite of Alexandria and his writings fuelled the flames of the first pogrom in history, in the year 38. That pogrom broke out when the Jews of Alexandria protested a decree by Roman Emperor Caligula in which they were ordered to pray to his statue. Apions’ rabble-rousing resulted in the murder of thousands of Alexandrian Jews.
Now, Apion was a charismatic individual, who did not have the use of Internet but rather his writings, copied by scribes and disseminated by –and through his friends and admirers and he used public speeches to spread his hatred. Instead of Internet the Alexandrians of that age knew the bathhouse.net and the marketplace.net, where information, gossip, writings and speeches went from person to person.
Jumping forward in time, we have to note that for every succeeding pogrom there was either a verbal or written slander campaign to incite the masses to attack Jews. Sometimes it was writings by religious leaders; sometimes it was word-of-mouth, often instigated by kings, emperors, religious or other leaders, creating myths like the blood libel, the poisoning of wells by Jews, the Christ-killers accusations, and many variations on those and other themes, culminating in what Lucy Davidowitz very aptly calls ‘the war against the Jews’, the Shoah.
After the Shoah followed a period in which antisemitism in the western world was mainly spread underground, on paper – books and pamphlets. The protocols, Mein Kampf and other leftovers of Nazi ideology were disseminated both in Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East, where European-style antisemitism found an already fertile breeding ground. But, both in volume and in reach it was nothing compared to what we see these days on the Internet.
From 1992 on, Neo-Nazis started to use the Internet to spread their rhetoric. Already in the in the pre-world wide web age German Neo-Nazis saw the potential of Information Technology, using Bulletin Board Systems and moving onto the web when it came available.
In as sense, those German Neo-Nazi’s did not have to go far from home. As the journalist and writer Edwin Black proved, the information age was not born in Silicon Valley but in 1933 in Berlin. IBM facilitated the administration of the Holocaust with census cards and punch card technology, even after 1941, through full IBM subsidiaries managed from Switzerland. The Nazi’s had a problem and IBM had a solution for their final solution. It teaches us to be wary of those who say that they are only selling technology and don’t care what it is used for. Or those who say that others should do no evil while they themselves engage in the large–scale technological facilitation of oppression.
The Internet gave Antisemitism a new common carrier, to use a technical term. Thanks to the Internet, there is more antisemitism and Holocaust denial available in the world than ever. Thanks to the Internet, there is more information on the Holocaust and antisemitism available than ever. But these positions hardly cancel-out each other, even if you believe that bad speech can be countered by good speech. No longer is it the grubby bookstores, which sold stenciled copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion under the counter. No longer is it the house-to-house delivered stenciled antisemitic pamphlets, a hundred here, a thousand there. Now it's tens of thousands of websites and hundreds of thousands of expressions of antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Now it's millions of hits here and hundred thousands of page views there.
In 1995 who had heard of Stormfront? Yet there they were, in the forefront of the Internet age. As no other, Neo-nazi’s, white supremacists and other extremists understood the potential of the Internet for the unbridled dissemination of their ideas. Antisemitism. Holocaust Denial. National Socialism. Racism.
By now, the bulk of all antisemitism and Holocaust denial has firmly moved onto the Internet. Old media have become obsolete. You will still be able to find Mein Kampf or the Protocols or Hardwoods ‘did six million really die’ in the proverbial grubby bookstore – or get it by post order through the Internet. But ask yourself, who under 30 years old still reads books? Very few. In the 15 years since the Internet took off, antisemitism and holocaust denial have penetrated every nook and cranny. You can find it on web logs, web forums, Youtube, in online games, in chat boxes, on facebook, myspace, et cetera, and it is the largest category of online hate.
The number of websites offering antisemitism or Holocaust denial runs in the tens of thousands. We’re not only talking about ‘dedicated’ Neo-Nazi or other extremist sites here. A “normal” popular web forum has 1000-plus postings per day, of which on average 50 are of a racist or antisemitic nature. There are thousands of web forums like that. If you add the thousands of extremist web forums that generate hundreds of hateful expressions per day, the total volume of hate on the net is mind-boggling. I understand that the latest CD Digital Terrorism and Hate 2007, published by our colleagues at Simon Wiesenthal Center identifies some 5000 “problematic” websites. I think that is quite an underestimation. We’re not even taking into account all the web logs, and the still existing Usenet newsgroups, historically known for a large hate content. It is impossible to really give exact figures on online hate. We only know that the volume is enormous, but registering and monitoring is a bit like trying to count fruit flies. There are lots of them, they die soon but since they breed fast new ones appear all the time.
The current interactive web, web 2.0 as it’s is called, with its blogs, forums, photo –and video repositories like Youtube turns everybody into an instant publicist. Internet is the biggest soapbox in the world, and people who would not dare air their views offline find their outlet in posting them on the Internet, thinking they are totally anonymous. Internet is also the big recycler. Once something is online, it is quite hard to get rid of it for good. The boost the Internet gave to The Protocols is enormous. Twenty years ago, it had almost sunken into oblivion. The immensely popular Youtube is used on a large scale to share short video-clips with the world. Neo-Nazis use Youtube as another great tool, but you can also watch Holocaust deniers like David Irving walking in Birkenau, explaining why Jews were never gassed there. You can see Leuchter fans doing a so-called scientific experiment ‘testing’ Zyklon-B on each other, showing that ‘the concentrations of Zyklon-B that were allegedly used to kill Jews are in fact harmless’. Do a search on the Youtube site for ‘gas chambers’ and the second video that will be presented to you is footage of Fred Leuchter talking about his report which claims that the gas chambers at the death camps were never used to gas people.
Then there’s the online games and games sold over the Internet, like Ethnic Cleansing and ZOG’s nightmare, which add another level of nausea and last but not least there’s the virtual ‘Furry Nazi groups’ in Second Life, who amused themselves by building gas chambers and ‘playing’ camp, trying to capture Jewish Second Life users in order to ‘test their facilities’. Good news is that just two weeks ago, after pressure brought by Jewish groups in Second Life, owner Linden Labs removed the Nazi’s and their virtual ‘Third Reich’. A small victory.
The Netcraft October 2008 web server survey tells us there are now almost 200 million websites online. A sea of data, which would be impossible to navigate without search engines. But here’s the rub. Your average non-Jewish student who becomes curious about his Jewish classmate goes to Google and types in the word ‘Jew’. The third search result is the infamous hate site ‘Jew Watch’, which will teach the student that Jews control the world and every evil deed ever done in history was done by Jews. Oh yes, since recently you will see as a first search result a notice by Google saying that they do not endorse some of the disturbing search results and that it is better to search on Judaism then on Jews, in order to get informative and relevant results instead of ‘unexpected ones’. How easy it would be for the privately owned company Google to just omit sites like Jew Watch from their database. But I guess that would be ‘doing evil’.
Sadly, it doesn’t end with ‘classic’ antisemitism. Where before you could only find a limited amount of left-wing antisemitism, after the disastrous 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, which turned into an antisemitic hate-fest, the masks came off. Blatant antisemitism on left-wing sites is now quite acceptable, of course prudently called “anti-Zionism”. Some left-wing sites even link to antisemitic content on neo-Nazi sites and since the rise of Islamism and Jihadism there is an increasing overlap between Islamist and neo-Nazi rethoric, uniting seemingly natural enemies in their joint struggle against the “Zionist world conspiracy”. The common ground for online hate-mongers is called Jews.
The Internet not only dramatically changed the scope of antisemitism, it also facilitates its mutation. The antisemitism-virus always seems to seek a new myth to piggyback on and if there’s one thing the Internet is good in, it is the fast dissemination of urban legends and myths. The Jews are behind 9/11. The Jews working at the World Trade center stayed home on 9/11. The Jews are behind the financial crisis.
Then there is the online trivialization of the Holocaust – which is maybe the biggest danger. The Holocaust depicted as a dance party in the infamous video ‘Housewitz’. A Belgian far-right politician singing a song about ‘the little Jewess that is going to Dachau to be gassed’. Or comparing the Holocaust to anything, from bad treatment of animals and abortion clinics to discrimination of smokers.
Lastly, there is the encrypted antisemitism, a language of code words for Jews -like Zionists, or cabal, or the media elite, or those that control the banks. This language creates an environment that eases the path for openly antisemitic rhetoric.
The results: Holocaust Denial is becoming fashionable, antisemitism quite normal, Zionism is deliberately depicted as racism and antisemitic violence is on the rise.
Those who say ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ need to do a reality check. Apion’s words fuelled the flames of the first pogrom. Hitler’s and Goebbels’ and Streichers’ words caused the Holocaust. Every genocide, pogrom, or act of antisemitic violence in history was built on words.
There’s a well-known quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” He wrote this in 1914 in his publication Other People's Money—and How Bankers Use It, referring to the benefits of openness and transparency in financial issues. Many an advocate of freedom of speech takes this quote to mean that hate speech, once it is exposed and out in the open, will shrivel away and die. First of all, I think it is doubtful that Brandeis meant this. Justice Brandeis died in 1941 but had he lived to see the Holocaust, I don’t think he would have agreed with the new meaning his quote was given. Secondly, in recent history, let’s says since 1900, we’ve had very little success countering genocides or atrocities only by publicity and sunlight. The sad thing is that the amount of people outside of Germany who were aware of the holocaust already in 1941 is quite large. But nothing happened while the sun kept on shining over Auschwitz.
The Shoah itself illustrates the danger of the repetition of hate speech best. Nazi propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels loved to advise everybody to “make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually people will believe it.” Mass-murderer Rudolf Höss, commander of Auschwitz, illustrated this further during his interrogation shortly after his capture in 1945 when he said: “I was absolutely convinced that the Jews were at the opposite pole from the German People, and sooner or later there would have to be a clash between National-Socialism and World Jewry…but everybody was convinced of this; that was all you could hear or read.”
The role of antisemitic propaganda and language was significant in creating a mindset in Germany in the 1930s that predisposed acceptance of racial policy even in its most radical form. The constant repetition of antisemitic sentiment, whether fanatical Party propaganda or the casual racial aside, lodged in the collective psyche in ways that reduced the ability and willingness of a great many Germans to question race policy and encouraged them to endorse it.
So why should everybody work on countering antisemitism and Holocaust Denial? Many think that National Socialism and the Holocaust are things of the past, and antisemitism is not seen as a real problem.
The Nizkor Project– whose director, Ken McVay, to my great pleasure, is present here today, gives us the answer. In 1996, a small Neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist White Peoples Party, wrote in their electronic magazine "The real purpose of Holocaust revisionism is to make National Socialism an acceptable political alternative again." Nizkor published this profound quote on its main page – and it is still there today.
This is why we need to counter antisemitism and Holocaust denial. We want to do it because we need to remember those who were murdered, lest they be forgotten, but we need to do it to make sure National Socialism never again becomes an acceptable political option. Now to make the world understand that. A tough challenge.
Of course we need good speech. Of course we need truth. So are we doing that? In the physical world I think we can’t complain. Lots of great work is done by scholars, Non-Governmental Organizations, Jewish Communities and Community organizations. Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial are illegal in a number of European countries. Thanks to the effort of a number of Jewish NGOs and individuals, some present here, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency now has a Working Definition of Antisemitism. We have Holocaust museums. We have a wealth of online information on the Holocaust, available through the Nizkor Project, the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, Yad Vashem and many others. We commemorate. We warn. We give testimony. We educate. We take young people to see the camps. We try to prevent.
On and through the Internet, NGOs like mine, the INACH Network, the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and others work on countering hate. Since 2002, the INACH network has gotten thousands of instances of antisemitism and Holocaust Denial removed. That sounds like a lot, but looking at the vast hate-scape that has unfolded on the Internet, it seems almost futile. I fear we are not able to stem the tide in this way.
The memory of the holocaust is fading, the first and second generation of Holocaust survivors are passing away, and antisemitism is moving into the electronic mainstream.
What we should do is put all our efforts in education, not only anti-hate education and education about the Holocaust but also Media literacy; how to assess information on the Internet, how to check for credibility, how to check sources and how to think critical. But we should also advocate for anti-discrimination lessons and for Holocaust education and prejudice reduction modules to be included in all school curricula. That is in my view the only way to –in time- effectively counter hate.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the new library of Alexandria, opened 5 years ago and is built next to the location of the antique library. It contains millions of books. It aims to be ‘a center of excellence in the production and dissemination of knowledge and a place of dialogue, learning and understanding between cultures and peoples’.
It has Tacitus’ Histories, quoting Apion’s antisemitism. It has The Protocols of the elders of Zion in many translations. The online catalog proudly describes ‘The protocols’ as a ‘Complete plan for world destruction’. This august new institution for knowledge in the Middle East, partly financed by UNESCO, also has the Leuchter report in Arabic, Mein Kampf, and other antisemitic material. Of course it has a complete copy of the Internet Archive containing most hate sites on the Internet. From Alexandria in the year 30 to Alexandria in 2008 - it seems that Apion has come full circle and not only that – antisemitism is now part of the largest library in the world – unquestioned, uncommented antisemitism.
During the 2007 annual INACH conference in Berlin a resolution was adopted which calls upon countries and international bodies like the OSCE and the EU to coordinate measures against cyber hate and to start working on media education. That’s excellent, but we need to do more. When I did one of my usual gloomy speeches last February during the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem, people asked me ‘but what can we do?’ Well, we need to engage our schools and our politicians, to make it clear to them that we have to take action now.
After Lunch, some of you will be visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Right after the main entrance, on your left, you will see the flags of the U.S. Army units that liberated the concentration camps. One of those is the flag of the 4th armored division of General Patton’s 3rd army. I have an interest in that since the 4th armored was the division that liberated my father-in-law from Buchenwald.
The motto of the 4th armored was “They shall be known by their deeds alone” and I think that is a fitting message to all of us. Let’s stop talking, and be known by our deeds.
Keynote speech by Ronald Eissens during the INACH/ADL Global Summit on Internet Hate, 17 & 18 November 2008, Washington D.C.
 Richard Overy, Interrogations – the Nazi elite in allied hands, 1945. P.196, The Penguin Press, 2001