Friday, February 22, 2008

Confonting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on Facebook, YouTube, Google and the web 

Anti-Semitism 2.0 Going Largely Unchallenged

Old-guard groups seen slow in recognizing viral threat from Facebook, YouTube.

by Tamar Snyder
Staff Writer

More than 35,000 people have joined the Facebook group “Israel is not a country! ... Delist it from Facebook as a country!”

Type “Jew” into the search function on YouTube, and you’ll discover a host of anti-Semitic videos, including “911 Jew Spy Scandal 3” and a video clip in which National Polish Party’s Leszek Bubel declares himself a “proud anti-Semite.”

And Google Earth, the satellite-mapping program, recently came under fire when officials from Kiryat Yam filed a lawsuit against Google after the Internet giant refused to take down a note posted by user Thameen Darby claiming that the northern Israeli town was founded on the remains of the Arab village of Ghawarina.

This is the new face of anti-Semitism: Anti-Semitism 2.0. And it’s potentially more hazardous than the relatively straightforward smear campaigns and petitions of yesteryear.

Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Google Earth thrive on communities in which users generate and share information in the form of videos, photos and blog posts, which are subject to vague terms of service and seemingly arbitrary censorship.

This leaves the door open for anti-Semites across the globe to co-opt these applications to spread messages of hate, often failing to distinguish between Jews and Israel when comparing Jews to Nazis and Israel to apartheid South Africa, observers say.

“This phenomena is spreading anti-Semitism and acceptability of anti-Semitism in new and increasingly effective ways,” says Andre Oboler, a Legacy Heritage Fellow who runs ZionismOnTheWeb.org and is a post-doctoral fellow studying online public diplomacy at Bar-Ilan University.

“Now in the Web 2.0 world, the social acceptability of anti-Semitism can be spread, public resistance lowered and hate networks rapidly established,” Oboler said.

What’s worse, Oboler contends, Jewish organizations are behind the times and are not devoting the resources necessary to stop the hate virus from spreading.

Many at the helm of these large organizations have yet to sign up for a Facebook account, don’t spend much time on YouTube and aren’t all that sure what Google Earth is.

“Community leaders tend to be the sort of people who are too busy to spend time looking at YouTube videos,” Oboler says. “They are very, very focused on old media, which is a bit strange, since a lot of people their age are online.”

The average American YouTube viewer is 39, and 33.5 percent of Facebook users are between 35 and 54 years old.

The more tech-savvy among community leaders realize just how grave the situation is — but have all but shaken their heads at the impossibility of making a dent in the large volume of hate messages being spread. As Myrna Shinbaum, spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League retorted, “We can’t sit here all day monitoring YouTube and Facebook.” (The organization does report objectionable material to service providers. “But the minute they do the right thing and pull something down, another pops up,” says Deborah Lauter, ADL’s national civil rights director. “It takes constant vigilance and policing.”)

Yet we live in a world in which “truth” often belongs to the Web site with the highest Google ranking and the most hits, regardless of its credibility. Therefore, anti-Semitism 2.0 is arguably far more serious than its previous Web incarnations. And when it comes to social networking sites, the stakes are higher since the reach is that much greater, Oboler contends.

On Facebook, for example, information spreads in a viral fashion. When users join a group or sign up to promote a cause, their friends are automatically notified in their “news feeds.” They then have the option of joining, too, spreading the message even further. “The message thus spreads not only across geographic boundaries, but also across social groups,” explains Oboler.

The “Israel is not a country!” group, for example, attracted 35,000 members as of press time. Assuming each member has approximately 150 friends (a lowball estimate), then the group — which decries Israel as an apartheid regime and claims that Israel has no right to exist — will have been advertised to more than 5.25 million people.

In response, several Facebook users established counter-groups, such as the “Palestine is not a country” and even “causes” such as “Facebook needs to delete the group ‘Israel is a terrorist country we all hate Israel!’” which more than 19,000 people have joined. Although “Israel is not a country!” no longer shows up in search results, “Israel: Terrorist State,” “I Hate Israel,” and some 75 groups like it still exist.

With larger Jewish organizations largely failing to combat anti-Semitism 2.0, much of the legwork has been left to individuals (many of them under 40) who lack both financial backing and the time to devote themselves fully to tracking and wiping out anti-Semitism in this new medium for spreading hate. “They see something, get annoyed and have to do something about it,” Oboler says. “But there’s no greater strategy behind it.”

Dovid, an Orthodox businessman in his late 30s, is one of the lone rangers on YouTube, the video-sharing Web site that — according to Alexa, a company that measures Web traffic — is the second-most visited site on the Web. He has posted more than 150 pro-Israel videos on YouTube, generating more than 1.3 million video views — and thousands of hateful and insidious comments (which is why he requested that The Jewish Week not print his last name).

“A little over a year ago, I was searching YouTube and there was so much really, really vile stuff out there,” he says. So he posted trailers from the 2005 movie “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.”

“I wanted to get the message out there,” he says.

Using the name “CheckItOutNowNYC,” he continued to spend hours each week searching for videos that highlighted a positive image of Israel and the Jews, including one featuring Bob Dylan performing “Hava Nagilah.” More than 50,000 people have viewed his video, “See the Humane Treatment of a Palestinian Woman by Israel,” a three-minute NBC News clip about a female suicide bomber who entered Israel using a special medical permit but was caught with 20 pounds of explosives.

Dovid labels each video with background information and resources for those interested in learning more. The number of page views is staggering, as are the more than 100 comments he receives a day. But it’s very time-consuming, he says.

“I wish there were 50 guys like me downloading videos and reposting them,” Dovid said.

He’s since posted videos promoting Jewish organizations including Nefesh B’Nefesh and Efrat C.R.I.B. (Committee for the Rescue of Israel’s Babies). Yet he wonders why these organizations aren’t creating their own YouTube channel and posting their videos themselves.

“Super-large Jewish organizations are really slow,” he says. “But the goal is to get the videos out there. We need Jews to take a proactive stance to educate the public.”

A few Jewish organizations are warming up to Facebook. The Consulate General of Israel in New York and the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., both have Facebook pages, but they’ve each garnered less than 1,000 “fans.” The ADL has a Facebook page, too, but it’s a rather dormant unofficial page created by a high school student.

Among the handful of organizations that are first beginning to explore social networking as a possible avenue for promotion, most lack a comprehensive understanding of how Web 2.0 works.
“Various organizations have a policy that they won’t link to other sites,” Oboler says. “This is counterproductive. Web 2.0 is about sharing. The way a Web site gets popular is partly related to the number of links and how high up they are on Google.”

“Organizations — especially the younger ones — are now realizing that Facebook, YouTube and other such Web sites are an important medium for reaching out to Jewish and non-Jewish students alike to talk about Israel,” said Dani Klein, campus director of the pro-Israel activism group StandWithUs. StandWithUs often records on-campus events and lectures and posts them on the Web.

“There will be 50 to 100 people in the room hearing the lecture, but the number of people who can watch it on the Web grows exponentially,” Klein said.

Since 2005, StandWithUs has been actively using Web 2.0 to connect with Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus. It created a Facebook page, posts events and uploaded videos to the Web site, including the protest against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s speech at Columbia University. In addition to the StandWithUs Facebook page, the organization created a Facebook page for Israel, where Klein posts YouTube videos highlighting Israel’s technological innovations and humanitarian efforts, as well as important links and resources.

In what may be viewed as a hopeful sign, the organization is in the process of creating a multinational online task force to monitor Facebook, YouTube and other Web 2.0 applications and find problematic videos and groups that need responses. The task force would then work on posting educated, rational comments on these pages, hoping to sway those who joined anti-Israel groups out of peer pressure.

“The people who started these groups are most likely in the top 10 percent who are staunchly anti-Israel,” Klein said, adding that they are probably not easily swayed. Instead, StandWithUs will reach out to the majority of the group, who he calls “casual Palestinian supporters” who joined because their friends invited them or because “it’s hip to be anti-Israel.”

“We’ve always known it was a problem,” said Klein. “As individuals, we try to combat it. But we need to do more.”

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Antisemitism in Sweden 

Sweden accused of persecuting civil servant for pro-Israel views

By Cnaan Liphshiz
Wed., February 20, 2008 Adar1 14, 5768

An employee of the Swedish Migration Board sued the organization last month for what he considers unlawful demotion for his support of Israel and the U.S., which he expressed in his personal Web site. The parties met last week at the Goteborg District Court for a first hearing on the case.

Lennart Eriksson, 51, told Haaretz by phone that his boss, Eugene Palmer, had demoted him last September from the position of manager of an asylum assessment unit - which he had held for six years - to manager of one of the board's shelters. Eriksson maintains that in effect, the demotion constitutes dismissal.

The board - the government body handling immigrants - disagrees with this.

Eriksson, who is not Jewish, also said he viewed his demotion as a form of political persecution.

According to Eriksson, Palmer told him he had seen Eriksson's Web site and that Eriksson's views were both "unusual and controversial." According to Eriksson, Palmer told him he was being demoted because of the Web site, and that running such a site was inappropriate for a senior official of the migration board.

He said his site "does not and has never contained hateful or acrimonious ideas."

The board's press officer, Marie Andersson, said the board "strongly denies that it persecutes any of its employees." She added: "Under the Swedish Secrecy Act [Sekretesslagen], the board is not at liberty - and we do not find it appropriate either - to discuss one of our employees and the specifics of this particular case."

The board had confirmed in previous queries by the Swedish media that Eriksson had been "transferred" as a result of the opinions he expressed on his Web site. Andersson said the board finds it "crucial to preserve people's confidence in the organization."

This, she says, makes it essential "for employees to not show that they are in favor of one side in a conflict which leads people to seek refuge in Sweden." It is particularly important for staff in leading positions to "show impartiality," she said.

But Eriksson says that at least one of his former colleagues, Arne Malmgren, is a veteran pro-Palestinian activist working against human rights violations in the West Bank and Lebanon. Malmgren and his wife, Birgitta Elfstrom - who also worked at the board until retiring recently - are quoted in the international media in this context.

The board never approached Malmgren on this issue and has even recently promoted him, says Eriksson. Press officer Andersson would only say on this issue that "Mr. Malmgren has not been promoted to a position as head of any unit."

Israel's former ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, said he was not surprised by the incident.

"The people who fired Eriksson took the lead from a prevalent anti-Israel atmosphere in Sweden's corridors of power," he said. Dr. Mikael Tossavainen, a Swedish-born researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said he considered the incident a danger to free speech.

Upon hearing about the case, the vice chair of the Sweden-Israel Friendship Society, Ilya Meyer, launched a public campaign to raise awareness about what he calls political persecution apparent in Eriksson's case.

"If someone from another country had suffered the treatment to which Eriksson has been subjected, the victim would be granted political asylum in Sweden on the grounds of political persecution," Meyer said.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Killers of French Jew arrested 

France sends 29 to trial over kidnap and murder of Jewish man

By The Associated Press
Tue., February 19, 2008 Adar1 13, 5768

French judges are sending 29 people to trial for the torture and killing of a young Jewish man two years ago, judicial authorities said Monday.

The 2006 kidnapping, torture and killing of Ilan Halimi revived concerns about anti-Semitism in France.

Authorities found the 23-year-old naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks near railroad tracks in the Essonne region south of Paris.

He died on the way to the hospital after being held captive for more than three weeks.

Authorities said 21 of the suspects, including alleged ringleader Youssouf Fofana, would be tried by a youth court, because two of them were minors at the time of the killing in February 2006.

Their trial is expected to be held behind closed doors, and is not expected before next year.

Eight others will be tried by other courts.

Chief suspect Fofana, 27, risks life imprisonment. He faces charges of kidnapping and of acts of torture and murder with religious, racial or ethnic motives. He is also accused of five other attempted kidnappings.

Fofana, a Frenchman of Ivorian descent, fled to Ivory Coast and was arrested there and extradited to France.

Halimi, a resident of a Parisian suburb, was lured by a young woman who entered the shop where he worked and persuaded him to meet her in another suburb, where he was kidnapped by a gang of youths, most of them immigrants.

He was laid to rest at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem exactly a year after the murder in a ceremony attended by hundreds of people.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Lithuanian parade mocks Jews 

Vilnius Catholics derogatorily portray Jews in holiday parade

By Michael Casper, The Forward
Sun., February 10, 2008 Adar1 4, 5768

VILNIUS, Lithuania - Last month, a samba group in Rio de Janeiro caused an international furor when it announced its intention to participate in the city's Carnival event on a float depicting Holocaust victims. After outcries from the Brazilian Jewish community, a judge banned the group from using the float.

Although less well known, a similarly questionable effort to celebrate the same holiday takes place in this city, once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania because of the breadth and piety of its Jewish community.

During Carnival - or Uzgavenes, as it is known in Lithuania - Catholics from around the world congregate for a feast of foods prohibited during Lent. The festival usually involves a parade or circus, with attendees in masks and costumes. But in Vilnius - commonly known to Jews as Vilna - participants traditionally dress and act "as Jews," a feat that generally calls for masks with grotesque features, beards and visible ear locks and that is often accompanied by peddling and by stereotypically Jewish speech.

Perhaps even more shockingly, the "festivities" extend beyond the parade itself and into a Halloween-style trick-or-treating. When Simonas Gurevicius, the 26-year-old executive director of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, opened the door to his house during last year's Uzgavenes, he was greeted by two children dressed in horns and tails, reciting a song that translates as, "We're the little Lithuanian Jews/We want blintzes and coffee/If you don't have blintzes/Give us some of your money." (It rhymes in Lithuanian.)

"They understand it as Halloween, a time to have fun and adventures," Gurevicius said. "On the one hand, it is important to respect the traditions of the country. On the other hand, psychologically it stays in their brain: The image of the Jew will be closely associated with the image from the festival."

Jewish history in Lithuania, centuries long and distinguished by a profusion of yeshivas and Torah scholars, nearly ended when most of the country's Jewish community was exterminated during the Holocaust. Today, the small but close-knit community hosts school groups at its center for educational sessions on Jewish life.

But according to Gurevicius, members of the Jewish community do not speak out against the parade, because they wish to avoid conflict with Lithuanians. "For sure, the Jewish people don't like so much the way Jews are shown with the other creatures," he said. But "someone could say we don't understand the humor. People think it's normal."

Diana, a 20-year-old Jewish medical student from Vilnius who did not wish to give her last name, was surprised to learn that Lithuanians dress as Jews during Uzgavenes. "It's not the most pleasant thing, but it could be worse" she said, adding that "they could be smashing menorahs" - a reference to protests surrounding the erection of a large menorah in the Lithuanian town of Siauliai last December.

Last Saturday, hundreds gathered in front of city hall in the capital to celebrate. The Web site of the Vilnius City Municipality promised that during Uzgavenes, which is an official holiday in Lithuania, "creatures wearing different masks - devils, witches, deaths, goats, Gypsies, and other joyful and scaring characters - hang around." Claiming to be dressed as a Jew, one woman tried to convince spectators to buy dirty handkerchiefs.

Although typical costumes include farm animals and monsters, masquerading is sometimes broadly referred to as "eiti zydukais," or "going as Jews," regardless of how one dresses.

The Roma do not fare better. Participants who masquerade as "Gypsies" wear gaudy makeup, hold babies and ask bystanders for money.

Last Friday, Vilnius's Center of Ethnic Activity hosted an exhibition of Uzgavenes masks and screened archival footage of past celebrations. Masks of Jews were displayed between those of witches and animals, and shown with no apparent compunction to cultural delegates from Latvia and Denmark. In a video shot in Vilnius last year, a man dressed as a Jew carrying a briefcase full of toilet paper haggled with cab drivers as he led a group of people made up as beasts through the streets.

"From my point of view," said Svetlana Novopolskaja, director of the Roma Community Centre of Vilnius, "Lithuanians like to dress as Roma, like their music and habits, but don't like Roma as people. They accept them as personages from fairy tales - as hobbits, for example - and are surprised and afraid when they meet real Roma."

Ethnologist Inga Krisciuniene, who works at the Centre of Ethnic Activity, led the event, explained how she believed that in earlier times, Jews and Gypsies dressed alike. Revelers wore the same mask on Uzgavenes to depict them, so that the characters were distinguishable only by performers' actions. When asked whether it could be seen as offensive to mock these minorities, Krisciuniene replied, "No one has ever complained." The intent, she said, is humorous.

"Besides," she added, "it's true that Gypsies steal."

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Holocaust carnival float in Brazil 

Brazil judge bans carnival float depicting naked Holocaust victims

By The Associated Press
Sat., February 02, 2008 Shvat 26, 5768

A judge issued an order Thursday prohibiting a Rio samba group from parading during carnival with a float depicting naked bodies of Holocaust victims.

Judge Juliana Kalichsztein issued the injunction against the float in response to a lawsuit by the Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro, which asked for the float be removed from this city's famed carnival parade next week, a spokeswoman for the judge told reporters.

The Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro filed the lawsuit under federal laws prohibiting Nazi propaganda and racism in Brazil, said Lara Voges, a court spokeswoman.

Viradouro, a top Rio samba group who planned the float, said it would not comment until its president saw the court's decision. The float was designed to remind carnival-goers of past horrors to prevent them from happening again, the group said.

But Jewish leaders were outraged by the float, which contained piles of naked mannequins meant to depict corpses of Holocaust victims.

"It's inadmissible that they could have a parade float depicting dead Jews and a live Hitler on top of them," said federation spokesman Jose Roitberg.

Rio de Janeiro state Judge Juliana Kalichszteim agreed, calling Viradouro's plans a clear trivialization of barbaric events.

Carnival should not be used as a tool for the cult of hate, any form of racism, the judge said.

Rio's two-night Samba parade, featuring thousands of scantily clad and elaborately plumed dancers, is the high point of Brazil's carnival celebrations and is televised nationally in a country of 185 million people.

During the event, Rio's 12 top-tier samba groups each present an 80-minute parade featuring hundreds of drummers and thousands of dancers who compete to be the year's champion.

Each group chooses a theme reflected in music, costumes and floats.

Viradouro, which is scheduled to parade early Monday morning, chose the theme, It Gives You Goose Bumps, featuring floats depicting the shock of birth and cold, along with the pile of Holocaust victims.

Although the samba group refused to say whether it had planned to have a dancing Hitler, it was listed in the official parade description as part of the float.

According to Kalichszteim's decision, the group would face fines of 200,000 reals ($113,000) if it ignored her order by parading with the mannequins and 50,000 reals ($28,000) for each dancer dressed as Hitler.

News of the float drew worldwide attention. Earlier this week, the international Jewish human rights group Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement of protest.

On Wednesday, a second-division samba group agreed to remove swastikas from dancers' costumes following complaints from the Rio Jewish federation. The group, Estacio de Sa, also agreed to drop a section of the parade named after Hitler.

"I think it's in terribly bad taste," said sociologist and carnival scholar Roberto DaMatta. "But it makes sense considering the festival's sacrilegious origins," he added.

"The only problem is we're not in the Middle Ages anymore. It doesn't work in a modern society," DaMatta said.

Past carnival groups have had to change floats because of the Roman Catholic Church, which doesn't want depictions of the Virgin Mary or Christ.

In 2004, the Grande Rio group had to alter a float depicting Adam and Eve having sex and another featuring sexy scenes from Hinduism's Kama Sutra after the Catholic Church sued over its parade advocating condom use.


Holocaust carnival float shocks in Brazil

Posted Wed Jan 30, 2008 11:39am AEDT
Updated Wed Jan 30, 2008 12:25pm AEDT

Jewish groups in Brazil have expressed disgust over a controversial float to appear in Brazil's upcoming carnival parade that depicts dead victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

The display, by the Unidos da Viradouro school, will be sandwiched among 11 others that are to parade along the city's carnival avenue on Sunday.

In dramatic contrast to the floats carrying sequined, scantily clad dancers smiling and gyrating, the Holocaust entry will show only motionless, skeletal figures piled on top of each other.

Its creator defended the float, which will move along under the theme "It's Horrifying".

"It's a very respectful float. It's going to depict it [the Holocaust] as a sort of alarm, so that it never be repeated," the creator, Paulo Barros, said.

"I believe the carnival is also a way of showing what happens in the world," he said.

But Brazilian Jewish groups are not seeing it that way.

'Tragedy in their skin'

Sergio Niskier, the president of the Israelite Federation of Rio de Janerio, said it was "inappropriate" to punctuate the festival atmosphere of carnival with a scene symbolising the systematic murder of 6 million people in Nazi concentration camps between 1938 and 1945.

"Really, it makes no sense to highlight this issue with drums and dancing girls when there are still survivors of that horror and many of their descendants who carry the mark of that tragedy in their skin," he told reporters.

Barros, however, said he informed the Jewish group of his plans months ago.

"They were anxious about putting this float in a carnival atmosphere," he admitted.

But, he predicted: "When the float goes by, people will feel respect."

A counterpart at the rival Grande Rio samba school, Roberto Szaniecki - himself of Polish Jew descent - disagreed.

"It's insensitive. The parade is going to be broadcast in Europe. I don't have grandparents because of the Holocaust," he told the newspaper O Dia.


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