Prepared Remarks: Countering Contemporary Antisemitism and Other Forms of Racism Online and Offline

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is in Sweden, attending the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. The conference, organized by the government of Sweden, features scores of international leaders.

by: Jonathan A. Greenblatt | October 13, 2021

Good morning. I’m deeply grateful to PM Lofven for convening this historic event here in Malmo, a city that once was thought of as a hotbed of antisemitism. It is a statement of Sweden’s commitment to the Jewish community that you are confronting this issue in this place. Bravo.

I know we have limited time today, but I hope we will cover a broad range of issues in the session such as the recent surge of antisemitic incidents; the hateful dogma of anti-Zionism; the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories; and more.

But I want to open by focusing on two of ADL’s top concerns.  First, the most lethal – antisemitic hate crimes and second, the most prevalent – online antisemitism. And I’ll explain how ADL is working to combat them using innovation and partnerships.

First, we must call out the clear and present danger of rising anti-Jewish violence. In recent years the US has been scarred by horrific acts of violence targeting Jews – from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn and most recently right in Times Square. We also have seen devastating attacks across Europe – in cities such as Halle, Paris and right here in Malmo. These attacks frequently are committed by ideological extremists – whether by avowed white supremacists, determined Islamists or radicalized lone wolves, all of whom victimize Jews simply for the crime of being Jewish.

And this has happened in the context of a set of converging macro-trends including the rise of populism, the mainstreaming of extremism and the normalization of antisemitism. Indeed, we see shocking dynamics on both ends of the spectrum that seem to converge around a common denominator: a shared value of venom toward Jews. On one side, we see extreme right-wing pundits who paraphrase white supremacists without shame and on the other side, woke left-wing activists that parrot anti-Zionist talking points once pioneered by the Soviet Union. It is a stunning race to the bottom with the Jewish community taking fire from all sides.

It’s worth noting that monitoring these kinds of threats has been a core activity of ADL for decades, one that we are augmenting today with partnerships. We have prevented multiple armed attacks over the decades through extensive information sharing with law enforcement, but I’m proud that now we have formal partnerships with some of the most important institutions in our community – with Hillel International to protect students on campuses; with the Reform and Conservative movements to safeguard our shuls, schools and summer camps; and we just signed an agreement to help train the thousands of volunteers in America who participate in the Community Security Service, an NGO whose members patrol synagogues across America every Shabbat. In the years ahead, we will deepen these partnerships and build out even more to defend our community from the lethal threat of violent antisemitism.

The second challenge is cyberhate. Indeed, social media is nothing less than a super-spreader of antisemitism and hate. This is why ADL launched our Center for Technology and Society in Silicon Valley back in 2017. And, just as ADL has tracked antisemitic incidents for generations, we have innovated our approaches and now monitor anti-Jewish hate online. And the 2021 edition of ADL’s Online Hate and Harassment study found that a whopping 41% of Americans report that they regularly experience harassment online.

Without a doubt, Big Tech is monetizing antisemitism, racism and disinformation in all forms. And so we need these companies, once and for all, to stop hate for profit. It’s imperative for them to acknowledge, in the words of Sacha Baron Cohen, freedom of speech isn’t freedom of reach. We need their leadership to take responsibility for building a propaganda apparatus so robust that Pravda pales in comparison and Der Sturmer looks tame by its standards.

In light of this reality, perhaps it won’t come as a surprise that ADL now employs data scientists, product managers and software engineers who drive our work in this field. They collaborate closely with leading companies ranging from Airbnb to Zoom, Apple to Google, PayPal to YouTube, Twitter to Clubhouse, pushing them to strengthen their policies and improve their products, not just by issuing press releases, but also by providing detailed research and value-added recommendations about new features and functionality based on our technical know-how and industry expertise.

And one last point – when we started on this journey in 2017, I made an assertion that some questioned but now, especially after the revelations last week, there can be no doubt: Facebook is the frontline in fighting hate.

Let’s pause and think about Facebook for a moment. With an estimated 2.9 billion users, it is far and away the world’s largest social media platform. With $24 billion in net income last year, it is one of the most profitable companies on the planet. And with micro-targeting capabilities so robust that it simultaneously can serve different ads to two users, living not just in the same house, but literally sleeping in the same bed, it indisputably is the most sophisticated advertising platform in the history of capitalism.

And at the same time its product has been exploited by extremists and its algorithms have amplified antisemitism for far too long so there is no company that is more responsible for the toxic stew of antisemitism, extremism and radicalism that seemingly has infected every sphere of our public life. As revealed by Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen, the company itself knew this fact for years. Its own research literally proved it.

And so I believe it is long overdue for Facebook to do what any other business in any other industry would have done a long time ago – take its products off the shelf and fix them.

But since it seems unwilling to undertake this most basic act of self-repair, I would argue that the time has come for regulatory intervention. Whether it originates in Brussels or Washington DC or even Jerusalem, governments must hold Facebook accountable for its malign practices and monopolistic indifference in order to protect our children and our communities.

Finally, while there is no single vaccine that can stop the pandemic of prejudice, we believe there is a cure. And this brings me to my last point: the potential of education to stop the spread of hate. It might not be easy, but education is the only durable, long-term solution to ignorance. It can come in many forms – sometimes through shared service or classroom experiences or coexistence activities or even online learning.

ADL knows this work well because we have been engaged in anti-bias education longer than nearly any other nonprofit, Jewish or non-Jewish, in the US. First developed in the early 1980s, today our educational programs annually reach an estimated 1.5 million students across America.

BINAH is our latest offering, a pure-play digital product developed in collaboration with EverFi, a leading ed-tech company. It was designed with a single purpose in mind: to educate non-Jewish populations about antisemitism. And, as a CEO who’s focused on rigorously assessing the impact of our programs, I’m pleased to share that BINAH is delivering empirical results as we have been able to measure improved attitudes toward Jewish people among students who completed the course.

Indeed BINAH, addresses the number one concern we at ADL typically hear from Jewish communities around the world -- that the general public simply doesn’t know enough about Jews and Jewish identity, and that vacuum is often filled by antisemitic stereotypes. BINAH changes that and, as a dynamic cloud-based software product, it can be iterated more quickly, and scaled more efficiently, than any in-person training.

Finally, we designed BINAH as almost snackable content that the TikTok generation can experience in bite-sized chunks through any device, whether that’s their iPhone or Chromebook or XBOX and easily learn about the Jewish community – including our history, our hardships, and yes even our homeland.

And so my personal pledge here today and ADL’s commitment to this forum is to bring BINAH to our partners here in Europe. Working hand-in-hand with you, we can customize BINAH, translate it, and optimize it so that it can succeed in the unique cultural context of your country – and together we can use education to interrupt intolerance before it ever takes root among the next generation.

Violence. Cyberhate. Education.   If we can work together to tackle those three issues, Jewish communities around the world will live more confidently and more freely in a much better and safer world.

Thank you.