The fight against anti-Semitism on college campuses and social media

Florida Congressman Ted Deutch and Israeli legislator Michal Cotler-Wunsh discuss anti-Semitism with students from across the US.

Flyer+courtesy+of+Hillel+at+FAU

Flyer courtesy of Hillel at FAU

Michael Gennaro, Contributing Writer

On Monday, Hillel groups from across the United States organized a one-hour discussion about anti-Semitism with Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch and Israeli Knesset member, Michal Cotler-Wunsh. The Knesset is the national legislature of Israel.

Hillel, or The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. The foundation works with thousands of Jewish students across more than 550 colleges around the globe.

“On college campuses right now, I think you’re seeing a microcosm of what we see around the country and around the world, which is anti-Semitism that manifests itself in different forms,” Congressman Deutch said in his opening remarks. “It comes from the far-right, it comes from the far-left… We have to start with recognizing that the voices of pro-Israel students on campus, Jewish students on campus have to be respected.”

A college campus is a place where leadership skills are often developed and strengthened. Engagement with students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, is an integral part of fighting back against anti-Semitism.

Cotler-Wunsh referred to anti-Semitism as a “global challenge,” with disinformation and social media being culprits to its spread in recent years.

Fringe social media communities like Gab, Parler, and other platforms used by far-right groups have been used to spread disinformation and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories recently. Even more mainstream apps like Twitter and Facebook have come under fire for not doing enough to eliminate anti-Semitic content from their platform.

Cotler-Wunsh and Deutch are collaborating with digital platforms, they said, to expose disinformation and identify challenges that come with the spread of anti-Semitism.

“This is not just about anti-Semitism. It is certainly not just about Jews and it’s not just about Israel,” Cotler-Wunsh said. “If you can’t protect one people, one minority, one country, you cannot protect any people, any minority, any country.”

Under the Trump administration, extremist rhetoric became more and more common, and anti-Semitic incidents surged in the U.S. from 2015-2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“There’s no question that there has been an alarming rise of anti-Semitism in our country. The statistics point it out, but even beyond the data, there are very recent examples,” Congressman Deutch said. “The normalization of extremist right-wing groups, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the extreme right-wing groups we saw on full display where I work on Jan. 6 at the insurrection at the Capitol was, I think for a lot of us, terrifying.”

Deutch noted that he had known these extremist groups were growing in numbers, but the insurrection pointed to their newfound boldness. Many rioters on Jan. 6 wore anti-Semitic messages or neo-Nazi memorabilia on their clothing, including one rioter wearing a shirt that read “Camp Auschwitz.” 

Along with the Capitol insurrection, Deutch brought up the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 2018, where a right-wing extremist killed 11 congregants and wounded six others, as another example of right-wing extremists’ new boldness. 

“When this kind of hatred exists, it’s ultimately going to pose a threat to all of us,” Congressman Deutch said.

Deutch and Cotler-Wunsh both agree that fighting disinformation is paramount to stopping anti-Semitic attacks. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and ideas can spread faster than ever before online and present new, constant dangers.

Right-wing groups aren’t the only culprit, however. “It is the convergence of extreme left anti-Semitism and extreme right anti-Semitism that challenges us in many ways because we think we identify one side and then we have it from the other side,” Cotler-Wunsh said.

Cotler-Wunsh said that extreme left groups use the “three D’s: demonization, delegitimization, and double standards” to attack Jewish values and policies of Israel. 

Deutch wants to work with social media platforms to improve their algorithms to catch anti-Semitic or extremist material so that it can be removed as quickly as possible. Anti-Semitic content must be eliminated online, just like any other hateful or dangerous material, Deutch said. Deutch noted that online anti-Semitism often turns into real-life anti-Semitism. 

The Pittsburgh shooter and many of the Capitol rioters consumed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on social media before acting. 

Both Cotler-Wunsh and Deutch pledged to work with and hold social media platforms to account for anti-Semitic content and work to eliminate it. 

The Abraham Accords Declaration should be the guideline for fighting anti-Semitism online and around the world, Cotler-Wunsh said. The U.S. Department of State website states that, “We encourage efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity.”

Michael Gennaro is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or follow him on Instagram @mycoolgennaro.