Skip to main content

How the Web spreads anti-Semitism

By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Special to CNN
October 18, 2013 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Daniel Goldhagen: Internet, other technology contributing to new spread of anti-Semitism
  • He says many sites promote hatred of Jews, reaching nations with very few Jewish citizens
  • He says Pew study shows rise in anti-Jewish attitudes in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa
  • Goldhagen: Internet providers, social media, search engines must cut off hate speech

Editor's note: Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book "The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism," was just published by Little, Brown. A former Harvard professor, he is also the author of the "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust."

(CNN) -- Anti-Semitism, arguably the most enduring and murderous ethnic prejudice in human history, has always adapted to the prevailing social, political and technological conditions.

In our global age of international flows and world politics and communication, anti-Semitism has become global, and it is in no small measure due to digital technologies: the Internet and satellite television. Anti-Semitism now reaches vast parts of the world where there are no Jews. And the people who rely most on the Internet, the young, are the most innocent and susceptible to believing the prejudices they come across.

Digital technology has become a game changer for anti-Semitism, and for prejudices and hatreds in general, including against African-Americans.

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Never before has prejudice toward Jews been so widely present around the world in places where the hated people are present and especially where they don't even live, as a Pew Global Attitudes Survey of 24 countries reveals. Jews form .2% of the world's population, with the vast majority in just two countries, Israel and the United States. Yet in Europe, where Germans and many other Europeans slaughtered 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, a shocking amount of anti-Semitism still exists.

Across the Arab world there is almost uniformly poisonous anti-Semitism, including instances of Arab leaders, imams, and ordinary people saying that Jews are the children of apes and pigs. More amazing is that in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia, anti-Semitism is widespread. Fifty percent of Brazilians, 43% of Nigerians, and 55% of Chinese surveyed by Pew said they had an unfavorable opinion of Jews, even though in Brazil Jews form .05% of the population, and in the other countries there are barely any Jews at all. Even in the United States, where anti-Semitism is lowest among major countries, according to the Anti-Defamation League's index of anti-Semitism, "15 percent of Americans fall in the most anti-Semitic cohort."

Digital technology has critically contributed to the explosion of anti-Semitism in five ways:

While before a person had to be personally exposed, through people or perhaps a book, to vile characterizations of Jews, today anti-Semitism is prominently available everywhere anytime -- to those seeking it out or to the innocent person just looking for information. Typing "Jew" into Google or Bing returns a top site (sometimes No. 2) called JewWatch, which is a vast emporium of anti-Semitic accusations and hatred claiming 1.5 billion pages in support of its mission to defame and eliminate Jews and their supposed power. This is but one of tens of thousands of anti-Semitic hate sites, which include a growing alternative to Wikipedia, called Metapedia, which seeks to create (currently in 18 languages) an anti-Semitic informational universe.

Morsy under fire for 'Zionist' comments
Libyan Jew returns to anti-Semitism

Second, while before new anti-Semitic accusations and initiatives traveled slowly if at all, today they can spread like wildfire over entire regions or the world, picked up by news or community websites coursing through the Internet and beamed to viewers on national, regional, or international television networks. This can be true of blood libels such as that Jews harvest Palestinian organs, of alleged plots to conquer and colonize Patagonia, or--more routinely--false accusations of Israeli atrocities. It is true of the frequent speeches by political and religious leaders urging the annihilation of Jews.

Third, you now have for the first time international and virtual communities of anti-Semitic hatred. Through digital technology, anti-Semites find validation from and communion with anti-Semites elsewhere in their own countries and around the world. Everything we know about prejudice shows that when it is shared in communities, and especially when political or religious leaders openly express hatred of a group, such bigotry is powerfully sustained and spread.

Fourth, the Internet and digital technology has integrated different streams of anti-Semitism into a global anti-Semitic amalgam. Muslim anti-Semites adopt anti-Semitic Christian motifs (to win Christians to their cause), regularly depicting in speeches and political cartoons the Palestinians as the modern crucified Christ! Leftist anti-Semites, neo-Nazi anti-Semites, old fashioned Christian anti-Semites, and, of course Arab and Islamic anti-Semites share common cause in their demonization of Israel.

Fifth, digital technology has also lifted all anti-Semitic restraints. With the anonymity of the Internet, and with the total lack of anti-Semitic inhibition coming from the Arab and Islamic worlds -- its commonplace demonizing and dehumanization characterizations of Jews and calls for the extermination of Jews around the world -- what anti-Semites say and see as thinkable action goes well beyond, in ferocity and murderousness, even Nazi Germany's profoundly anti-Semitic discourse. Not just the Jews of Israel but Jews everywhere are endangered.

Digital technology has transformed anti-Semitism into an essential part of the substructure of prejudice around the entire world. To become inundated with it, all you have to do is, innocently or not, enter the word "Jew" into your browser, and then start clicking.

But this surge in anti-Semitism also shows the way to combating it, by using legal means and political pressure to get Internet providers, social media sites and search engines to adhere to their own terms of usage, and to the laws of democratic countries -- especially forceful in Europe -- which prohibit hate speech.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT