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
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT