TORONTO — In a meeting with a couple of reporters from the Jewish press, Israeli diplomat Gideon Behar posed a challenge: Google the word “Jew” and search in YouTube. See what you find.
Well, a Google search turned up a series of pretty benign websites about Jews, but the opening list on YouTube revealed a host of videos that were hostile to Jews in varying degrees. There was a scene from the 1990 film Europa Europa in which a lecturer standing in front of a swastika flag explains to a group of young Nazis how to spot a Jew. You can imagine how complimentary that was.
Then there’s a scene from the movie Borat, titled “Throw a Jew down the well.”
Comedy, yes, but on its own and if you didn’t know any better…
Another video is of “ex-Jew Benjamin Freedman” who exposes the so-called Zionist agenda while in the background, film of Nazi leaders runs. Another video purports to describe about the Jewish treatment of Christians in Israel. At the top of the list is a game-show spoof hosted by Howard Stern called “Guess who’s a Jew,” that includes an SS contestant as well as a KKK member spewing racist vitriol.
Not a neutral or complimentary search result among them.
And that’s Behar’s point. The Internet and other media have become forums where anti-Jewish content can easily be found.
“It’s the real world today,” he said. “Kids live on the Internet.”
“There is a rise in anti-Semitism and hate speech on the Internet.”
Behar is director of the department for combating antisemitism at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was in Toronto last week as head of the country’s delegation to the semi-annual plenary meeting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The IHRA consists of 31 member countries and is mandated to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust and promote anti-racist education.
That’s important in the face of Holocaust-denial, Behar stated. Denial of the Holocausts is increasingly widespread in the Arab and Muslim world, in European countries and on the Internet.
There’s data to back him up. A report published earlier this year by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry found that incidents of anti-Semitism jumped by 30 per cent in 2012 over the year before.
The study found there were 686 acts of violence and vandalism, with the largest single number, 200, recorded in France. The attack on a Toulouse Jewish school and the murder of a rabbi and four children emboldened extremist elements, said European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor.
The work of anti-racist activists is far from done, Behar suggested. Europe is experiencing a resurgence of anti-Semitism, much of it home-grown, but “many are coming to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. They come with propaganda and ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they don’t differentiate between Israel and Jews.” In Europe, he added, they see Jews as the enemy.
The Internet contains a lot of anti-Semitic material in languages that are spoken in the Middle East, said Behar, who speaks eight languages, including several Arabic dialects.
“[They] put the seeds of hatred in the hearts of millions of people around the world without accurate information to contradict it,” he stated.
“The radicals and anti-Semites behind it [hope] to create such a huge rift between Jews and Muslims that you will never be able to budge it.”
As for the Holocaust, Behar said it was a unique event, but with lessons for the entire world. While acknowledging it didn’t prompt nations to stop subsequent genocides in Cambodia and Africa, it did lead “to an agenda to give asylum to persecuted peoples.”
Today, Iran stands at the forefront of efforts to minimize the Holocaust’s significance. “Iran is the only country with a government policy of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism,” Behar said.
Not only did it host an international conference in 2006 to deny the Holocaust, it has held online contests soliciting Holocaust-denying cartoons, and an international book fair in Tehran features hundreds of Holocaust-denial and anti-Semitic titles.
That’s something western governments must be made aware of, and Iranians must be confronted whenever they deny the Holocaust, he said.
Despite his rather gloomy assessment, Behar believes most people have no preconceived ideas about Jews one way or the other, but are influenced by what they read in the media. Jews must get involved in community life and present an alternative picture to the stereotypes they’ve read, he said.
“Things can be done. Students can be very active in this field,” he said.
“The message is that each one of us has power today, and we have to be active.”