NEW YORK - The United Nations General Assembly in New York held a special session on Wednesday on the Challenges of Teaching Tolerance and Respect in the Digital Age¸ with a focus on antisemitism, organized with the support of Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
In her opening statement, General Assembly President María Espinosa noted the proliferation of antisemitic hatred and incidents in recent years, adding: “What is frightening now is that it is no longer confined to extremist groups” but rather has become “part of a broader surge in intolerance, racism and xenophobia mainstreamed.”
“We must redouble our efforts to ensure that…the seeds of hate do not find fertile ground,” she said, referring particularly to education, and added “we must also extend our vigilance to the internet and social media”, as these are “powerful tools” that can be used to “spread hatred and distort reality”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underscored that it is critical for the international community “to tackle the tsunami of hatred that is so visible and violence across the world today.”
“White supremacists and neo-Nazis are emboldened by elections showing an appeal of racist messages,” Guterres said, emphasizing that “We need to treat hate speeches as we treat every malicious act, by condemning it and refusing to amplify it.”
In particular, Guterres said, “Social media provides a conduit for hatred on an enormous scale with virtually no cost and no accountability... used to polarize societies and demonize people often targeting women, minorities, and the most vulnerable.” As such, the Secretary-General said, he launched last week a UN system-wide strategy to combat hate speech.
Curbing hate speech “does not mean limiting freedom of speech,” Guterres said. “It means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous. Our efforts need to step up most urgently in the digital space where hatred is thriving.”
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the rabbi of the Chabad congregation in Poway, California, which was attacked by a white supremacist in April, described the bloodbath that he and his congregants endured that fateful day. Goldstein himself was wounded in the attack, and a congregant, Lori Kaye, was killed. “Antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem, it is a problem for the world. Antisemitism is not just about the Jewish people, it is about the future of civilization,” he said.
Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism, said: “All forms of antisemitism are equally pernicious…. Antisemitism has become disturbingly normalized again… like any other form of hatred, it is the responsibility of governments, civil society, and international organizations like this one to stand up and fight it… our goal should not just be to contain antisemitism, but to roll it back.”
When referring to the proliferation of antisemitism on social media and the internet, of the speakers referenced in their remarks the alarming results of the World Jewish Congress’ 2016 study, which found that more than 382,000 anti-Semitic posts were posted to social media platforms over the course of 2016 – an average of more than 43.6 posts per hour, or one post every 83 seconds.