NEW YORK – The head of France’s largest Jewish organization called on Americans to combat online hate speech in an advertisement in the New York Times Monday.
In the advertisement, titled “an appeal to our American friends,” Roger Cukierman, who heads the umbrella group Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, wrote that following the deaths of four of his coreligionists in a terrorist attack in Paris earlier this year, “French Jews fear for their safety, their integrity, their dignity, and their future.”
This is widely known in the United States and many have asked how they can help, he continued, asserting that the best way to do so would be to “help us defuse the hate where it moves most freely – on the internet.”
On the internet, anti-Semitic ravings, rooted in centuries-old myths, such as the rich Jew and the powerful Jew, “go unchecked,” he wrote, averring that both resentment of Jews and jihadism thrive online.
Only several clicks on Google can bring one to pages full of conspiracy theories, including ones linking Jews to the 9/11 attacks and old canards like the protocols of the elders of Zion which can be “‘liked’ with impunity,” he stated.
Given that the hosts of much of this content are American firms that are subject to US law, France’s friends here must “convince them to set a limit to this swarm of hate.”
Cukierman added that while freedom of speech is a core American value, it must be possible to crack down on online hate “without inhibiting” it.
The French communal leader called on internet corporations to remove anti-Semitic content as soon as it is flagged and for the technology sector to “conform, in each country they are present, to the laws of democracies faced with anti-Semitism.”
Many European nations maintain much stricter controls on hate speech than the United States and in France “we have many ways to fight hatred directed at Jews” in the local press, but very little recourse against a “web woven across the Atlantic,” he added.
“Freedom of speech is not freedom to hate” or to “incite murder,” he concluded, likening the battle against anti-Semitism to efforts made to ban child pornography.
Last year a working group of technology companies convened by the Anti-Defamation League issued a set of guidelines regarding how to make it easy to flag objectionable content online.