Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

My Foreword to the NCRI Report: ANTISEMITIC DISINFORMATION: A Study of the Online Dissemination of Anti-Jewish Conspiracy Theories


    The ancient and ugly curse of hatred of Jews and Judaism never quite goes
away. Sometimes it goes underground for a while, even appearing—finally,
mercifully—to be dead. But then, like a vampire, it suddenly rises from its
coffin to prowl the night. After the full, shocking revelation of Nazi atrocities
in the Shoah, antisemitism was—or at least appeared to be—utterly
stigmatized. Jews were regarded as victims, and expressions of fear or envy
of them—or contempt for them—were spoken, if at all, only in whispers. And
where even so much of a hint of antisemitism was perceived, including in
discussions of the state of Israel and the policies of its governments, the
person expressing it was marked as a vile bigot, even a crypto-Nazi.

    Today, however, in living memory of the death camps—indeed while we still
have living Holocaust survivors who bear identification numbers tattooed
by the SS on their breasts or forearms—antisemitism is again being spoken
aloud, even in some cases by “respectable” people. Of course, among the
“respectable,” at least, antisemitism is still dressed in camouflage, even
costumed in the language of “justice” and “human rights;” but most people
who hear it—whether they welcome it or find it disgusting—know what it is
they are hearing.

    As anti-Jewish attacks and hate crimes proliferate worldwide, anti-Jewish
conspiracy memes promote fears about “replacement” by Jews and other
immigrants, control by police and a nefarious “deep state” across all kinds
of political affiliations, nationalities, and ethnicities.

    Hatred of Jews and Judaism exists today on both the left and right sides
of the ideological spectrum. It can be found among the rich and the poor,
the more-and less-highly educated, the fervently religious, and the devoutly
secular. It is sometimes stated coarsely, other times in the rhetoric of the
sophisticated and even high-minded. But, as the report you are about to
read makes clear, the “narrative” is the same—and the same as it has always
been: the Jews are depicted as crafty, greedy, selfish outsiders (“rootless
cosmopolitans”) who are conspiring against “us” and “people like us” to take
what is ours, to control our lives and futures, to “replace” us. So what’s new?
Well, electronic media—especially social media—are new.

    So the old story can be told—spread virally using new technologies and
the platforms they provide. Jews, wherever they are the minority (which is
at most times and in most places) have always had to fear mobs—and, of
course, demagogues, that is to say, rulers—or people who want to be rulers—
who whip mobs up into anti-Jewish hysterias. But now the demagogues are
on social media, often hiding behind pseudonyms, and the mobs are social
media mobs inciting what the report describes as a “viral dissemination of
anti-Jewish memes.”

    It is, to say the least, depressing to see the blessings of exciting new
technology—technology that can, and often is, used to do great good—
abused and degraded to serve the cause of spreading the virus of anti-
Jewish calumny. But now, as this ancient scourge reemerges in its newest
technological guise, this piece offers new methods to carefully and
rigorously analyze and accurately understand the threat so we can be
effective in combating it. This report is a crucial first step toward that goal.    

    I heartily endorse the report and commend it to you because the facts set
forth in the report itself persuade me of the need to take seriously—both the
threat to the Jewish community, and the threat to all that is honorable and
decent—by “anti-Jewish conspiracy memes.” The meme is a tool used by
antisemites to spread the contagion of anti-Jewish hatred, and if we are to
curtail its effectiveness, we need tools of our own to expose the meme to
the greatest of all disinfectants, namely, sunlight. We need to alert men and
women of goodwill of every faith and shade of belief to the reality of what is
going on in the cyber world so that they can join those of us already in the
fight against the “new” antisemitism. As you will see from the report, it is not
too early to put out the call for “all hands on deck.”


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