Andre Oboler’s article “Facing up to the ‘Facebook’ dilemma” in the Jerusalem Post

Andre Oboler, Facing up to the ‘Facebook’ dilemma, Jerusalem Post, Feb 5 2008

Eighty-three-year-old President Shimon Peres recently urged young people to fight anti-Semitism using Facebook. Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog met with delegates to the World Union of Jewish Students in the Knesset last week and told us to employ technology to combat Jew-hatred.

Herzog, who is also responsible for relations with world Jewry and the fight against anti-Semitism, wants us to fight the good fight via the Internet.

“Who’s going to pay for this?” I asked.

Try British Jewry, he helpfully suggested. But when I approached figures in the British Jewish leadership, they suggested – you guessed it – that I turn to the Israelis.

Peres helpfully proposed a specific technology to focus on – Facebook – and I agree with his choice. If only we knew precisely what to do, and how to do it.

The idea probably stems from the fact that Peres recently met Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In fact, Facebook is not only a potentially effective tool for combating anti-Semitism, it is also an dangerously potent tool for promoting the spread of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Zuckerberg and not just Peres should be worried about this.

Facebook is being manipulated by enemies of Israel to push the message that Israel is not a country. And efforts to “de-list” the Jewish state from the Facebook country grouping are afloat despite the fact that there are 33,855 Israeli Facebook members.

Anti-Israel “virtual vandalism” struck last week when pro-Israel sites were hacked into. The vandals replaced the site image with the Palestinian flag and site descriptions with anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist diatribes. These rants were taken directly from the Israel is “not a country” Facebook group.

See how these messages are spread and connected? For instance, anyone familiar with Web anti-Semitism has seen messages such as:

Israel is an apartheid regime; Israel has no right to exist; Israelis accuse people of anti-Semitism every time someone criticizes Israel; Arabs are Semites – unlike most Jews; 80-90% of Jews today are Ashkenazi (and descendants of converts); they use the holocaust to silence critics of their own crime; Israel never met the conditions for its entry into the UN; the lies go on.

Messages from an anti-Israel Facebook group can spread like a cancer to its clones.

PERES IS right about the power of Facebook. Each time someone joins a group, their decision and details of the group are announced to all their “friends.” Just focusing on the Israel is “not a state” group, and using a conservative estimate on the number of Facebook “friends,” I estimate that this group was “announced” to over 5 million members. It may be true that only a fraction of them actually visit the anti-Israel site, and even less join it, but the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist message is spread.

SO WHAT are we to do?

Both Peres and Herzog are right: We do need to use technology. But it is not enough to tell students and young people to go and “do something technological.” Resources need to be dedicated, research needs to be done, and policies need to be developed.

Today, there is no global center to advise Jewish organizations on effective use of the Internet. No one is systematically developing strategies or training young people to enable them, as a community, to combat online anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism – or, for that matter, to effectively and efficiently promote Israel and Zionism.

At some point someone in the Jewish and Israeli leadership must take responsibility and come up with a budget. If you want the advice and commitment of the young, please, do ask, but listen as well.

MAYBE Zuckerberg, with a reported net worth estimated at $1.5 billion, might feel motivated to put some of his fortune into combating anti-Semitism on Facebook and elsewhere. Perhaps next month, when the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism is scheduled to meet in Jerusalem, the issue of policy, strategy, training and a budget to combat anti-Semitism on the “social Web” will be addressed.

Or maybe we will simply be told, once again, that “technology” and “young people” are the answer – with no substantive plan or budget to actually implement “the answer.”

The writer recently completed a PhD in Computer Science in the UK. A postdoctoral fellow in the political science department at Bar-Ilan, he is also a Legacy Heritage Fellow, and for the past three years has run which monitors and combats online antisemitism.

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