Combating Anti-Semitism: Addressing the Nexus Between Hate, Extremism and Terrorism

Global Challenges Counter-extremism

Combating Anti-Semitism: Addressing the Nexus Between Hate, Extremism and Terrorism

Posted on: 31st January 2020
Jonathan Greenblatt
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ADL (the Anti-Defamation League)

Hate is on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic, and policies to counter it are moving in the wrong direction. We must remedy this situation with increased investment in global efforts to counter hate and extremism before they become even more significant national security risks.

My organisation, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), views hate and extremism through the lens of a “Pyramid of Hate”. Bias is very common, but if it goes unchecked, then overt hate can be normalised. If hate thrives, then extremism and violence are more likely, and those conditions create opportunities for pure evil, such as genocide. We work across that full spectrum to counter bias, hate, extremism and terrorism, both because society’s ills in those forms are wrong in themselves, and also to prevent escalation. Unfortunately, the base of that pyramid is growing, as bias and hate proliferate.

In the United States in 2018, the most lethal anti-Semitic attack in our nation’s history took place. In 2019, there were deadly anti-Semitic attacks in Poway, California and Jersey City, New Jersey. Anti-Semitic expressions in society have soared and violent hate crimes against Jews have spiked in recent years. According to ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, there were 1,879 anti-Semitic acts in 2018, which shows a slight decrease from 2017, but still represents a historically high figure–48 per cent greater than 2016 and 99 per cent more than 2015. This data includes 39 acts of violence–a 105 per cent increase over 2017. These assaults against identifiably Jewish individuals are not happening in one region, nor are they the product of a single ideological motivation or committed by those adhering to a particular political party. Quite the contrary, we are seeing an across-the-board increase in hate generally and anti-Semitism specifically. These trends are deeply disturbing.

Worse, the widening hate is mutating into domestic terrorism. According to ADL data, the years 2015, 2016 and 2018 were three of the five most deadly years for domestic terrorism since 1970. They were eclipsed only by 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing.

This increase in domestic far-right and anti-government extremist terrorism mirrors the global situation. The 2019 Global Terrorism Index–using University of Maryland data–showed that, globally, far-right terrorism incidents have increased by 320 per cent over the past five years, including a 52 per cent increase between 2017 and 2018. According to research by ADL’s Center on Extremism, part of this trend follows the “internationalisation” of the movement, with influential American and European extremists promoting hateful ideologies across national borders, and white supremacist terrorists citing each other as inspiration and heroes.

Our analysts expect that this trend will continue. ADL data shows a steady increase in white supremacist propaganda across the United States–on college campuses, on social media, and in other venues. The violence we see now may beget further violence. According to one study, after the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue massacre, online searches suggesting an interest in killing Jews increased by 182 per cent. Propaganda and violence have a symbiotic nature. We can argue about causality, but we see that an increase in propaganda typically corresponds to an increase in violence.

Exacerbating the problem, US Government efforts are not aligned with the threats we face. The majority of FBI resources are dedicated toward Islamist extremism, which has proven less of a threat to Americans over the past decade than white supremacy. The FBI and Department for Homeland Security inexplicably disbanded a team specialising in domestic terrorism intelligence and ended a grant programme to prevent extremism of all kinds.

While far-left anti-Semitism has not inspired the kinds of violent attacks as far-right and Islamist extremism, its effects on Jews have still been profound. Amid increased concerns about the widespread anti-Semitism in parts of the UK Labour Party, 47 per cent of British Jews responded in a poll carried out before the December 2019 election that they would seriously consider leaving the UK should Labour win. Leaders of far-left parties in France and Spain have also resorted to blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric to pursue their populist agendas. And in the US, we see similar strains where some have used anti-Jewish language and conspiracy theories in their articulation of progressive agendas related to Israel policy or have discriminated against Jews because of their links to Israel.

I recently wrote about the need for a comprehensive approach to counter these trends in the US. Our transatlantic partners must do the same, particularly across four pillars: government, public-private partnerships, technology and civil society. With a comprehensive, whole-of-society effort, we may be able to reverse some of these troubling trends.

Governments can play a significant role in curbing hate and extremism–whilst not curbing civil liberties–by working to prevent, prosecute and transparently share information on hate crimes. Countering hate crimes should be a top priority, because the same ideologies behind non-violent hate crimes also propel terrorism and other forms of violence.

Governments also should consider methods that are compliant with civil liberties to expand their ability to counter terrorism of all ideologies. While policymakers rightly increased efforts to counter groups like ISIS as those threats increased, so too must they increase efforts to counter other forms of violent extremism, such as white supremacy, and increasingly, emerging threats like that of individuals known as involuntary celibates (“incels”).

Government funding could also spur research to better understand these movements. In many circumstances, it is more appropriate for research institutions to develop a specialisation in a certain form of extremism, or for non-profit organisations to flag suspicious content, rather than governments or technology companies, depending on the nature of the content. Carefully constructed partnerships that pair non-government expertise with government actors have been successful in other applications. For example, to keep children safe from online predation, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), while underfunded, has made possible streamlined investigations into online exploitation of children immediately informing technology companies and law enforcement of exploitative content.

The technology sector itself is also in need of reform. Although such reform may seem complicated–we must protect legitimate free speech from government interference–much of the behaviour on platforms ranging from Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to Gab and 8kun (formerly 8chan) would be completely impermissible if the equivalent behavior occurred in real life. Furthermore, as private companies, the technology industry can do far more than they are currently doing. Terms of service for technology companies must incorporate reasonable efforts to counter hate and extremism, and companies should be transparent about which forms of hate and extremism they see on their platforms, and specifically what they are doing about it.

Civil society organisations are also a critical component to preventing and countering all forms of extremism. Such organisations often have credibility with communities that governments lack and, as such, may be able to have candid and constructive relationships that facilitate community security in ways law enforcement cannot. Civil society institutions also can serve in prevention roles, identifying and interrupting the radicalisation process in ways that can off-ramp an individual set on a violent path, but through non-coercive means that guard against the threat of over-broad profiling by governments or misapplied national security grounds.

As hate and extremism see a resurgence, these types of whole-of-society solutions and partnerships are imperative to reverse the trends before more damage is done and additional lives are claimed. Our future hangs in the balance.

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