EJC Executive VP and CEO Raya Kalenova addresses European Council conference on online antisemitism

EJC Executive Vice-President and CEO Raya Kalenova addressed the conference “Antisemitism online –The role of prevention and education in tackling antisemitic hate speech”, organised by the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The conference set out to examine to reactions of governments and digital platforms to guarantee a culture of free and open online debate and to protect victims affected by the proliferation of antisemitic online hate speech.

In her panel session, entitled ‘What is the EU doing to fight antisemitism online?’, Ms. Kalenova presented the perspective of Europe’s Jewish communities on this vital issue, and in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:

“In these difficult times, as people are isolated and dependent on virtual communications, they are vulnerable than ever to harmful content. The consequences of this explosion of disinformation, conspiracy theories and online hatred will hurt the stability of our societies for years to come,” Ms. Kalenova said.

“We cannot say this enough: These narratives start by targeting Jews, but at their core they are an attack on the foundations of our democratic societies. To combat this, there is an urgent need for all stakeholders, governments, IT companies, and civil society to join forces against online hatred,” she continued.

“The online sphere knows no borders. That is why all action to combat this hatred needs a common political will, a unified message and well-defined objectives,” Ms. Kalenova concluded.

The panel session also included Nicola Beer MEP, Vice-president of the European Parliament and Chair of the EP Working Group Against Antisemitism; Maram Stern, Executive Vice President of the World Jewish Congress; and Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.

“Every act of antisemitic hate speech, online and offline, is harmful, we have to be active to detect this content, to flag it and to prosecute it when it’s illegal”, said Ms. Beer MEP, emphasising the fundamental role that the IHRA working definition plays in identifying incidents.

Noting that significant progress has been achieved implementing measures in the fight against antisemitism across the EU, Katharina von Schnurbein pointed out that there are still some gaps: “It’s the responsibility of the state to persecute perpetrators online, just as much as we do online and this is a capacity we must build on”, she said.

Finally, Maram Stern emphasised that it is not the responsibility of the Jewish community to point out antisemitic hate speech online, but of the whole society.

Reijo Kemppinen, Director General for Communication and Information at the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union, and Michael Roth, German Federal Minister of State for Europe gave welcome remarks.

These were followed by keynote speeches by Dr. Felix Klein, Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism and Anastassia Pletoukhina, Jewish activist and survivor of the Halle attack gave keynote speeches.

The conference also featured two additional panels on the topics of combatting online conspiracy theories and developing tailored prevention strategies and education offerings for youth, with input from experts from government, civil society and academia.

Discussions focused on the role of prevention and education as effective deterrents for future acts of antisemitism and especially on the involvement of young people as “digital natives” in this process.

The online conference brought together policymakers, IT providers, journalists, students and other relevant stakeholders to provide a forum for exploring different perspectives, addressing emerging challenges, identifying best practices and proposing policy recommendations.

Click here to watch the full conference. 

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