At a conference in Prague organized by the European Jewish Association on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, several members of parliaments and Jewish leaders from around the continent discussed the influence of social networks as a catalyst for the adoption of anti-Semitic theories that pose a direct threat to the personal security of European Jews.
“We have the responsibility to influence and take action. The hate speech of our former partner was unacceptable and although we are not always right, this time we made the right decision,’’ said Amanda Rajkumar, Executive Board member for Global Human Resources, People and Culture of German sporting goods giant Adidas as she was awarded the prestigious ‘King David Award’ from the European Jewish Association (EJA) for the company’s decision to sever all commercial ties with singer Kanye West following his anti-Semitic statements.
The award reception took place Monday in Prague where the EJA is holding a two-day conference and the Theresienstadt (Terezin) camp in the Czech Republic ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
‘’We will continue supporting Jewish communities and stand for love and against all forms of hatred, racism and discrimination,’’Rajkumar stressed.
Over 100 members of parliaments, government officials, ambassadors and European Jewish leaders, gathered in the Czech capital to discuss ways of dealing with fake news and conspiracy theories against Jews in the media, social networks as well as rising anti-Semitism in universities across the continent.
The Theresienstadt concentration camp was “marketed” by the Nazis as a “Jewish settlement” and an “enlightened” ghetto, but the historical facts prove that in complete contrast to ‘fake news’ about 120,000 of the 160,000 Jews who were interned there perished in the Holocaust, including about 14,000 children. Some were sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz, many died of starvation.
According to EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin:” Even today, fake news poses a tangible danger to the well-being of Jews throughout Europe, a tool of hatred that is unfortunately strengthened by social networks and mixes conspiracy theories against Jews. The dozens of European leaders who responded to our call to come to Terezin pledged to fight against fake news that encourages anti-Semitism and to implement educational programs to eradicate it.”
The conference heard the personal testimony of Gideon Lev, a Holocaust survivor from the Theresienstadt camp, who now lives in Israel. ‘’When the Nazis took over the Czech Republic, it was the end for Jews in the country. Jews couldn’t stay outside at night, couldn’t own radios and soon enough we were all moved to Terezin camp which was called a “Resettlement camp”. But it was far from it. they put us in very crowded barracks, there was no space, wives and children couldn’t see their husbands, unless from windows marching in silence. “Arbeit Macht Frei” Is one of the most cynical Nazi atrocities: you are free when you are dead. The fight against antisemitism and combatting hate against Jews and any other minority is something we can and should all do”.
Several members of parliament and Jewish leaders from around the continent discussed the influence of social networks as a catalyst for the adoption of anti-Semitic theories that pose a direct threat to the personal security of European Jews.
“Truth is no longer based on scientific facts but on viral and social medias. Things are going faster. We must fight against false items that are appearing quickly on our phone. French President Macron was presented himself as a puppet of the Jewish people because he is a former banker and has money. Fake news are using the same tropes against the Jews, time and time again. We must fight against every fake news. If we don’t fight them, they spread very quickly,” said French MP Prisca Thevenot, spokeswoman of the governing Renaissance party.
Austrian MP David Stogmuller added that ‘’we have to understand that social media works extremely fast. It is not enough to make laws to keep up with technological challenges, we must be quick to ban illegal social media hate speech.’’
Portuguese MP Alexandre Poço emphasized the importance of education: “Although our problems may not be as large as other countries, we still must invest in education. A proactive attitude continues to be necessary. We have strong ties with Jewish communities. We continue to promote Jewish life, although we are a Catholic country. Our country is aware and will not stop working.’’
Joel Mergui, President of the Consistoire of Paris, stressed to the elected officials and decision makers in the audience: “I have been in charge for twenty years of the biggest Jewish community in Europe. The new anti-Semitism burst into the open in the early 2000s and resulted in anti-Semitic murders that tainted France and Europe’s recent history. In spite of this tragedy, I have decided to keep going and encouraged my community members to keep living in Europe as long as we have people and decision makers on our side who fight against anti-Semitism and radical Islamism. It is from your words, from your acts that we will have the certainty of having a future in Europe.”
Alex Hearn, director of the British organization, ‘Labour Against Antisemitism’, described how fake news about Jews are a pattern as old as antisemitism itself. He emphasized that antisemitism goes beyond political allegiances and is used by people to gain power or feel more powerful
Conference participants were shocked by the testimonies of Jewish students from the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Spain who reported about great ignorance among their fellow students regarding Jewish matters (many of them have never met a Jew before) and some even said that they have to deal with anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli hate speech in universities across the continent and the unresponsiveness of the heads of the universities to come out against this phenomenon.
Among the speakers was also Anna Azari, Ambassador of Israel in Prague, who pointed out that the Czech Republic is the friendliest state to Jews and the State of Israel in Europe. ‘’It was the first who helped the state in its war of independence by providing arms and today it is, a leader in helping the Ukrainians and absorbing half a million of refugees,’’ she said.
The conference ended Tuesday with a visit of the Theresienstadt camp where six candles were lit in memory of the six millions Jews killed in the Holocaust.