The economic crisis that has sent Wall Street reeling and spurred Congress to push through a $700 billion bailout is also the source of a recent rise in anti-Semitism, according to an Anti-Defamation League report earlier this month.
Bigotry on the Internet is nothing new, but this surge is not confined to hate sites, according to the ADL. Rather, it is taking the form of hateful comments posted on legitimate news and financial Websites.
“Hundreds of anti-Semitic posts regarding Lehman Brothers and other institutions affected by the subprime mortgage crisis have been submitted to discussion boards dealing with finance, with many more arriving by the minute,” the ADL said in a statement last week. “The messages rail against Jews in general, with some charging that Jews control the government and finance as part of a ‘Jew world order’ and therefore are to blame for the economic turmoil.”
ADL leaders said anti-Semitism and economics have been historically linked and the current crisis has turned into the most recent catalyst for increased attacks.
“We know from modern history that whenever there is a downturn in the global economy, there will be an upturn in the level of anti-Semitism and bigotry, and that is what we are seeing now,” said the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, in a statement last week.
Etzion Neuer, director of the ADL’s New Jersey region, told The Jewish Standard on Monday that even before the ADL issued its report, he had overheard a lot of concern about how the crisis would affect the Jewish community.
“There is a tendency for those of us who know our history to prepare ourselves for every significant crisis laid at the feet of the Jews,” he said. “When the economy suffers, people seek a scapegoat, and often that scapegoat turns out to be the Jews.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the ADL saw a similar rise in anti-Semitism among conspiracy theorists who blamed Jews or Israel for the attacks.
Neuer noted that the ADL is aware of the standard hate sites and said they are not perceived as credible by the general public. However, the organization moved to action when it noticed the growing anti-Semitic presence on mainstream Websites.
“What triggered our report was the great flow of complaints that came from users and readers of Internet sites like Yahoo! Finance,” Neuer said. “We’re finding mainstream venues that have become locales for the worst kinds of anti-Semitism.”
In one Yahoo! finance group, the user “Richlynchjunior” wrote, “Jews are behind the bubbles which started from the creation of all these new speculative hybrid financial instruments….”
On financial blog Raging Bull, one user commented, “Alas there is nothing we can do. It is the Jews, the Jews I tell you….”
Many Websites that offer message boards and forums have a terms-of-service agreement that users must accept before they can post messages. Anti-Semitic attacks are violations of those agreements, but administrators cannot act unless they know about the attacks. On sites such as AOL and Yahoo! that have hundreds of forums, the responsibility falls on the average reader to report offensive content.
Neuer recommended reporting odious posts as soon as possible. Unfortunately, he added, before one post is deleted, many more go up. Still, reporting the problem is the first step toward dealing with the offending writers, who can be banned from the sites for repeated term-of-service violations.
While many of the posts may in fact be harmless, beyond their initial shock value, the ADL’s concern is that words can lead to action, Neuer said.
“Sometimes a posting can be a warning sign of a troubled person poised to strike,” he said. “Internet users must alert authorities about any threatening, hateful, and violent material they find, while at the same time the computer industry, educators, parents, civil rights groups, and government agencies must work together to develop new and creative approaches to the unique challenges posed by online extremism.”
To read the ADL’s full report, visit www.adl.org/main_internet/Anti-Semitism_Financial_Crisis.htm.