Weaponising COVID-19: Far-Right Antisemitism in the UK and US

DATE: 11th June 2020

TIME: 4:30pm – 5:30pm

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Weaponizing COVID-19: Far-Right Antisemitism in the UK and US

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Gideon Falter, Dr Sharon Nazarian, Omar Faruk




Dr Alan Mendoza  01:09

Well, good afternoon, or good morning or good evening, depending on where in the world you are joining us. And we’ve got a Henry Jackson Society event Weaponizing COVID-19, far-right Anti-Semitism in the UK and US. I’m elementos on the director, or HJS and it’s my real pleasure to assemble or have this panel assembled for us today to discuss this very topical question about how the pandemic is being utilized by far-right and potentially others, as I’m sure we’ll come into scapegoat groups in society in this case, obviously furthering Anti-Semitism. Our panellists today, Dr Sharon Nazarian is the Senior Vice President of International Affairs at ADL the Anti-Defamation League, she spearheads the work fighting Anti-Semitism and racial hatred globally, and of course, has a particular focus in Europe. She’s also president of the Nazarian Foundation, and a number of other things connected to Valley. So, Sharon, welcome from Los Angeles. We also have Gideon Falter, who is Chief Executive of a campaign against Anti-Semitism which is of course, a UK-based organization looking to expose and counter Anti-Semitism through education and zero tolerance enforcement of the law and Gideon, a well-known face on British media and has had some notable successes, particularly recently in the field of the Labour Party’s ongoing Anti-Semitism, issues and the Algemeiner accordingly caught him one of the top 100 people positively influence in Jewish life recently. And last, but certainly not least, is our own Dr. Rakib Ehsan, who has a research plan, of course, at Henry Jackson Society, and the Center on Radicalization and Terrorism and the Center on Social and Political Risk. I think Rakib is known to lots of people these days, by the way, he has become a I think, a voice for the masses, expounding out truths in a very sort of comprehensive manner across the board. And telling it like it is and I think he’s told it like it is a number of big issues to do with obviously, radicalization, terrorism, extremism. And he’s going to do so today because we’re gonna kick off by asking Rakib to give up in a short period of time, the brief key findings to the report that he’s just published a stress on the same subject of today’s debate. And before I pass over him, just reminder that you’ll be able to ask questions, of course. And there’s a G&A tab at the bottom. Please, do start sending your questions in. We’ll take as many as we can, we’ll ask them in tranches. About halfway into the presentation. We’ll go from there. So, do give us some thoughts based on what the panelists say what other issues you have around subjects. And we can go from there. Rakib, we’re going to start with you.

Omar Faruk  03:52

Thank you, Alan. So firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who’s joining us for today’s event. I think it’d be just good to start off in terms of talking about what motivated me to author this report, which looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic is being weaponized by far-right anti-Semitic/anti-Semites in the UK as well as the United States. So, what is very interesting is the fact that this pandemic is seen by you know, people all over the world is seen with, you know, the crisis is being seen it with considerable worry and concern. But what I came across with my research is that there are far-right actors out there, some here in the UK, but also abroad in countries such as the United States, which very much considered the Covid-19 pandemic as a gift. It’s a crisis to be welcomed. They say it’s a golden opportunity to further their hateful narratives. So that there were two organizations in particular, which I focus with this report in the British context, the organization of focus was the British National Socialist Movement. And in the US, it was the National Socialist Movement, otherwise, more commonly known as the NSM and was really interesting for me was in terms of the report, putting it together was the ease to which I was able to access what I would consider to be aggressively anti-Semitic material and content. So much of the material that was focused with the report, which is produced and shared by the British National Socialist Movement was through its organization account on Telegram, which is an encrypted messenger app for people who are not too familiar with it. And it very much ties into what I’ve seen in recent times what I call online migration, as mainstream social media platforms tighten up their regulations, on their websites on their platforms. You see, extremists moving on to what I would consider to be a word called peripheral tech platforms. And I think when you’re looking at the two organizations are focused with my report is that is the alarming the similarity in the kind of anti-Semitic Coronavirus-related conspiracies, which are being disseminated by these two organizations and a range of other far-right actors. And as Alan has alluded to, this isn’t something that’s exclusive in the far-right domain. We’ve also seen this in far-left circles and also Islam as circles is what is been commonly known as the One Ring of racism, where anti-Semites in far-left, far-right and Islamist domains, they share what I would consider to be very similar material in terms of Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. And COVID-19 has its own one ring of racism in that context. So just to talk a little bit about some of the conspiracy theories that have come across very quickly. This includes the idea that the new Coronavirus was manufactured and produced by Jewish people. There’s this idea that it’s being engineered by Jewish people in the name of profit. So, tapping into those long standing a number of long-standing anti-Semitic tropes. And they just building on that particular conspiracy, the idea that Jewish people actually had the vaccine in place as they were producing this Korean War. And I think that’s where, in in these circumstances where in times of crisis, you know, there’s a great deal of insecurity and anxiety, you know, that those screenings are there where perhaps, there are people who are disillusioned who may be looking for someone to blame when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak. And there are four organizations have very much been looking to almost using their existing anti-Semitic conspiratorial frameworks are looking to integrate the COVID-19 global pandemic into those existing frameworks. And this is something which isn’t actually new. But it’s no doubt when we look in the 14th century when we’re talking about the Black Death of bubonic plague. There were Jewish communities across Western Europe who are blamed for that, you know, those traditional poisoning well, Anti-Semitic conspiracies, which saw Jewish communities persecuted, tortured and killed. So, this is something that you’ve seen in history before.

Dr Alan Mendoza  08:29

Let me jump in there because it’s a good opportunity to bring out it just so point, Sharon, you’ve obviously studied phenomenon for a long time, and you’re taking it global you have, from what Rakib was just said there. How much of this is, you know, kind of traditional, if you like old style, Anti-Semitism of the kind he was saying from the Black Death language that how much is new, and is a sort of, you know, the messaging different in your view, give us some thoughts on that.

Dr Sharon Nazarian  08:56

Actually, a lot of the first of all, thank you for having me and just for your audience to know that ADL is, you know, 107-year old organization we were founded in 1913. To fight against the defamation against Jewish people and to secure Justin for treatment for all so most of our work really is geared toward Anti-Semitism, including attacks on Israel, which legitimize Israel, but also looking for support and advocacy for other minority groups and vulnerable groups, both in the US and around the world. So, this is a very poignant moment for ADL given what’s happening in the US regarding reaction to the killing of George Floyd. And so, it’s a very poignant moment and on top of the COVID complexities is a very complex moment in American history today, and we feel it. With regards to the languages being used to attack Jews within the COVID extremism space. Language is very classic line. Which we’re not seeing, you know, huge amounts of new ideas there, I can tell you that at the beginning of COVID, zoom bombing became a real factor. For those of you not familiar with that term, it’s when Jewish organizations and others outside the Jewish space as well would hold public webinars on zoom. And extremist groups would infiltrate those webinars using symbology language that is hateful, that’s Anti-Semitic Holocaust references and so on. And ADL kind of really jumped on that very quickly working with the company zoom, to make sure that both they change their security settings for webinars for their clients. And that also communities whether Jewish communities around the world in the US also took extra precautions to make sure that their webinars were saved. So that was one of the first things that we kind of noticed an uptick that was new, this was a new configuration. But then, just like red cube laid out very similar uptake in extremist right-wing groups, an organization called Boogaloo, I really welcome all of you to visit our ADL website, we’ve had really, very very important blogs, on which extremist white supremacist group have really taken on COVID and use it to promulgate their own rhetoric, very close to what Rakib has laid out very similar. I would just add that Soros is also becoming huge. Once again, resurrected, you know, George Soros is always handy for many of these extremist groups, to attack Jews and Anti-Semites when it comes to control finances that he was behind this virus to begin with, and so on. Silver Saurez, again, has come up again, as a major point of in the rhetoric of extremist right wing groups. And finally, our add, the last factor is really the economic anxiety that has come out as a result of COVID. So huge unemployment numbers in many countries in the US as well. And anxieties around that. And we are very fearful that will lead to more Anti-Semitism, we are in consultation with Jewish communities around the world. This was probably the number one issue raised by Jewish community had saying that not only are we worried about COVID itself, but the real anxieties economic anxieties that come out and scapegoating and targeting of Jews as a result of that. So, these are some of the newer abbreviations, but again, language is very similar. Thank you.

Dr Alan Mendoza  12:31

Useful summary. Gideon, turning to your work, obviously, is mainly UK facing although I’m sure you keep an eye on the global situation, what are you seeing in connection to the far-right, and if I broaden it just a little bit in general as well. And who else is trying to take advantage of this COVID-19 experience to blame the Jews?

Gideon Falter  12:53

I think it’s worth remembering it when reading the report, the conspiracy theory itself is having something of a resurgence of the moment we had, in a period ancient times where people would get the news via rumour, and via messengers. And you know, rumour was the news. Then with the media turning to print and broadcast, everybody became much more used to getting an authoritative source of views. And now in the age of social media, we’ve turned once again away from authoritative sources of news where the mainstream media is considered to generally be fake, and social media and the sort of inside track type of knowledge that is passed around is considered to be much more authoritative. So, what we’ve ended up with is the conspiracy theory itself having something and resurgence and because Anti-Semitism is always spread so effectively through conspiracy theories, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have also had a particular resurgence. So, what we’ve seen in the UK and more broadly, you know, campaign against Anti-Semitism has taken lawsuits out taken out private prosecutions have actually changed the law in the UK, based on some of the conspiracy theories that we’ve been seeing. So, things like Holocaust denial, for example, we’ve got the first ever conviction for that and essentially changed the door through the precedents we’ve set. But reading through the report, I had a lot of sympathy for Rocky, who will have had to listen through a vast amount of material and look through vast amounts of material similar to what our researchers campaign against Anti-Semitism see. And I think that there are a couple of things that strike me. One is that generally we’re seeing Britain really punching above its weight in terms of the export of conspiracy theory. And if you take somebody like David Ike, who depending on who you talk to is either far-left or far-right. And that really goes to what Rakim said about there being one ring of extremism rather than that rather than a spectrum with ends. If you look at David Ike, for example is going out telling people that Israel is using the Coronavirus pandemic to test its technology. And you see conspiracy theorists really wasting no time. It’s all in one of the things that’s so striking from the report is that as soon as the pandemic starts, the language changes, the conspiracy theorists started TechStars experimenting with new theories. And then you see this sort of gushing of conspiracy theory which starts to pick up which Rakib really analyses very well in the report.

Dr Alan Mendoza  15:49

I think you’re right about that. I think it’s an interesting sort of to look at the way you’re kind of focused on the resurgence. Let’s take a moment to try and consider, I suppose the ways that this can be combated, I think we’ve all you know, highlighted, certainly different phrases that have come out in the contemporary case that we used to obviously, you know, kind of stand down on. And I noticed, obviously, that Rakib’s framing reports or transatlantic reports – and I’d been particularly curious if you’re able to address the particularities of the UK and the US variants of this as opposed to other places. Of course, it’s happening in other places as well. But I think it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences in that. So, I’ll throw a general question even and I’ll start with Sharon perhaps, looking at ways to combat this now, what’s the best way? Some of these things have obviously been around for a long, long time as we know that there’s a general conspiracy theory traits, but how do you fight back in the particular case of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories?

Dr Sharon Nazarian  16:52

Um, I think a really stepping back for a moment. And I think to Rocky’s point, first of all, understanding what’s happening out there. We at ADL published report in 2019, which was also a transnational report looking at white supremacist interconnectedness. So how are groups in Europe and we really looked at I think, five countries UK, which was CSC was our partner for that France, Germany, Sweden and Poland, looking at how extremist groups in those countries are cooperating, collaborating, mimicking American white supremacist groups. And we saw that in such things such as you know, streaming terror attacks, publishing manifestos, communicating via group platforms, like Telegram gab, these are all ways that there is more and more interconnectedness between extremist groups across the Atlantic. And this is something we have to monitor and we have to understand. And that record, we also raised, you know, brought attention to new platforms where this communication partnership is going on specifically in the gaming industry. This is something that I testified before a congressional committee. And now in the US Congress, there’s a lot of attention to looking at gaming, and really understanding the regulations that need to be enacted in that industry. Because it’s become such a platform for recruitment of whites for him, especially targeting young males, disaffected young youth, especially. So, I’m not veering away from your question, Alan, regarding conspiracy theories, but I think it’s important to understand what are we dealing with. And of course, COVID is a moment in time, but the trends we’re seeing are only accentuated by COVID. So, we need to understand the general trends and two general patterns that are out there. The fact that these issues are becoming global issues, they’re not bound by borders anymore. They’re not bound by what’s happening in specific countries. And in fact, we have to understand them as a global phenomenon is very, very important. Secondly, look, social media is a huge, huge factor. We at ADL have now established we think the first center for Technology and Society among both as a civil rights organization and as an American Jewish organization looking at how do we fight online hate, we have leaned into this in very serious ways, we will have a very important announcement actually next week that I will not be able to share with you right now. But I encourage you to kind of listen and watch, we’re going to be tackling you know, both with a carrot and stick approach to platforms. Now Europe is really ahead of the US and many of us. Germany and France have taken very specific concrete steps in criminalizing hate speech online. We had the EU in the US because of a First Amendment we have more limitations on what we can do. But we at ADL take this very, very seriously. And we want to look for solutions that are both in collaboration with the platforms and help them do better, but also use the stick if we need to. So, you will hear about the stigma on Monday, hopefully when we when we come out with our announcement, but the conspiracy theories only take on a life because of these platforms. So that is where our focus has to be. We have to be focused on what solutions both technological, legislative and otherwise. And we as social as society coming together and saying this genies out of the bottle, how do we put it back? Or at least how do we limit it in whatever ways we can?

Dr Alan Mendoza  20:27

Call that? No, that’s very interesting. I’m sure we’ll all wait to see what happens on Monday as a consequence, racket come to you last, because you’ve got some recommendations. Obviously, on this Gideon, you read some of these points? And what what’s your prescription? Or I’m sure, it’s partly what Sharon has mentioned, what else do you think we should be doing to counter the spread?

Gideon Falter  20:46

Well, we’re fortunate that we’ve got more options in Europe and in the UK, in particular, than in the United States, whether it’s the first amendment. Obviously, one of the huge frustrations in all of this has been the reluctance of social networks to do anything, I think I signed up for my Facebook account in 2005. And it’s 15 years on Facebook is actually starting to dwindle or show signs of dwindling in terms of popularity. And yet, for all of the pressure for all of the time, there really has been very little movement from Facebook, on banning these sorts of banning hate speech and actually acting on to enforce those bands. So I think national enforcement frameworks, Germany, France, as Sharon mentioned, the UK promising that it is now going to give some powers to Ofcom to regulate social media as well. So, we’re starting to see now states taking action to force the social networks to comply. I mean, many of the recommendations that I think Rakib will go through our recommendations that we’ve shared in some of our reports, as well. And a lot of this is based on frontline work that we’ve done. So, for example, we’ve had to really work quite carefully around the law, in order to bring some of these people to justice, because there aren’t proper offenses to convict people under the police, for example, when they go to social networks. Or rather, when you go to the police, first of all, the police themselves often don’t understand how to deal with online crime. But when they go to the social networks, the social networks often frustrate the police and don’t provide the evidence that is needed to bring about a prosecution. So, I think the report’s recommendations, both in the US and in the UK, are absolutely spot on. I think obviously in the US, there’s a limit to what can be done in terms of criminal enforcement. But I think that in the rest of Europe and in much of the rest of the world, there is very firm idea that you can take free speech so far, that you start to get authoritarian regimes and you start to get mass incitement, and that that’s the right moment to limit it. So, in terms of prescription, I think it’s very much a case of getting the social networks to take this material down much faster. And that can only happen through regulation, because networks like TikTok and others which are taking off now. You know, we can’t wait another 15 years to discipline those networks. We’ve got to do it now. They’re educating our children right now. So, we’ve got to make take action to regulate. And we’ve got to take actions to ensure that the social networks have to assist the police in countries where you can take criminal action in providing that evidence in a very timely fashion.

Dr Sharon Nazarian  23:41

Just add two more points. I think Gideon touched on both of them. One is education. Yeah, we feel that this is, as always been true and more true today than ever. We at ADL are in schools in over you know, we touch over a million and a half students in America every day. And we think that investment has to continue to be made. We have to raise educated, knowledgeable citizens. And so our education offerings in schools in the us start with anti-bias education. So how do you know what that is? And to really raise the awareness and caution consciousness of students as they grow up and go to university and into the workforce about what are not only just biases, implicit and explicit, but also Anti-Semitism and other issues. So, education continues to be a very important part. The second factor is educating law enforcement and we at ADL have had over a 40 year very close relationship with US law enforcement. We are the number one NGO training law enforcement in the US everywhere from police departments, to FBI to Homeland Security and others, and really teaching them about hate crimes, understanding what it is to be part of community policing, but also about Anti-Semitism and hate crime. So, I think those two variables will continue to be very, very important. Now, right now, this moment in America, engagement with law enforcement has become a very sensitive issue. We’re very careful about that. As a civil rights organization, we think we’re uniquely positioned to again, be that middle person between society and law enforcement, how do we help law enforcement do better? But I think those two factors are important as they’ve always been, and even more so today.

Dr Alan Mendoza  25:33

Rakib, we’ve heard education, self-regulation, legislation as potential paths, which do you think offers the most promising potential, then you can, of course, comment on all three as to where you think that the limits and the possibilities are?

Omar Faruk  25:47

Well, of course, I think that education can play a critical role. Just to give you what I’ve considered to be a very worrying survey statistic, I believe is research been done by the Pew Center over the United States, which showed that 55% of Americans surveyed could not respond with the correct finger in terms of the number of Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust. Now, I think that’s deeply worrying. And I do think there is certainly a role for education in terms of education initiatives in in schools, but also, as Dr. Sharon has alluded to, for law enforcement, just taking it here, you know, to the UK, perhaps that can play a role in terms of when there’s a new influx of new police recruits, that they go through that educational process where they understand Anti-Semitism in the modern context is historical origins, how they, in terms of what role and responsibilities they can play within their respective local police forces in terms of tackling Anti-Semitism within their own local communities, which they represent. And of course, I do think you alluded earlier to why or how do you say, why is sort of a confrontational approach in terms of tackling extremism, I think we need to be a bit clever in terms of, you know, regulation. Regulation will play a part. But I’ve talked about this idea of having this sort of counter-disinformation online units. The idea of actually exposing how fundamentally weak these conspirators are how these baseless unfounded conspiracies, actually deconstructing how baseless they are in the online space. So, almost developing those sort of anti-conspiracy counter-narratives in the online space. I think that it could play a role with that into as well as augmenting or other supporting more regulatory measures. I think Dr Sharon also talked about the far-right gaming subculture, I think it’s really interesting to see that how opportunistic foreign actors have been in the United States that they actually saw COVID-19 at the schools closures as an opportunity to radicalize young disaffected males, because they knew that they’d be probably spending more time on their gaming consoles. So, I think really need to be understanding of the challenges and how intelligent, if I’m being quite honest, how intelligent opportunistic, these organizations are, I think in the US, of course, there’s constraints in terms of First Amendment of freedom of expression, but I do I would like to see perhaps more political leadership, which shows, which suggests that you know, freedom of expression is it’s great. But with that, perhaps there’s a degree of responsibility that comes with that, as well. So, I think that naturally of the report, one thing I’m glad that hasn’t, it is generating those very important debates, not only here in our home country, the UK, but also over in the United States as well.

Dr Alan Mendoza  28:41

I’m going to come to the audience and say, if you want to get questions in now’s a chance. One final quick round regarding political leadership, how important is that in our countries to making a real difference in this?

Gideon Falter  28:56

I think calling out the conspiracy theories is immensely important. Having tolerance of conspiracy theories at the top is going to send a very strong signal down through our society that conspiracy theories really are something that one should listen to you. So, leadership is actually in the Bible. I think it’s also, you know, as Rakib mentioned, you know, that there are these legislative roots that leaders can take and go down to try and curb this. And it’s important leaders, do you do that? And in some countries, they are in some countries, they aren’t. Of course, one of the great difficulties will always be with the United States in particular, that really, you know, hate crime only really occurs in person in the United States very hard to ever get somebody prosecuted for something that they said online. And I think there needs to be this real focus on people understanding that the harm that conspiracy theories do, I think a lot of people consider conspiracy theories as something harmless that you can indulge in that you can talk about which doesn’t actually have real victims and as we’re seeing at the moment with the surge invite in violence against minorities including Jews anti-Semitic a crime actually be vastly outstripping in the UK on a per capita basis all other minorities so you we’ve really got to see people understand the kind of harm that conspiracy theories do.

Dr Sharon Nazarian  30:36

We do have the freedom of expression the US but we also have the responsibility of expressions. So for political leaders and for everyday citizens we hold all to that in the US has been challenging because we have had language discourse from the White House and from other parts of our government that in some ways have fed into some of the conspiracy theory language that is out there and not explicit implicit sometimes. So, we at ADL will call out any reference and use of such language wherever we see it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from. We also are looking at tactics that are being used such as doxxing and swatting as ways of curtailing.

Dr Alan Mendoza  31:26

Would you like to explain that for people who may not know what those are?

Dr Sharon Nazarian  31:29

Swatting is a phenomenon where extremist groups will send out a false call to the SWAT team, actually, the police and the SWAT team will enter someone’s house they’re trying to target extremist groups and we’ll go through the house and destroy their lives, you know, in the middle of the night, and really cause havoc for their lives. Doxxing refers to the publication of someone that they’re trying to target their name, their home, address, their phone number in order to become again targets by others. So, tactics like that really have become an issue and ad tool by extremist groups in American society, we at ADL have really raised the profile of these tactics with members of Congress with our legislators and trying to criminalize these acts. So that’s very important for us to talk about, but again, their role of political leaders are tremendously important today, they carry so much weight, and we have to be aware that, you know, populist leaders are now using these moments to, you know, help their own political standing by sometimes referencing language that is very, very, you know, not only inciting violence, but also inciting hate. And we have to call them out it is our responsibility to do so.


Dr Alan Mendoza  32:48

Rakib, very quickly on the same subject you raised it, what more would you like to see from British and American leaders on this regard?

Omar Faruk  32:56

I think that if, for example, in the in the United States, I think we’ve seen foreign far-right anti-Semitic organizations being designated as, as hate groups, terrorist groups that be including the Russian Imperial movement, but I think there has to be a bit more of a focus about the problems which are at home domestically, I think there needs to be perhaps more of a sort of a policy or institutional focus on a domestic organizations how they’re responsible for spreading anti-Semitic hatred, and the potential that has for actually inciting violence towards American Jewish communities. So, it is what ultimately it’s all well and good to designate foreign groups this way. But I think it’s also very important to keep the focus at home as well. I think in the United Kingdom, we haven’t experienced the deadly far-right anti- Semitic terrorist attacks, which have been witnessed in the United States, such as in Pittsburgh. But in the UK, there is no room for complacency at all. Recently, earlier in the year, we had a conviction of a teenager in the north of England, who was designing and was in the process of writing a guerrilla manual against the Jewish system in the Durham, Durham City area, where in this manual he talks about targeting banks for obvious reasons. As we’ve also seen, we’ve had this racist situation with this group of four neo-nazis that is associated with the National Action. So I think it’s the case where we just see what’s the real problems which are being experienced in the United States. And we need to take the issue of far-right Anti-Semitism very seriously in the UK. Now in the UK, as we know that the prevailing extremist threat remains Islamist inspired extremism. But there are recent figures which show that in terms of the growth there’s pace of growth, the fastest growing threat is far-right extremism, so there’s no room for complacency. On this front, and we certainly need to take a more robust approach when it comes to combating for rights Anti-Semitism within British society.

Dr Sharon Nazarian  35:10

I might just jump in for a second before you go to Gideon. The idea that we’re calling domestic terrorism in the US is an absolutely huge issue and Rakib exactly right. So we at ADL has been at the forefront of not only using that label as domestic terrorist groups, which we think a lot of these far-right wing groups are given the incidents that we had in 2019 in Poway and other places where they are actually, you know, committing violent acts by these far-right extremist and right-wing groups. And we just actually hired an FBI official for 20, I think he has over 20 years experience that FBI has expertise is domestic terrorism. So this is a very important point that Rakib is raising, and we at ADL are going to be leaning into this and we are absolutely in agreement with you repeat that looking at domestic extremist organizations who need to be labelled terrorist is a huge factor. I will be leading this in Congress and on the hill in terms of legislating this as well.

Dr Alan Mendoza  36:12

To audience questions. Now, what will happen is that we will call upon three audience members at a time to appear in our midst, as questioners and audience members, when you’re called you have to unmute yourself, ask your question, and then we’ll have the panellists respond to the group questions at the end. We’ll start with Luke Bliss.

Luke Bliss  36:39

Excellent. My question was, do the panellists think that Israel’s relatively robust response to the Coronavirus in squashing it spread in it within its own borders, fuel the anti-right tropes and line their take on it that it’s in fact a Jewish weapon.

Dr Alan Mendoza  37:01

Now we’ve got Vytas Rudavicius.

Vytas Rudavicius  37:09

Just a brief question. Yes, just a brief question. Have you observed any Russian state actors or covert involvement in various conspiracy theories?

Dr Alan Mendoza  37:26

It was a question about whether you’ve seen any evidence of Russian sources promoting these conspiracy theories just to create problems and society. And now we’ve got Sam Solomon.

Sam Solomon  37:46

This is Sam Solomon, I understand that this focus of the presentation has been on the on the far-right. I am, especially with the latest things going on with Black Lives Matter. And then the defund the fleece, there’s a strong push toward on the left, extreme left towards intersectionality tying in the oppressed people, which includes in the Palestinians with all other minority groups in a way that seems to be driving a strong anti-Semitic edge. And I’m wondering if you could address that.

Dr Alan Mendoza  38:20

We’ll start with Gideon.

Gideon Falter  38:23

Well, starting with the last question first, Sam, you know, just yesterday, the rapper Ice Cube who has been really at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter campaign, who has been talking a lot about police brutality, police racism, and holds himself out as being an anti-racist campaigner. In the last week, he has retweeted an anti-Semitic mural that shows Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of the world’s oppressed. And his caption was that if everybody just stands up, we will end their game. Then yesterday, he tweeted a very bizarre conspiracy theory called the Saturn Cube. I won’t spoil it by going into too much detail, but those of you who want to look it up, but this relates to a hexagon on either pole of Saturn, and linking it to the fact that there’s a hexagon in the midst of the Star of David. So, there is not just intersectionality in the fight against racism, there’s very much intersectionality in racism, you’re seeing a lot of people who are quite happy to fight one form of racism trying to spread another and you know, the message very clearly has to be you can’t beat prejudiced with prejudice. And, you know, there is a huge worry whenever you have large popular movements, there is always this worry that populist movements have a habit of turning anti-Semitic you look at for example, the Anti-Semitic infiltration of the yellow jackets in France and you see a template for what can happen. And I think we’ve got to be very, very careful and very vigilant. I’ve been very concerned that within the movements of the last couple of weeks, there have been some prominent strands of Anti-Semitism. And people like Ice Cube. You know, you’ve got I think something like 5 million followers on Twitter, prominent people aren’t being tackled in the same way as other racists are currently being tackled. To go to the first question from I think it was Luke. We are seeing people saying: “Well, look, you know, Israel has really handled this. It’s encounter with Coronavirus extremely well. And that is just further proof that the Jews must be behind the virus, if the final proof will be if Israel comes up with a vaccine first. So, you know, the conspiracy theorists are never far behind.” I think that really there’s nothing wrong can do about that they will the nature of conspiracy theory is that it is constructed to avoid rational scrutiny. So, if somebody comes and says: “Well, that’s ridiculous”, you’re saying: “Israel behind it, they have already pre-armed their followers with the pseudo-facts about how Israel has to be behind it, because Israel has done x, y and Zed to combat it when other countries did.” And they were so much ahead of the game, how could they have possibly done that? Have they not really been behind it? And lastly, on the question about Russian state interference. I think in many cases, it’s hard to tell, because the whole nature of Russian state interference or any state interference is that it’s quite well camouflaged. I think what we will see is, as we emerge from this, we will find out to what extent there has been interference. One thing I would say, though, is that this hasn’t followed a terribly different trajectory in terms of the spread of conspiracy theory than previous waves of conspiracy theory. And so, who knows, it could be that this is the way conspiracy theories spread with or without state interference, or it could just be that we’re seeing the same level of state in engagement. What I would just say is that I don’t want to spread a conspiracy theory myself. And I don’t have any evidence that there is Russian state interference. I think time will tell whether there has been.

Dr Alan Mendoza  42:27

Rakib, over to you to which of those you’d like to answer.

Omar Faruk  42:29

I think the last question on Black Lives Matter and as Gideon has alluded to, some of Ice Cube’s more interesting tweets that he’s been posting in the last few days, I think it is usually problematic, where you do have what are considered to be movements, which label themselves as anti-racist. And then some people who are associated with his movements are guilty of the most heinous forms of racism and peddling in Ice Cube’s case, Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. So, I think that this is hugely problematic. Moving on to Luke’s point. Again, I’ll echo some of the remarks that Gideon has made the fact that Israeli scientists have made significant headway in terms of the development of vaccine in response to the Coronavirus outbreak that was subsequently integrated into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories being peddled by extremists of different ideological shades. He was taught at us, they were essentially offering the view that, you know, the Coronavirus was initially produced by Jewish people, they already have a vaccine that was all that this is convenient. They already have a vaccine in place almost framing it, there’s some sort of profiteering Jewish racket which is in place in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. So, it very much shows how opportunistic they are, and how willing they are into willing to integrate pretty much anything into the anti-Semitic conspiratorial frameworks. The point regarding right Russian actors, I think, just to maybe expand that question more broadly, we have seen across Europe, we’re just talking about right organizations, just how they’ve seen the Covid-19 pandemic as something that they welcome. They’ve used it to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy, but more broadly anti-migrant conspiracy theories. There’s one conspiracy for example, which suggested that patient zero in Italy was a Pakistani delivery man, a delivery man of Pakistani origin, who refused to respect social distancing measures which were in place when at the time that theory was being peddled the authorities themselves. Were saying we are, it is proving to be exceptionally difficult for us to track down patients zero in Italy, but they’ve been the following organizations in Central and Eastern Europe, which have suggested that this will create the sort authoritarian measures in place that will in turn create the revolutionary attitudes, which will in turn lead to uprising, which they would like to see the overthrow of democratic actors. So it’s just, it’s interesting to see that even though there is a growing internal internationalization of the far-right movement, how different for rights actors, they’ve focused on specific narratives, their specific aims and how they’ve managed to integrate the Covid-19 pandemic, into their specific messaging. So in a sense, there’s a growing internationalization, but there’s also a sense that the forward movement still remains a fairly decentralized in an international sense.

Dr Sharon Nazarian  45:51

And only thing I would add to what Gideon and Rakib have already said, regarding Israel. It’s been interesting that state actors have been using that. So both Iran, Islamic Republic of Iran, and Turkey and others, have really utilized kind of these kinds of conspiracy theories as a way to attack Israel. And that was something we’ve been monitoring and really interested me as an Iranian American myself, there’s no end to the, I would say, the creativity of the Iranian regime, and coming up with new conspiracy theories regarding as well. So, this was definitely in that pocket. Russian state bots, I really won’t get into it, we don’t have an expertise in that area we haven’t published much. So I’ll leave it at a huge, huge thing to tackle. But I won’t jump in there. Regarding the left arm, you saw that, you know, an Tifa has become a major area of interest regarding what’s happening in US cities, the Trump administration in a label them that that’s a problem, because an Tifa is really a movement. It’s not an organization. But really what I want to point out here is what’s happening in America today, in this moment, Visa v. attacks on Israel is first of all, the attention to police trainings that happen in Israel. This is something that we’re monitoring very closely, we’re seeing across American society, whether it’s in cities, or all levels, there’s a specific attention, as society, cities are looking at reforms for law enforcement in the US, one of the issues that’s popping up is Jewish groups or others, bringing law enforcement to Israel for training. And a lot of the rhetoric from the extreme left now is around the militarization of the US police force. And if Israel and the training they receive in Israel adds to that this is a very dangerous and we think, sensitive issue that we have to really fight against, and we at ADL are really, you know, pros to that. Secondly, we all know what’s coming up very soon. And that’s an announcement by the Israeli government regarding exertion of sovereignty over Jewish settlements in Israel. Again, we think given what’s happening in America today, that announcement, whatever form it will take will add to the very heightened rhetoric in us from the left in attacking Israel. And all of these, the convergence of all these issues will just I’ve tell you, I’ve deep worries about what’s going to happen in America today, not only on campuses, not only in very progressive spaces we have in the budget, we have an election coming up, the Democratic Party is prone to this, we’re seeing some of this language show up on platform committees. So there’s a lot to unpack here. There’s a lot of convergence of issues coming one on top of each other at a very fluid moment in American society today. And as EDL after all, you were very concerned about all these issues in specifically from the left/right now. I mean, the right pose his own problems, but really from the left extreme left, I should say. There’s a lot of threads coming that we are very concerned about.

Dr Alan Mendoza  49:16

And you very useful comments from all of you. We’re going to move to a second round of questions. Omar Faruk, Mike Farish and Paul Phillips.

Omar Faruk  49:28

Thank you very much to the panellists. I had two questions, actually. And I will ask them very quickly. It’s two of the first one is to the panellists. What parallels do they see in the scapegoating of Muslims in India, as spreading COVID-19 by the right wing in India? And the other question I wanted to ask was, what risks do the panellists see that legitimate Christian criticism of Israeli policies can be shut down as Anti-Semitism and what I’m looking for is some guidance as to where the lines live for legitimate criticism.

Dr Alan Mendoza  50:08

Okay, good. Thank you. Mike Farish, Mike, you are live if you unmute yourself.

Mike Farish  50:17

That’s great. I had a couple of questions. First of all, is the first amendment to the American Constitution, an impediment that needs to be removed? Or is it? Does it represent a principle framework within which Muslims can work? And secondly, just a more general point? If the aim is a decent tolerant society, is that going to be achieved by people want to achieve it? And I’m totally with you, using phrases like hate speech and zero tolerance?

Dr Alan Mendoza  50:50

Okay. And finally, Paul.

Paul Phillips  50:58

I would actually say very kindly answered well, Sharon and Gideon answered my question, which I wrote it was about the BLM specifically in left county seven. Do you have another one all? Well, I just wondered if in the last two weeks since the BLM has become so prominent, and is driving so much of thinking about among modern society, and not just the extreme left, if, for example, ice cube and any manifestations of previous BLM, Anti-Semitism, if there was you felt any danger and risk of it taking hold a little bit more in the mainstream, even the general questioning, and frankly, the whole history of our society that’s going on right now.

Dr Alan Mendoza  51:41

Okay, that’s excellent. So just yeah, BLM issue into the mainstream, some of those strains, okay. And we’ve got seven minutes to answer these should be fairly efficient Rakib, I’m coming to you first.

Omar Faruk  51:55

So just to address our first point I’m in terms of parallels to referring to anti-Muslim conspiracy theories being circulated by rights being hindered the nationalists in India, that there have been conspiracies which have been peddled and been disseminated across social media including WhatsApp groups, with which have said that essentially the one of the primary reasons why India is experiencing his problems with the Coronavirus outbreak is largely because the its Muslim minorities, for example, not respecting social distancing measures. There have been other conspiracies which have suggested that Muslims are in some way predisposed to spread the virus in a more aggressive manner when compared to the Hindu population. So I think it really does just touch on many of the points that we have all discussed, the fundamentalists have different shades, different colours, that they will look to weaponize, you know, instantly, you know, they are looking to weaponize the times of crisis in order to in the name of political advantage, you could say. So, yeah, that would be my thoughts on that. I think in terms of my first point very quickly, in terms of talking about zero tolerance. I have no hesitation when using that kind of language when it comes to the peddling of unfounded baseless conspiracy theories, which target particular social groups, I don’t think they should be, you know, respective, our thoughts on freedom of expression. I’ve said previously, the freedom and respect that freedom with freedom comes responsibility. And part of part of the deal has to be that you, how do you say you exercise those freedoms in a responsible manner. And if you use your freedoms to essentially spread hatred, or you’re looking to cite forms of violence towards particular social groups, we should very much adopt 00 tolerance approach when it comes to that sort of thing. And yes, I think just looking a poor Phillips point, just to follow up on sort of the first law for earlier in the Black Lives Matter movement, I think all too often there are, you know, there are particularly in the UK, but also in other countries, they’re the anti-racist, you know, anti-bit movements, which label themselves as anti-racist, anti-racist movements, which ironically, have a fundamentally racist dimension at times. And I think that has been seen in some cases with the excesses of was a left-wing Anti-Semitism very much indulging in forms of Anti-Semitism, which we should not tolerate at all.

Dr Alan Mendoza  54:43

Sharon you can take some points he has answered actually, and any of the other ones you want to address. The Constitution one might be interesting, given all the Americans on the panel to take that one as well.

Dr Sharon Nazarian  54:58

I’ll start on the voting of Muslims in India, right, a point there is really that the dangers of populism, I really think, you know you and Europe have suffered from that we in the US are kind of experiencing in some forms. And India is no exception to that. So what we our societies have to be very aware of is how political leaders use populist rhetoric and populist tactics to gain political Brown, but at the expense of others in their society. So this is something that we all have to take on very seriously doesn’t matter who the target is, we have to speak up on this. You know, putting a finger on the anxieties of society and really manipulating those anxieties, as a way of targeting minority groups of any sort is just not healthy for any society. So, I’ll just leave it at that. I think legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and differentiation, that’s a very important question. And I really want to direct your listeners to ADL website, we have put something what we’ve created a very important document called Anti-Semitism uncovered, where we tackle all classic tropes that have been used against Jews throughout history, it’s kind of a both historical document, but a very contemporary of the moment now. And one of the things they’re one of the tropes that we’ve used is about the delegitimization of Israel. And when criticism of Israeli policy steps over into Anti-Semitism, this is very important for us to do. And I will really build on the whole goals of the IRA definition, where as part of the examples of the redefinition of Anti-Semitism, the non-legally binding, a definition of Anti-Semitism, although, you know, it’s a definition that’s been criticized and seen as not great. It’s examples that are included within the definition that are very powerful, and one of them is the delegitimization double standard, that is always held to. So, we as professionals, as scholars, as researchers, and advocates have to be very clear not to suppress valid criticism of Israeli policy. So we can call it every criticism of Israel’s anti-Semitic because in effect, that dilutes the power of that label of Anti-Semitism. So, we have to be very careful. But we also have to help hold political leaders, other stakeholders to the task, that once you step over that line, and hold Israel to a level that is considered legitimate, that it is double standards, that we will call you out for that. And that on the First Amendment speech, you know, I really think that it is both, but it is a burden. But it’s also something that we really hold up as Americans as a source of pride. But as I said before, the legality of it doesn’t exclude the responsibility. And it is the responsibility part that we have to really emphasize, as educators as political leaders, we all have that responsibility of saying that when you take that freedom, and abuse it, it is on us to call you out. So I still as an immigrant, who came to America as a result of the Iranian Revolution, as a member of a Jewish minority in Iran, who left a country that really had no freedoms. And coming to America 40 years ago, I continue to really uphold our Constitution, American Constitution, and that freedom as something that I value on price very highly, I will not allow its limitations to take away from the code, the pride that I have in that amendment. But it does put limitations on us that we have to work around and we can do that.

Dr Alan Mendoza  58:52

Impassionate defense of the First Amendment.

Dr Sharon Nazarian  58:57

Sorry, I forgot the BLM issue. I just want to say one more word about both Gideon and Rocky, but are covered quite well. I just want to point out that this is a very, very challenging issue for the Jewish community of America. Most American Jews today want to show up for are not only African American citizens, but also in support of the fact that whether it is the law enforcement that has to be looked at whether it’s institutional racism that we have to show up for, it is a moment that we all have to stand up like we’ve had others in our American history. The challenges that BLM has posed really speaks to a platform that was formed through the movement from Black Lives, because that is, you know, the Black Lives movement is a movement. It is not an organization. It is a movement of various groups coming together fighting against police brutality against African-American community. The platform that was developed a few years ago by the movement for black lives, and it included anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric that was quite actually extensive and disturbing. At this moment for the American-Jewish community, showing up and supporting BLM, even the hashtag BLM has become a controversial issue and is become a difficult one because we don’t really know what how to do we show up for this? And this continues to be a challenge for major American-Jewish organizations, and Jews in general, how do we show up in a way that we support this movement that the country is going through the same time don’t give into anti-symmetric facets on the extreme parts of the BLM movement? So it’s a challenge and continues to be one.

Dr Alan Mendoza  1:00:46

Gideon, and what would you like to contribute?

Gideon Falter  1:00:48

Very briskly, given the time. I wanted to come back on an aspect of each question actually, on the on when criticism of Israel crosses into Anti-Semitism, I don’t see this as being some kind of line spectrum where you know, on one side, you have great supporters of Israel and the other side, you have Anti-Semites, it’s possible to support Israel and be an anti-Semites as various people has sometimes shown us, you know, they say they defend themselves from accusations of Anti-Semitism by saying, Well, I’m a great friend of Israel. And you say yes, but you just said that, you just use an anti-Semitic trope. And I think for Omar Faruk, the best resource you’ll find is the IRA international definition of Anti-Semitism. It’s a definition of Anti-Semitism, which is being adopted around the world, I’m proud to say that, thanks to the work of campaign against Anti-Semitism and various others in the British Jewish community, the British government was the first in the world to adopt that definition. Just this week, in the last week, it’s been adopted by Argentina and Serbia, you’ll find that definition of Anti-Semitism. The UK slash definition, along with a load of advice on how to use it. But what is very crucial in that definition, it says criticism of Israel, Kim to that level that other countries cannot be anti-Semitism. So have a read of that definition. Tonight to the question on the First Amendment, you know, coming at it as a British person who’s used to limits on freedom of expression and to protect people. It’s up to the voters of each country, you know, if the voters of America are happy with the protections that they currently have, that’s fine. The one thing that I think I would find very scary, is that if you look, for example, at the Pittsburgh attack, you can quite legally carry automatic weapons in the United States. And you can also quite legally, keep tweeting and posting anti-Semitic incitement against Jews. I believe that the first time that police would really have been able to swoop on the on the shooter in Pittsburgh was when he posted on gab, the far-right social network, just before he went into that synagogue, I’m going in. So, the first amendment really gives such broad protection really to anti-Semites. I would question whether that’s the right balance. But that’s the US voters to decide not, not me. And just finally, on the question of not so much BLM, but of the left in particular, I think if anybody is looking for a way to debunk definitively this myth that the left is so anti-racist, that it can’t possibly be anti-Semitic. I think you need look no further than Anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and campaign against Anti-Semitism is the complainant in the National Statutory Investigation by the UK human rights enforcement body, the equality and Human Rights Commission, which we’ll be reporting later this year on Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I think one of the things that was most remarkable about Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is that throughout the entire crisis, we’ve had people on the far-left saying: “How can you call me anti-Semitic, I’ve been an anti-racist my entire life. People like Ken Livingstone, people like Jeremy Corbyn, who, in my view, our anti-Semites, and I think that whole episode puts to bed, this whole myth that there is a section of politics, political extremism, which is immune from Anti-Semitism, the far-left has it just as bad as the other extremes”.

Dr Alan Mendoza  1:04:28

Okay, we’ll wait for you and Jeremy Corbyn to lock horns on whether he is or isn’t an anti-Semite. But thank you to the panellists, to Gideon, to Sharon and to Rakib for having given a really good working overview issues today. Obviously, we haven’t come up with the magic silver bullet to resolve the problem of Anti-Semitism on the far-right. But I think we’ve made some progress, just understanding the avenues and where the opportunities are. So, I want to thank all of you for joining us which came of course or in your offices, wherever you might be for joining us to tomorrow we have Professor Neil Ferguson. That’s the famous IR professor, not the bonking Neil of our sort of lockdown policy failure, and who will be addressing international implications of COVID-19 you can still sign up for that. So, hope we’ll see you all again tomorrow.


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