At Swedish Holocaust event, Herzog says social media giants must tackle hate

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai also focuses on dangers of internet in spreading antisemitism at major Shoah remembrance conference in Malmo

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog addresses the  Remember ReAct Forum in Malmo, Swden, October 13, 2021 ( Shahar Azran)
President Isaac Herzog addresses the Remember ReAct Forum in Malmo, Swden, October 13, 2021 ( Shahar Azran)

Speaking at a major conference hosted by Sweden on Wednesday, President Isaac Herzog called on the world to more vigorously confront social media companies to ensure hateful material is dealt with.

“Antisemitism is an infusion of hate into pockets of ignorance, a force of destruction which wears down any virtue in its path,” he said.

“It will require not only improving Holocaust education in schools, such as the outstanding program of Yad Vashem, but also working aggressively on social media, including with and confronting social media companies to ensure that hateful incitement is quickly removed.”

He also urged leaders to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

“The IHRA has become a widely accepted reference point in the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial, with over thirty countries having adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and I call upon all nations to do so,” he said, speaking by video from Jerusalem.

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai echoed Herzog’s focus on social media, telling the assembled media when he entered the conference site that “there is a dangerous rise of antisemitism all over the world mainly because of the new social media.”

Social media companies are “inciting and increasing the level of hate, and they have to take responsibility for that, not to remain so-called neutral or objective,” Shai declared.

Postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance in Malmo, Sweden, was originally planned to take place in October 2020, 75 years after the end of World War II and the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai speaks to media at the Remember ReAct Forum, Malmö Sweden, October 13, 2021 (IHRA)

The event was attended by global and Jewish leaders, including King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Council President Charles Michael, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, and European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor.

Presidents Isaac Herzog of Israel and Emmanuel Macron of France and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participated remotely. Macron and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent prerecorded video messages.

The Forum takes place 21 years after the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration, the founding document of the IHRA, and one year after the adoption of the IHRA 2020 Ministerial Declaration.

The Berlin-based IHRA is an intergovernmental organization created to unite governments and civil society to promote Holocaust education and research, and implement and uphold the commitments of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration and the 2020 declaration.

Activists outside a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee in London, with signs protesting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, September 4, 2018. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images/ via JTA /SUE)

Delegates from 50 countries joined social media companies, government officials and NGOs to discuss concrete steps to promote Holocaust remembrance and education and combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

According to the IHRA, the organization received support for its programs to fight Holocaust denial, teach about the genocide of the Roma in World War II, and further protect and identify archival material relating to the Holocaust.

Sweden is slated to assume the one-year presidency of the IHRA in March 2022.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Michael Roth, right, and France’s State Secretary for European Affairs Harlem Desir, left, addressed the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth said “the situation worldwide” is “extremely worrying,” in reference to recent anti-Jewish attacks in Germany,

“The mainstreaming of Holocaust distortion, often spread across borders via social media, is a serious challenge for us all globally as it paves the way for antisemitism, Holocaust denial and extreme nationalism,” said Kathrin Meyer, IHRA secretary-general.

European Council President Charles Michel said the 27-nation European Union “must lead the fight against antisemitism.”

“Remembering is not enough. That is why we must do more than remembering,” Michel said. “Silent we must never be … silence is complicity.”

In a video message, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was allocating $1 million to counter antisemitic hate speech online in the Mideast and North Africa, and has started “an expanded series of international visitor leadership programs, which will work with government and civil society representatives to confront Holocaust distortion and antisemitism in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with local labor leaders, Sept. 30, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Rebecca Droke, Pool)

“Our priorities include condemning and countering antisemitism, ensuring physical security for Jewish communities, supporting Holocaust education, especially for young people, protecting religious freedom and urging countries to commit more deeply to the fight against hate speech online,” Blinken said.

During the 2000 forum in Stockholm, international leaders urged all countries to open secret government files on the Nazi extermination campaign and promote education about the genocide. The final statement at the end of the three-day event included a pledge to take all necessary steps to open archives to “ensure that all documents bearing on the Holocaust are available to researchers.”

AP contributed to this report. 

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