Unmasking Prejudice

“There came a new Pharoah who did not know Joseph.”

As we commence reading the book of Shmot, the reader of the Torah comes to learn that suddenly, despite all the hard work, productive contribution, acceptance and integration of the family of Joseph into Egyptian society, the Jewish contribution towards famine relief and nation building in Egypt ultimately counted for nothing.  Soonafter, through the narrative of the ten plagues we come to learn that the anti-Semitism of Pharoah started to gradually compound.

In a contemporary analogy, today we have an entire world that does not know Joseph. Billions of people around the world are not aware of the scientific, medical, ethical, technological and economic achievements of the State of Israel, all achieved under existential threat over the past 60 years or so.  However they do know another Israel, one that is charged as a subjugator, a suppressor of rights, and an occupier.  These false allegations may well be ingrained into the psyche of thousands of years of anti-Semitism, but they are mostly expressed people who are fully ignorant of Jewish history, ancient and modern, and the revitalised role of the Jewish nation.

Essentially, Pharoah had cleaned out his facebook friends, and delinked Joseph.  Having stolen and uploaded the Intellectual Property rights of the Jews to YouTube, the masses came and posted comments telling the Jews to go back to where they came from.  They accused the Jews of killing Egyptian babies, and of stealing wealth through sound economic management.  Social media took over from the state sanctioned media incitement, and the Jews of Egypt were powerless to stand up aganist the culture of Jew hatred that had been instilled into society.   

It is not so different today, certainly from a news media perspective.  Occasionally you open a newspaper or watch a TV clip that has a retraction or a correction over an error.  It creates the veneer that the media concerned is considered beyond reproach, that it is a self regulating paragon of virtue.  It may be an advertisement that contained the wrong price, or the incorrect citation of a relationship between two people.  The media are at pains, it would seem, to be honest and accurate.

Above all, there is one alarming trend that stands as an absolute double standard through the publication of online media.  It is not always the news articles, which may not be factually incorrect, but biased due to omission of information, selective quoting, or the removal of context.  It is within the comments section of many news sites that anti-Semitism is now given a forum, in the name of free speech, to fester unabated.

How often do you open a you tube clip that may have something to do with Jewish art, music, or even very little to do with Jewish identity, yet the comments very quickly degenerate into very foul statements about how the Jews are Nazi’s, or stole Palestinian land, or killed Jesus, or control the worlds money markets?  Why is it that the publisher of a news article online delivers an open forum for hate speech, and when big red lines are crossed, does not take responsibility for moderation?

Godwin’s Law is that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”. It used to be six degrees of separation from the start of a discussion thread.  Now it appears to be good enough as an opening gambit.

Vic Alhadeff in an article published in the AJN and Jwire, advocates for moderation and the disclosure of identity as part of the solution to the problem of online racism and hate speech.  There is no doubt that these measures will help.  The harder part of the equation is attacking the problem at its source.

Australia is a very open society and generally fairly tolerant.  This is true in a public setting, but less so in the private domain where online communications are initiated.  It is sad, and sometimes hard to acknowledge, but there are some deeply inherent prejudices built into Australian culture that are expressed as an intolerance of multiculturalism.  Many people express this either in private and/or with the protection of anonymity, but will repress and conceal these views in a public setting.

This can be unhealthy.  In a sense, it is far better for these views to be “outed” and seen for what they are.  At least we know what we are dealing with.  People who bottle up their resentment of minority cultures and allow their proverbial powder keg to explode are far more of a risk and a threat to society.

Sadly, Australia is a global contributor to online anti-Semitism.  Nobody can solve this problem.  Censorship breeds contempt and suffocates the vitriol, but it doesn’t make the issue go away and it brings forth allegations that the freedom of speech is in breach.  Moderation is subjective, and limited in effect.  Allowing free passage of hate speech creates a passive attitude towards societal decay, and ignoring racist remarks doesn’t change the fact that they are very real viewpoints that have been expressed out of malice.

Jewish people know better than most that new answers to old problems are required for each generation.  For example, the great influencing factors that motivated Jewish communities have faded.  Our world does not have a first hand account of the Shoah, and the Jewish population itself cannot comprehend the concept of a world with no Jewish State.  So the culture within our Jewish communities begins to change accordingly.

The days of media self regulation have reached an end.  Regulation of the internet is a Generation X solution applied to Generation Y interactive social intercommunications.  Media regulation needs to be better asserted through broadcasting licensing and policy, starting from the online media and working right back through to TV, talkback radio, and the press.  A publisher of views not only needs to be accountable for what they themselves say, but also for the interactive commentary that they invite and publish as part of their media.  This blog is not immune – we do not moderate comments prior to publication, but check very regularly, and sadly have to occasionally remove remarks that are offensive.

Communication though any medium is a vital privilege and gift, and it must be used wisely.