Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism

Lawmakers from five countries have joined forces to launch an international effort to fight online antisemitism.

The Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism includes legislators from Canada, Australia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Anthony Housefather
Anthony Housefather

The effort involves two Canadian MPs: Liberal Anthony Housefather from Montreal, and Conservative Marty Morantz from Winnipeg, as well as former Toronto Liberal MP Michael Levitt, now President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.*

“Over the last several years, there has been an alarming increase in antisemitic incidents across the globe, with many originating online,” a Sept. 29 statement from Housefather’s office states. “As social media posts do not stop at international borders, members of the national legislatures of Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States have come together across party lines to launch the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.”

Marty Morantz
Marty Morantz

Task force members include: Member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White, Israel); Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Democrat, United States); Congressman Ted Deutch (Democrat, United States); Congressman Chris Smith (Republican, United States), Member of Parliament Josh Burns (Labour, Australia); Member of Parliament Dave Sharma (Liberal, Australia); Member of Parliament Andrew Percy (Conservative, United Kingdom); Member of Parliament Alex Sobel (Labour and Cooperative, United Kingdom), and the two Canadians MPs.

The launch of the task force follows campaigns working to expose online antisemitism, including the #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate campaign that served as a global call to action to combat the virulent antisemitism that goes unaddressed or inadequately addressed on social media platforms.

The task force has the following goals:

• Establishing consistent messaging and policy from Parliaments and legislatures around the world in order to hold social media platforms, including Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Google, accountable;

• The adoption and publication of transparent policies related to hate speech;

• Raising awareness about antisemitism on social media platforms and its consequences in order to acknowledge the tremendous responsibility that comes with the power the platforms hold;

• Emphasizing that if one minority cannot be protected by hate speech policies, then none can be. This Task Force will therefore serve as a means for protecting all minority groups from online hate;Underscoring that the fight against antisemitism is a non-partisan consensus in democratic countries.

Online hate, including antisemitic animus, “is growing exponentially,” stated Housefather. “Posts are viewed across national borders and impact people in many jurisdictions. Social media platforms have failed to adequately address hatred on their own. But they cannot be expected to create different policies in every separate country. By working together, we can create international definitions and recommendations for regulating social media platforms that can then be reviewed and hopefully implemented by each individual country.”

Stated Morantz: “Online hate is an abhorrent reality on social media platforms. I am honoured to work on a bipartisan basis with my Canadian colleagues, as well as international colleagues, to find solutions that keep all those safe who might suffer from online hate, antisemitism and discrimination.”

Said Cotler-Wunsh, daughter of former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, “Always and at this time in particular, as we stand united in fighting a global pandemic, another virus rages that requires global collaboration and cooperation. By working with multi-partisan allies in parliaments around the world, we hope to create best practices and real change in holding the social media giants accountable to the hatred that exists on their platforms. It is imperative that we work together to expose the double standards.”

* The above updates Canadian members of the task force.

Editorial: Let’s Continue to Save Lives

Aug. 27, 2020

In the Jewish tradition, we are taught that“whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world” – surely a beautiful sentiment embraced by other faith traditions.

And yet, we see very much the opposite today, especially in the reaction of a significant minority both here and in the United States to dangerous fiction that “trumps” truth when it comes to Covid-19.

Alarmingly, more than a few people are either ignorant or think they are invincible,or worse, believe religiously-tinged fairy tales from numbskulls in leadership positions.

Take Ohio state representative Nino Vitale, for example. The Republican has urged his fellow Ohioans to refuse to wear face masks. As he rambled to Newsweekrecently, “When we think about the image and likeness of God, that we’re created in the image and likeness of God, when we think of image, do we think of a chest or our legs or our arms? We think of their face. I don’t want to cover people’s faces. That’s the image of God right there. I want to see it in my brothers and sisters.”

Ordinary Americans have also invoked God, claiming masks interfere with His divinely-designed human breathing apparatus. A study released in late June suggested that White American evangelicals’ attitudes toward the coronavirus pandemic are considerably more relaxed than those of other religious groups.

This might go some way to explaining the fact that the United States has the highest number (per 100,000 people) of Covid cases and deaths in the world.

To date, nearly 180,000 Americans have died in the pandemic, a number that scientists and epidemiologists tell us wasavoidable had people followed the simple hygienic rules by now burned into our brains: keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask – simple rules that Donald Trump was reluctant to mandate.

Worse, Trump seems to treat unnecessary deaths with a shrugging normalcy. Asked a couple of weeks ago about the staggering death rate in his country, he responded, “it is what it is.”

One might assume that members of his own party would be horrified at such a reply. Not so much. A recent CBS poll found 57percent of Republicans felt that a death toll of 176,000 Americans (at the time) was “acceptable.” The same survey found that 73 percent of Republicans believe Trump is handling the Coronavirus pandemic well.

Thankfully, saner heads prevail when the same question is asked across the United States, where 62 percent of voters believe the response is “going badly.” Incredibly,however, that means close to 40 percent of Americans (almost 150 million people) are just fine with Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

In Canada, we are faring much better, even though we have our own “Covoidiots.” Take the recent example of 600 patrons packedshoulder-to-shoulder into a downtown Toronto strip club. Naturally, an employee tested positive for the virus. Now all attendees and employees have to isolate and monitor. Consider also pandemic house parties held across the country, just begging for infection?

The good news, however, is that for the most part, our political leaders, no matter where they stand on the spectrum andunlike their American counterparts, have saved lives by listening to science and taking the best possible advice from those in public health charged with looking after our welfare.

This is not to say problems don’t exist. Finding the right balance between opening our schools and preventing huge spikes in the virus remains a real challenge.

So far, with the customary Canadian sense of following established rules (and a little luck), our pandemic numbers have been trending downward. We need to continue down this path with care and thoughtfulness. We need to continue saving entire generations.