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Judentum und Israel
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Thomas von der Osten-Sacken

[GERMAN] [HEBREW (graph./txt.]

In recent years, the Internet appears to be playing into the hands of anti-Semitic propaganda. Neo-Nazis and other anti-Semitic groups use the net extensively, and it has become the primary means for disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. Sites devoted to such materials range from the ostensibly academic, with discussions of the "world Jewish conspiracy," to unconcealed Nazi incitement, and to leftist portals which, in the name of solidarity with the Palestinians, present pronounced anti-Israel material.

The Internet, which functions both as a means of communication and a public space in the broadest sense, provides the anti-Semites with an unparalleled mass vehicle for incitement, while attracting far less critical attention than the press or television.

Although little research, and little development of combative strategies, have been devoted to this topic, one individual who is exceptional in this respect is Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Committee of Jews in Germany, who aggressively and openly warns about the danger of anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet. Writing in Die Welt in April 2002, Spiegel stated that anti-Semitic incitement in Germany following the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada is "worse than it has ever been in the Federal Republic." The proportions it has reached are reflected in the Internet, he pointed out, citing the existence of over 1,300 sites of a radical right and anti-Semitic nature – approximately a thousand more such sites than a year previously.

Unlike the U.S., where this danger was identified at an early stage, nothing is being done about it in Germany except for pronouncements by official bodies. Yet even as far back as 1996, anyone searching the net for such terms as Talmud, Shabbat, Kosher, etc., as well as names such as Auschwitz or Hitler, was led by the search engines nearly exclusively to Nazi sites.

In response to this Internet invasion, a small group of people in Germany has established a private German Jewish portal (www.Hagalil.com), which has become one of the largest in the German language, with over 140,000 entrants monthly. The idea of creating this type of portal stemmed not only, and not primarily, from the need to combat anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitic sites on the Internet, but to utilize the net for communication between Jews and to deal with Jewish topics. In as much as few Jewish centers are left in Germany, in contrast to the U.S., France and England, and because only a small number of Jews are scattered throughout Germany, this medium seemed ideal.

Hagalil today offers basic, up-to-date information about Israel and the Middle East, translations of articles and editorials from the Israeli and the American press, broadcasts from the Kol Yisrael and Galgalatz radio stations in Israel, Israeli pop music, analyses of the Middle East conflict from the German media, analyses of the new anti-Semitism in Europe, and articles on Jewish issues. The portal has become an important source of information for journalists and other interested parties, thereby changing its original intention of being an internal Jewish communications channel.

During the initial period of the formation of Hagalil, impelled by the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, the confrontation with anti-Semitism was not its founders’ first priority. Anti-Semitism in the third generation following National Socialism was not perceived as a loaded issue. No one anticipated that within a few short years it would return so unremarkably, that today leading political figures from mainstream parties can express anti-Semitic opinions openly without provoking public opposition, and the German press can report with a systematically anti-Israel bias. No sooner was Hagalil launched, then it was targeted for foul verbal attacks and abuse, as well as attempts by hackers to shut it down. This response demanded action. The approach was not to enter into endless arguments in the playing field created by the anti-Semites, but to combat them on a different field: gaining control over the Internet search engines.

A particular terminology, signaling Jews and Judaism, plays a central role in Nazi and extreme rightist propaganda. Underlying such phraseology as "a surplus of foreigners in Germany," "multi-cultural society," or "demon of globalization," lies, in National Socialist theory, the strategy of "world Jewry," "the east coast of America," and "the international Jewish connection." Key words such as Judaism, Shabbat, Israel and Zion are turned into pathways for spreading lies, hatred and violence. The Hagalil team, aware that they are unable to penetrate the closed world of the anti-Semites and the radical right, direct their portal, instead, toward neutral surfers with the aim of preventing them from chance entry into anti-Semitic sites. Their stated goal is to establish a hundred Hagalil sites for every Nazi one, so as to prevent students interested in exploring Jewish topics from receiving anti-Semitic information.

This important goal has indeed been reached. Anyone who enters search words of a certain type into a German-language search engine will probably reach a Hagalil link or other portals that combat anti-Semitism. The struggle against the anti-Semitic sites over control of the search engines has been shown to be more effective than attempts to close them down, although the latter possibility constitutes a political strategy that is also used by Hagalil.

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