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Shining a light on antisemitism, with the Anti-Defamation League

YouTube’s Global Head of Human Rights Partnerships, Malika Saada Saar, interviews Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, about the Shine a Light campaign.

This week marks the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday known as the Festival of Lights. It’s a time of celebration and coming together. With antisemitism on the rise both in the United States and around the world, YouTube and Google are joining with the Anti-Defamation League as they shine a light on this concerning increase in hatred and violence, as part of our ongoing commitment to combating antisemitism both online and offline.

That commitment finds many forms, from fighting hate speech online to financial support for educational and human rights organizations. We also fund the creation of original content on YouTube that helps to further racial justice and religious tolerance, and are proud to announce that the next installment of our YouTube Originals series “Recipe for Change” will premiere in Spring 2022. The series is produced by LeBron James' The SpringHill Company and will bring together Jewish creators, authors, actors, and activists. The focus of conversation is antisemitism in the U.S. as well as a celebration of Jewish food and culture.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

To learn more about the Shine A Light campaign, YouTube’s Global Head of Human Rights Partnerships, Malika Saada Saar, spoke to Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Can you share with us what the ADL does and how it is part of a larger network of organizations addressing hate?

For more than a century, ADL has worked to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all. As part of that, we’ve built a world-class team investigating extremist threats, an evil that has intensified and expanded in recent years with devastating consequences. We work closely with a number of civil and human rights organizations representing marginalized communities, among them NAACP, LULAC, the Committee of 100, GLAAD, The Asian American Foundation, the National Urban League, and many others, to coordinate our efforts to fight antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-LGBTQ bias, hate crimes, bigotry, and discrimination. We also work in close coordination with many Jewish organizations to ensure that we are securing the safety and well-being of all Jewish people in communities across the U.S.

Over the past year we have seen a rise in antisemitism and antisemitic violence in the U.S. and around the world. What has the ADL been tracking, and can you give us a sense of the scope of this current challenge?

Antisemitism is one of the oldest and most persistent forms of hatred. It is the proverbial canary in the coal mine, serving as a warning that other prejudices in society inevitably are not far behind when antisemitism is present. And hate is not unique to the Jewish people. As the attacks in Christchurch and Halle have demonstrated, white supremacy is a global terror threat that can explode into violence against Jews and other marginalized groups.

ADL focuses most of its attention on the U.S. and the trends here are worrisome. Indeed, the number of antisemitic incidents in America has surged in recent years.

According to ADL’s Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, 2019 was the worst year on record for attacks on Jews in America. We tabulated 2,107 antisemitic incidents throughout the U.S., a 12 percent increase from the 1,879 incidents recorded in 2018.

Our researchers found that an additional 2,024 antisemitic incidents occurred throughout the U.S. in 2020. While this was a four percent decrease from 2019, it also was the third-highest year on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

In the face of unprecedented attacks on the Jewish community, last year ADL conducted a survey of Jewish Americans to explore their experiences with antisemitism. It found that more than half (54 percent) of Jews in America have either experienced or witnessed some form of incident that they believed was motivated by antisemitism over the past five years.

Jews also commonly encounter antisemitism online. One in seven experienced some form of harassment, and more than one in 10 have experienced a severe form of harassment such as being physically threatened as a result of their religion.

We’ve also seen an increase in antisemitism in Europe, both in terms of hate incidents and anti-Jewish attitudes. As a result, more than one-third of European Jews have reportedly considered emigration because they do not feel safe in their own country.

This Hanukkah, you’ve launched a new campaign called Shine A Light. Can you tell me a bit about this campaign and why you wanted to connect it with Hanukkah?

In anticipation of Hanukkah, ADL has joined an unprecedented coalition of over 60 North American and Canadian Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and corporations to launch Shine A Light. This national initiative will illuminate the dangers of antisemitism through education, community partnerships, workplace engagement, and advocacy.

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a time of year when Jews celebrate the miracle of the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Second Temple during the time of the Maccabees. We light candles for each of the eight nights of the holiday, and these lights, while symbolic of the oil that lasted for eight days and eight nights after the temple’s menorah was rekindled, also have come to symbolize hope for the future and of bringing light to the world.

Amid the widespread rise in antisemitism in North America, Shine A Light seeks to catalyze conversations within and across communities, on school campuses, and in the workplace, so that people will better understand what constitutes anti-Jewish hate and take steps to respond.  

YouTube and Google recently pledged to the Malmö International Forum to promote education about the Holocaust and combat antisemitism both online and offline. What are you seeing in terms of online discourse about the Holocaust and antisemitism, and does it present a different type of challenge to previous forms of denial and hate speech that took advantage of communication tools like radio?

We were pleased by the commitments of YouTube, Google, and others in Malmö to promote Holocaust education and to combat antisemitism. As we have said before, these companies and their peers in Silicon Valley need to do more, so these moves are a start. They are important in terms of both preserving the memory of the six million Jews and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust and ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust and the imperative of “Never Again,” endures for future generations.

There are various strains of Holocaust trivialization and denial that remain troubling, both online and in the actual world. Online denial concerns are a serious problem on platforms. And in recent months we’ve continued to see abhorrent comparisons between government COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates and the Holocaust. Such comparisons have no place in any political debate.

One symptom of these odious and false comparisons of vaccine mandates to the Nazis is that they play into the hands of Holocaust deniers, those who promote the antisemitic notion that the Holocaust didn’t really happen or was greatly distorted by historians — something we cannot afford to tolerate.

Research has shown that Holocaust denial is proliferating on social media. Twenty-three percent of respondents in a recent study said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, or had been exaggerated, or they were not sure. Nearly half reported seeing Holocaust denial or distortion posts online, and 30 percent had seen Nazi symbols on their social media platforms or in their communities.

We believe the best antidote to Holocaust denial and antisemitism is education. That’s why ADL has supported legislation mandating Holocaust education in our public middle and high schools, and why we offer curriculum training and resources such as Echoes & Reflections, which we created in partnership with Yad Vashem and the USC Shoah Foundation. Every year we train thousands of teachers to use this multimedia curriculum on the Holocaust.

Many companies are making significant commitments to addressing hate and harassment and seeking to be part of the work to make a fairer and more just world. What can YouTube and other companies do to address and disrupt the surge of anti-Semitism, both online and offline?

More so than perhaps any other industry, online platforms are well positioned to take meaningful actions to prevent the spread of hate. Recently, ADL unveiled its REPAIR Plan, a comprehensive framework calling for reforms across the industry and in the laws governing the high-tech industry. Some of the priorities we identified for industry include transparency about the functions and impacts of their algorithms; establishing and enforcing anti-hate policies at scale; putting more resources towards protecting victims and targets of online harassment; countering disinformation and improving content moderation; and incorporating an “anti-hate by design” approach in the development of their products and policies.

Thanks Jonathan, we appreciate the thoughtfulness that ADL has put into these recommendations, and YouTube has taken steps to ensure that promoting hateful ideologies like Naziism or denying the existence of well-documented violent events like the Holocaust have no place on our platform. Effectively combating this challenge will require a whole-of-society approach – what actions can individuals take to help Shine A Light? How should allies show up in this moment?

Here’s a list of recommended actions we will be promoting during the eight nights of Hanukkah. We hope everyone will join us in helping to Shine A Light on antisemitism:

  • Share how you #ShineALight on antisemitism on social media. 

  • Encourage your company to join the fight against antisemitism and to participate in Shine A Light. Also join us for a webinar on December 2 at 1pm ET: "Why We Should Talk About Antisemitism in the Workplace: A Discussion for DEI and HR Professionals." Click here for more details and to register. 

  • Watch the crucial conversations that recently took place at Never is Now, the world’s largest annual summit on antisemitism at hate. 

  • Register for ADL In Concert Against Hate on December 12 for an evening of unforgettable performances and inspiring stories of everyday heroes in the fight against antisemitism and hate.

  • Encourage your school or community to commit to awareness and education by adopting ADL's Holocaust and antisemitism education programs, digital courses, and resources. 

  • Learn more about some of the most pernicious antisemitic myths – and how to address them in Antisemitism Uncovered: A Guide to Old Myths in a New Era.