In the past, websites were merely sources of information. Now, with the advent of the next generation of internet technology known as Web 2.0, websites are increasingly interactive, allowing the user, for example, to post videos, add content and comment on news stories.
Like HonestReporting, which encourages our readers to comment on our communiques through our Backspin blog, most media websites allow their readers to comment on editorial and opinion pieces, albeit through a moderator to ensure debate does not get out of hand.
By allowing readers to have their say, comments sections provide a glimpse into the orientation of a reading community. They give people a forum for their personal views and allow them to add links to articles related to the main post. These additions can add balance to a slanted opinion piece or they can distort well-crafted arguments by promoting false or discredited information.
When it comes to emotive subjects such as the Mideast conflict, this moderator system does not always work as comments are either not moderated or are at the mercy of a moderator's own political biases. Concern has been expressed over inflammatory postings and incitement against Israel on sites such as The Guardian's Comment is Free (CiF) and the BBC's message boards, which have consistently allowed anti-Semitic postings under the guise of "anti-Zionism" or supposedly legitimate criticism of Israel.
THE INDEPENDENT'S MESSAGE BOARD
We took a look at The Independent's message board following the publication of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's dreadful op-ed that HonestReporting critiqued on Nov. 23, 2008.
One of the first comments was posted, allegedly by a "Rabbi Moshe Ben-Hod" in Israel, who called for the blanket destruction of all Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank as the only way to achieve peace. It cannot be ruled out that the person posting this extreme and inflammatory comment was pretending to be an Israeli in order to present Israelis and Jews in the worst possible light. If genuine, then the comment is all the more embarrassing.
Quite rightly, The Independent's moderators removed the comment (although it could be seen in subsequent postings by others condemning the "Rabbi"), which certainly breached standards on incitement to violence as well as being morally and ethically beyond the pale.
However, would the moderators exercise the same due care and attention to anti-Israel or anti-Semitic postings?
The answer was a resounding no. Many of the most outrageous comments did not even bother to criticize "Zionists" or "Israelis". Instead, perhaps revealing the mindset of many of the posters, they referred to "Jews". Classic anti-Semitic tropes such as Jewish control over the media and political establishment appear alongside defamation of the Jewish religion itself. False accusations of rape as well as the general demonization of Israel as a racist and apartheid state also appear.
Sadly, some of this demonization has entered the mainstream lexicon and it is highly unlikely that the postings of these uninformed or hateful individuals will even be considered as beyond the pale. However, some postings on The Independent's message board went way beyond acceptable discourse and into obvious anti-Semitism and Jew hatred. Here are just a small selection of comments (complete with the original spelling errors):
JEWISH CONTROL OF THE MEDIA AND POLITICS:
"All one can say that Jewish fascism is excused due to the high proportion of Jewish people in the media and politics in the UK.""Rabbi Moshe Ben-Hod has expressed publicly what most Jewish people say in private, otherwise how could so much money be raised in the UK by extermist settler groups, as for the British media and policticans most of them are either Jewish or part of Zionist groups like the Friends of Israel.""'Friends of Israel' occupy every nook and cranny in the corridors of power. Have you noticed they now chair our Intelligence & Security Committee, our Defence Committee and our Foreign Affairs Committee? We are becoming Israel's obedient cur.""you will not read or hear of Palestinian suffering, because the people stealing their land and their supporters control the media.""In the US, jews make up just 2% of the population, but they control over 60% of the funding for the Democrat Party and over 30% of the funding for the Republican Party. Jews people are a real threat to our Democracy, it does not matter which policical party you vote for, those who hold the Purse strings are the ones in control."DEFAMATION OF JEWS AND THE JEWISH RELIGION:
"it is you people that hate, and it's not just Palestinians or Muslims, you hate all non-Jews because your crazy religious book tells you that all non-Jews are no better than beasts of burden... your Despicable 'holy' book tells you that you are allowed to kill the women and children of your enemies."FALSE ACCUSATIONS OF RAPE:
"Jews tortured, raped and murdered Palestinians. ...Jews are stealing torturing, raping, and murdering Palestinians."COMPARISONS WITH NAZISM:
"Call it like it is; numerous (just about all) GOVERMENTS of Israel have been FASCIST, RACIST, and APARTHEID and, indeed, have acted in every way like NAZIS."Many Jews and others would find the above offensive and anti-Semitic. One of the weapons employed by Israel's enemies is the charge that Israel's supporters throw accusations of anti-Semitism around in order to stifle debate or criticism of Israel.
So don't just take our word for it. Being a British title, we used the European Union's own Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, under which most of the above comments fell.
So why did The Independent's moderators not remove these comments?
COMMENT IS FREE... FOR ANTI-ISRAEL BIAS
A copy of a detailed report spotlighting anti-Semitism in The Guardian's Comment is Free blog site has been published on Zionism On the Web (pdf format).
Jonathan Hoffman, who authored the 57-page study, submitted his findings to the UK Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism and the US State Department's Office to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism.
Some highlights of Hoffman's study:
- The majority of writers commissioned by CiF view the Jewish character of Israel as undesirable or unimportant.
- The sheer volume of anti-Zionist commentary promotes anti-Semitic discourse.
- Victims of CiF's anti-Semitism are saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the posts and comments.
- The extent of the section's anti-Semitism contravenes The Guardian's own standards.
Read the report (pdf format) here.