Day Two, November 9 - A Timely Conference on Online Hate and Antisemitism
One of the main purposes of my trip was a conference on online hate and antisemitism. The conference was fittingly held on November 9, a date marking a dark chapter in history with Kristallnacht, the day that a large anti-Jewish pogrom occurred in Nazi Germany. The conference presented original research being conducted at Touro Berlin regarding online hate and antisemitism.
The conference was attended by Dr. Marco Buschmann, the Federal German Minister of Justice (the U.S. equivalent of the attorney general), as well as Dr. Felix Klein, the German Commissioner for Antisemitism. Both ministers spoke eloquently and emphatically about Germany’s obligation to the State of Israel and to the Jewish community. They decried the antisemitism in Germany, and expressed their reactions of horror at some of the statements that were being made by some people in the country. They also discussed possible new legislation to protect the Jewish community in Germany.
Dr. Buschman shared “joyful acknowledgment of the amazing work of Touro University in Berlin over the last 20 years… Rooted in Jewish tradition, built on Jewish values, that is Touro University’s motto. The message it represents is not one of exclusion but of welcome. The Jewish values it invokes are in fact, as this University so clearly demonstrates, universal values. Touro’s Master of Arts in Holocaust Communication and Tolerance is a vital program. Just how vital has been painfully brought home to us in recent weeks…”
“In light of recent weeks and today's world, we in Germany are more likely to think of the pogrom of the 9th of November 1938 than the birth of Germany’s first democracy, the Weimar Republic, or the day of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The events of the 7th of October shook us to our core. The atrocities committed by Hamas…are among the most heinous crimes against humanity. The impact they have had on Israel and on Jews everywhere is beyond measure,” continued Dr. Buschmann.
Some of the original research presented focused on how to respond to online hate speech, and the psychological impact of online speech on a diverse group of students and volunteers. This is extraordinarily important in trying to define better ways to detect subtle and overt online antisemitism and racism, and to develop strategies to counter it with words and collective action.
While commemorating a tragic event—and taking place in the middle of an outbreak of antisemitism, increased hate against a variety of groups, and two major wars in the world—the conference demonstrated how the leadership of Touro Berlin, its students, collaboration, research and the German government can stand up for respectful, open discussion to combat antisemitism, racism and hate speech. I spoke about what is happening on college campuses across the United States and offered some potential solutions to the rise in religious and racial-based attacks, and strife on campus.