Interview With Longtime Activist Rabbi Abraham Cooper

By Jodi Truglio — March 31, 2016

“That despite being the greatest country in the world, prejudice, anti-Semitism, and hatred are still major factors in our society. African Americans are the #1 target of race-based hate crimes and Jews are #1 on religion-based hate crimes. Ignorance, negative stereotypes and Scapegoating remain major obstacles in the struggle against hate,”said Rabbi Abraham Cooper associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Born in New York in 1950, Rabbi Cooper has been a longtime activist for Jewish and human rights causes, testifying before the United Nations (where the Center is an official NGO) in New York and Geneva. He has presented testimony at the US Senate, the Japanese Diet, the French Parliament, the OSCE and is a founding member of Israel’s Global Forum on Antisemitism.

As associate dean, he leads the Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project and supervised the Center’s entry into the digital age. He has also directed the research and production of the Interactive Learning Center on the Holocaust and World War II for the Museum of Tolerance.

Recently, Rabbi Cooper was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the Digital Terrorism and Hate Project for Global Looking Glass.

 

imageCan you explain what the Digital Terrorism and Hate Project are?

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is an international Jewish Human Rights NGO. The Museum of Tolerance is our educational arm. I started the Digital Terrorism and Hate Project 21 years ago, when we saw that extremists in the United States were attracted to the fledgling Internet. On September 11th, 2001, we expanded our focus to include how terrorists utilize the Internet.”

Can you give some examples of what Digital Hate is and what are some disturbing trends you have noticed?

Hate is hate. Bigots, racists, anti-Semites, etc. came to quickly understand that there is no fact-checker on the Internet, no power to respond to Websites designed to denigrate your enemy, along racist, religious, or ideological lines. Further, conspiracy theories were repackaged to look like serious scholarship and we soon saw websites that alleged slavery was good for Blacks and no Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Since your program launched what are some strides it has made against digital terrorism?

The most important development is the growing awareness by important social media companies, led by Facebook that they have an obligation to allow their powerful platforms to be co-opted by ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups…

Why is it important for people to care about Digital Terrorism if it doesn’t directly affect them?

Let’s remember that the Internet is the most powerful communications and market tool in the history of our world. Ideas have always transcended borders but now there is the instantaneous ability to reach virtually anyone around the world. While most people weren’t concerned about or even aware of was the fact that online Islamaist Magazines were promoting terrorism. When two brothers downloaded information as to how to make a pressure cooker into a bomb and detonated it at the Boston Marathon, we were given a brutal lesson that what goes on online can impact us all.

How proactive are Facebook and Twitter when it comes to imageremoving pro-terrorist and hate postings?

Facebook has the highest grade because they have teams on three continents looking at problematic materials every day and they have been committed to bar terrorists from using their pages. Twitter took a long time to wake up their responsibilities but are now on the right track about terrorists. However, they haven’t done anything about hate hashtags and postings by bigots…

What are some of the biggest human rights issues today?

The most important human right is the right to be alive. That right is under assault globally by terrorists who have no respect for human life or values of compassion and mutual respect. Terrorism and everything they stand for must be fought against by decent people everywhere. In our day to day lives, we are also challenged to respect the human rights of people whose values and orientation may differ dramatically. Another significant issue, is the erosion of privacy. It is not only the intrusion of technology and government, but our culture seems to revel in exposing every action, every statement, even if they were made in confidence.

Can you tell me a little bit about the Museum of Tolerance?

It is a unique, high-tech, experiential museum, designed to confront our prejudices and encourage critical thinking and personal responsibility. We deal with American Social History, global human rights and of course, a major presentation on the Nazi Holocaust. We opened in 2003 and have welcomed some 7 million visitors to the MOT in Los Angeles. We have specialized programs for law enforcement (Tools for Tolerance), having trained over 130,000 front line officers. We have a facility in New York and our Museum of Tolerance, Jerusalem, will open in 2017.

If you can say something on Twitter that everyone can read what would your message be?

Say No To Hate… If you see something hateful, say something…

 

Image Courtesy: The Simon Wiesenthal Center

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