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Advocacy Corner

October 25, 2007
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With growing anti-Semitism in Europe and in North America, the Jewish and pro-Israel communities are facing new challenges. Books like The Israel Lobby by academicians Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer add significant fuel to the fire in terms of the U.S.-Israeli alliance and force us to take a more direct approach when we evaluate the facts.

Recently, we have been forced to deal with another challenge as bias goes online. A new Web site titled "JewWatch" (www. jewwatch.com) is a platform for anti-Semitic writings and conspiracy theories, where the protocols of the elders of Zion come to life.

The site is owned and maintained by Frank Weltner, a member of the white nationalist and white separatist organization National Alliance. Weltner does not try to hide his racist views.

That should have given people a hint as to the credibility of the site. We could have dismissed it as a fringe act by a self-proclaimed racist had it not been for the fact that a Google search brings up this site as the first hit when the word "Jew" is typed in.

Steven Weinstock, a New York real estate investor, was the first to bring this to the public eye and started the petition asking Google to remove the site from its index. Since then, it has been circulated throughout thousands of ListServs worldwide.

David Krane, Google's spokesman, said in response to Weinstock's petition that the company's search results are determined by a complex set of algorithms that measure factors such as how many sites link to a given page. They can't and they won't change the ranking for Jew Watch, regardless of how many signatures the petition attracts, since "our search results are not manipulated by hand. We're not able to make any manual changes to the results."

Furthermore, Krane said that the rankings for Jew Watch are largely based on alternating vocabulary patterns.

The word "Jew" has been used less frequently since World War II, and has been replaced by less culturally loaded terms, such as "Jewish person."

Thus, any Google search for "Jewish," "Jewish person" and "Jewish people" are all topped by pro-Jewish sites.

Google president Sergey Brin apologized to users who found search results for the word "Jew" upsetting and promised to work toward a solution.

Ira Saligman, a local philanthropist and activist who's been following this story closely, expressed a challenge to the community, saying that he's frustrated by the fact that "it is hard to decide what is worse -- knowing that such sites exist or not knowing how to combat them."

The biggest fear, he added, is that the site will become a credible source of information when it comes to Jewish issues.

History Repeats Itself
"Combating anti-Semitism requires a lot of education and if, indeed, Google's ultimate goal as the No. 1 search engine is to be an educational tool to the public, they bear the responsibility of acting with prudence when it comes to issues like anti-Semitism," said Ira M. Schwartz, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Joseph Goebbels, who headed the Nazi propaganda machine, was the one who implemented the theory of the big lie -- that if you tell an outrageous lie enough times, then people will begin to see it as truth.

History does repeat itself, and Hitler's hatred from the 1930s is once again being spread in the Arab world, specifically in Iran, and by terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Who knows how many people might have been affected by the Nazis had they had access to the Internet? Since the computer is so ubiquitous in contemporary society, the ramifications of anti-Semitic sites are even more frightening today.

Asaf Romirowsky is manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

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