Night at the Museum in Silicon Valley to spotlight Anti-Semitism and the Internet

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What is the relationship between anti-Semitism and the Internet?

Is there something new about anti-Semitism today or is it just a continuation of old images and fears?

How do social media platforms create environments for the viral spread of global anti-Semitism?

Does the Internet deepen the conspiracies that lie behind anti-Semitism?

And how can members of the tech community harness new technologies against such hatred?

On Thursday, May 9, The Humanities Institute and the Center for Jewish Studies will present UC Santa Cruz Night at the Museum: Anti-Semitism & the Internet—Old Hatred and New, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, beginning at 7 p.m.

The evening will feature a conversation about these questions and more with UC Santa Cruz professor of history Nathaniel Deutsch and Rachel Deblinger, founding director of the Digital Scholarship Commons at UC Santa Cruz.

Professor Deutsch is also the director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz. He explained the origins of anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism has been called the world's oldest hatred because it is grounded in much earlier forms of anti-Judaism that demonized Jews--sometimes literally--on religious grounds,” Deutch noted.

“Modern anti-Semitism, however, really originates in the 19th century and is made possible by a number of factors--most importantly, the emergence of race theory and the racialization of Jews; the dual emergence of modern capitalism and communism, for which the Jews are blamed; and the rise of modernity itself, for which the Jews are blamed as well.”  

Deutsch added that many of the anti-Semitic images and ideas that circulate on the Web today have been around for decades, if not centuries, but have now been given a second life on the Internet.

“The Internet has the potential to amplify certain key aspects of anti-Semitism, most notably, the idea that Jews are engaged in a conspiracy to gain power and control,” said Deutsch. “It is well documented at this point that the Internet is both fertile ground and a powerful instrument for generating and disseminating conspiracies, including anti-Semitic ones.”

“The Internet also enables anti-Semites to communicate with one another, create new anti-Semitic memes and adapt older ones, spread hate virally, feel a sense of community with like-minded individuals around the globe, and be exposed to a great deal of misinformation that reinforces or even initiates their anti-Semitic thinking,” he added.

Deutsch observed that in recent years, social media platforms have helped to create new forms of anti-Jewish hatred, as well as to magnify age-old propaganda and conspiracy theories, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and pass them on to a new and wider audience

“One of my main concerns is that through clicking on links and belonging to certain social media networks, individuals--especially children and young adults who don't even know what anti-Semitism is--may become exposed to it and may not be in a position to counter the false claims they've inadvertently come across,” said Deutsch.

“That's why it's so important for websites that have accurate information about the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism to exist and provide an alternative in the virtual landscape.” 

Anti-Semitism has additionally been linked to the recent rise of white nationalism and intensely partisan politics around the world. Many believe that the new populist leaders in such places as the U.S. and Europe are helping to “legitimize” all forms of hatred.

“Historically, there have been many connections between different kinds of hatred, especially those grounded in racial—and racist—distinctions and hierarchies,” said Deutsch. “For example, it is well known that the Nazis committed genocide against Jews and Roma on racial grounds, but much less known that they also persecuted Afro-Germans and African prisoners of war for the same reason. In general, contemporary white nationalism has strong links to anti-Semitism, though not all white nationalists identify as such, and not all forms of ‘populism’ are anti-Semitic.”

There are a number of actions that can be taken to combat the rise of anti-Semitism. But Deutch noted that he thought it was very important for scholars of anti-Semitism to work closely with members of the tech community to fight against it and related forms of hatred toward others. 

“I do know that whatever approach is taken, it has to include a deep knowledge of the history of anti-Semitism and not just information about its current manifestations,” said Deutsch. “As an educator, I try to teach students, community members, and others how anti-Semitism works in a structural sense, in addition to helping them to identify instances of the phenomenon and its impacts.”

“UC Santa Cruz is ideally situated to lead the conversation on this topic because of our geographic proximity to Silicon Valley, our tradition of thinking outside the box, and our strong and digitally savvy Jewish Studies Program,” Deutsch added.

This event is presented as part of the The Humanities Institute’s Data and Democracy initiative, a project of the Expanding Humanities, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Deutsch and Deblinger are co-directors of the Digital Jewish Studies Initiative at UC Santa Cruz. 


The Humanities Institute and the Center for Jewish Studies will present UC Santa Cruz Night at the Museum: Anti-Semitism & the Internet—Old Hatred and New on Thursday, May 9, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View (1401 N Shoreline Blvd), beginning at 7 p.m. Admission is free with RSVP and open to the public. For more information, contact or call (831) 459-1274.