180 NGOs call on Elon Musk to adopt IHRA definition of antisemitism

Tesla CEO Elon Musk leaves Manhattan federal court after a hearing on his fraud settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in New York City, US, April 4, 2019.

Nearly 40 countries have already adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.

In a letter titled “Elon, Twitter has an antisemitism problem,” 180 civil rights groups from around the world called on Twitter’s Elon Musk to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism to fight the rampant Jew-hatred on the social media platform.

Close to 40 countries, including the US, already endorsed or adopted the IHRA definition. 

“To maximize the probability that the future is good, the world needs an online platform where everyone can participate,” the letter reads, “unfortunately, this is not the case, as Jewish users are subject to unrelenting harassment on Twitter.”

The groups believe that Twitter can implement technological solutions to curb antisemitism and serve as an example to other social media platforms. To do so, Twitter should utilize the IHRA working definition as a tool to define what consists of antisemitism.

Demonstrating the seriousness of Twitter’s antisemitism problem, the letter to Musk includes a dataset of more than a thousand examples of antisemitic tweets that fall under the IHRA definition. The joint letter also recommends a way for Twitter to flag antisemitic tweets while educating users about Jew-hatred.

Elon Musk and Twitter (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The definition describes various types of antisemitism, including justifying the killing of Jews in the name of radical ideology, Holocaust denial and denying the Jewish right to self-determination in Israel. The definition was adopted by more than 38 countries and by hundreds of educational institutions, local governmental bodies and international organizations.

The letter concludes by calling on Musk and Twitter “to rise to its commitment to be the modern town square... by fully adopting the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.”

What did the letter talk about?

One of the organizations that signed the letter is the International Legal Forum (ILF), a global network of lawyers and activists combating antisemitism in the legal arena.

The letter explained that as far back as 2018, the Anti-Defamation League had identified at least 4.2 million antisemitic tweets over a 12-month period. In a follow-up sample analysis by the ADL from August 2021, Twitter was found to have 25% more antisemitism on the platform than Reddit – with an initial removal rate of only 21% by Twitter of reported antisemitic content.

Furthermore, the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University found that between January and August 2020, 11% of conversations about Jews and 13% of conversations about Israel on Twitter were antisemitic in nature. Most recently, in July 2022, ADL reported a 5% removal rate of a data-sample reported directly to Twitter.

The letter reads, “Twitter’s guidelines should afford protection to Jewish Twitter users from antisemitic content and harassment. This is particularly urgent given the record-breaking spike in antisemitic incidents over the last three years.”

ILF CEO and human rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky said on Wednesday that at a time when antisemitism and incitement against Jews is so pervasive and unrelenting online, “it is incumbent upon social media platforms, such as Twitter, to show leadership and take immediate action to stamp this out.”

Uri Morad, the director of the department of International Law and public diplomacy at the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, said, “After the completion of the purchase transaction on October 27, 2022, the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk tweeted that, ‘The bird is freed,” while informing the world of his intention to transform the largest social media platform in modern history, into one where absolutism of freedom of expression is practiced.”

According to Morad, “since Musk began to work to expand the parameters of freedom of expression for Twitter, during the first week since the purchase, Twitter became a fertile ground for the spread of hate speech, racism and antisemitism, on a scale that we have not yet known.”

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