Online Hate Prevention Institute Responds to Michael Brull

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Over the past week, New Matilda columnist Michael Brull has written two columns about the anti-racism group – here and here. It’s CEO, Dr Andre Oboler responds to the criticisms.

Michael Brull, an author at New Matilda, has been hard at work creating news. Not reporting it mind you, but creating it.

He appears to have made shutting down the Online Hate Prevention Institute his goal. Why New Matilda, a left leaning publication, would support an effort to dismantle a leading charity with a record for tackling racism against Indigenous Australians, the Muslim community, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of hate remains a mystery.

I don’t really follow New Matilda, but those who do, and who have supported it in the past have seen this as part of a downwards trend at the publication.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute began almost five years ago. It grew out of the project within the Zionist Federation of Australia for tackling online anti-Semitism. After two years of world class work on that topic, the decision was made to go independent and change the mandate.

The lessons from combating online anti-Semitism would now be applied to all forms of online hate. The new organisation would be a charity and restrain from political activity. As such the Online Hate Prevention Institute does not support any particular Australian political party nor do we support any particular country, ideology or religion.

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What we have done is some of the world’s leading work on a range of issues including both Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. Our Islamophobia work has been praised in a report to the Foreign Ministers of Muslims countries at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Our Anti-Semitism work was published by the Anti-Semitism Department of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Our work in general was praised by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations who we presented for at the United Nations in New York, as well as in two reports by UNESCO.

andre-oboler
CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, Dr Andre Oboler.

Mr Brull’s first article attacking the Online Hate Prevention Institute was titled “The Pro-Israel Agenda Of The Online Hate Prevention Institute”. The article had two main points of attack. The first was an attempt at a personal attack “exposing” me as someone who, like most Australian Jews, has some connection to Israel. It was generally focused on my community involvement and career prior to the creation of the Online Hate Prevention Institute.

The second point of attack focused on the definition of anti-Semitism which the Online Hate Prevention Institute uses. The definition is not one we created but is known as the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism”.

It was most recently adopted this past May by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an inter-governmental body representing 31 countries. I was pleased to be in the room when that occurred as part of the Australian delegation, thanks to an appointment by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The definition is also used by the likes of the US State Department, British police and plenty of others.

In discussion with Mr Brull on the Online Hate Prevention Institute’s Facebook page, it turned out his issue with the definition related to one of the examples it included. According to this example, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is anti-Semitic. The right to self-determination of peoples is a fundamental part of the charter of the United Nations and of international human rights law.

The right to self-determination does not mean countries can’t be criticized. The Working Definition of Anti-Semitism is clear that while anti-Semitic “manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”, “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” The problem only occurs when one goes beyond criticizing policy, or even borders, and insists a group of people who are governing themselves have no right to do so and their country should be dismantled.

In the case of Israel, a country resulting from the efforts of the Jewish liberation movement known as the Zionist Movement, the primary push for self-determination was a need for safety. Massacres and pogroms were a deep concern well before the horrors of the Holocaust.

Theodore Herzl opened the First Zionist Congress in 1897, the start of the Zionist Movement, with the words, “We are here to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation.”

There is plenty of room for debate about policies, borders and how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved. That resolution too looks likely to be based on the principle of self-determination, two countries for two peoples.

All of this, while interesting, is rather beside the point. Anti-Semitism is only one of the types of hate we deal with at the Online Hate Prevention Institute. Due to the current climate in Australia we do about as much on anti-Muslim hate as we do on anti-Jewish hate.

Within the anti-Jewish hate, content denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination is such a small part that in almost five years we have written about it just three times before and usually at the behest of someone taking issue with it. The vast majority of people recognize the problem, so it isn’t one that gets much traction on social media.

Despite the work of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, a record which any can see for themselves on our website, Mr Brull first described us as having a “pro-Israel agenda” and then in a later article, after being correct on this, described as a “Pro-Israel Group”. We went further by boldly highlighting his own Jewish faith and claiming I had labelled him an anti-Semite.

Unfortunately for Mr Brull, nowhere did I say he was an anti-Semite. What I’ve said is that given the Online Hate Prevention Institute’s sterling record across many forms of online hate, I can’t imagine he would have attacked the organization if it had Christian or Muslim CEO. I find that very sad.

A delegate reads the Koran at an anti-extremism conference. (IMAGE: AMISOM Public Information, Flickr)
A delegate reads the Koran at an anti-extremism conference. (IMAGE: AMISOM Public Information, Flickr)

I’m proud of the way the Online Hate Prevention Institute has brought people together, over 24,000 people with 80 per cent of them being Australians. They come from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. They often join us to support a particular community, but stay as they learn about the hate affecting other communities and the opportunity to work with the Online Hate Prevention Institute to make a difference.

I’ve personally thrown everything in to this work and I’m proud of what we achieved.

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As funding ran out and we let our staff go, I have been working full time, without pay, for over six months to keep the organization alive. I’ve been doing so while eating through my life savings and waiting to hear back on our applications for government grants.

The grant applications were unsuccessful and my personal savings are now just about gone. I need to start looking for another job, ideally one that pays well and isn’t focused on serving the public good.

I’ve been burned badly.

If enough people step forward with donations we can keep the Online Hate Prevention Institute alive, but it will be based on volunteers sharing the work. I’m willing to do as much as anyone as a volunteer, but I can’t shoulder the entire burden myself.

Mr Brull’s efforts to undermine the Online Hate Prevention Institute, misrepresent us, discourage people from supporting us, misleadingly claiming I labelled him an anti-Semite, and generally trying to push us over the brink to kill off all the good work we do for so many different communities, well, it’s just another example of the problems we face as a society.

Too many are far too quick to stereotype and attack others rather than judging people, or organizations, on their merits. Whether it’s for work tackling anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hate, racism against Indigenous Australians, misogyny, homophobia, or any of the other issues we have covered, there’s always someone willing to attack the people trying to do some good.

I’ve resisted those constant attacks for years. I can’t give any more than I have. I have already given far too much.

Mr Brull may well get what he wants, but without the Online Hate Prevention Institute many in our community will end up paying the price.

I hope he can be as proud of his contribution to making Australia a better a place as I am of mine.

Dr Andre Oboler is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute.

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Andre Oboler

Dr Andre Oboler is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute.

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