Anti-Semitism knows no bounds as high-tech fuels online hate

By Megan Naftali

Part one in a series on Long Island hate crimes.

The Jewish community is no stranger to hate crimes. Over many centuries, Jews have been subjected to physical attacks, vandalism and hate speech, but with the rise of new technology, new ways of spreading hate are also ticking up.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many social, professional and even religious gatherings were moved online through video conferencing platforms, with the most prominent video platform being Zoom. Jewish organizations on Long Island experienced Zoom bombings, in which people would hack into Zoom rooms and commit anti-Semitic acts.

Eric Post, left, the Long Island regional director at the American Jewish Committee, at Hofstra University giving a talk on anti-Semitism in the United States, including on Long Island. // Photo by Megan Naftali/Long Island Advocate.

“There is no question: Anti-Semitism on Long Island, in the United States and in the world is growing,” said Mindy Perlmutter, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island, one of the Island’s main Jewish organizations. “We do see that in person. I will say we see less of that face-to-face physical violence at this moment, but we do see it growing, and we do see it online.”

Temple Chaverim in Plainview, the Woodbury Jewish Center and North Shore Hebrew Academy elementary school were subjected to Zoom bombings, according to knowledgable sources. Temple Chaverim and the Woodbury Jewish center declined comment, and NSHA denied having been Zoom-bombed.

“Before Zoom bombings occurred, students were able to to just join Zoom rooms, and after they occurred, security measures were put in place, such as adding waiting rooms for teachers to admit students they know,” according to an NSHA employee, who wished to remain anonymous.

Jewish schools on Long Island have had more Zoom bombings than have synagogues and temples, which have reported a handful of incidents, according to the Nassau County Police Department’s Public Information Office.

“I think it really hits home for the Jewish community when you can’t pray,” said Eric Post, the Long Island regional director at the American Jewish Committee. Unlike the mass shooting at the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh in 2018, “Zoom bombing is not violent, in a way, but it’s the same example where the freedom of religion to pray openly, to congregate freely, is being interrupted in our country.”

JCRC-LI has a combined initiative with UJA Federation New York, called the Community Security Initiative Program, which helps Jewish organizations with security for their webinars and Zoom programs, Perlmutter said.

“In order to make a facility safe, we are supplying them with knowledge, protocols, procedures and training,” said Liron Filiby, the CSI Long Island security manager at JCRC-LI. “We are conducting risk assessments to identify the possibility of a threat, and we come up with safety and security measures to [combat] those threats.”

The CSI program has cybersecurity experts who teach facilities managers how to avoid being hacked and provide them with guidance and tools to protect themselves better, according to Filiby. He also noted there is not a clear picture of how many Zoom bombings have occurred.

“Let’s say the Zoom has been hacked,” Filiby said, “or let’s say somebody put something in the chat, or let’s say you know there was a Zoom bombing. If an institute will report to us, we will know about it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, so you have to know that nobody has the real picture.”

Others have heard of only a few occurrences of Zoom bombings.

“I think that Zoom bombing is certainly one of the main issues,” Post said. “I have not heard of [Zoom bombings] on more than three or four occasions. I have not heard it mentioned, but believe me, organizations like AJC take every precaution.”

“I’m sure there were other cases that were not reported,” Filiby said. “Who would report a Zoom bombing?”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning in March 2020 against Zoom bombings.

Hofstra students attended Post’s presentation on anti-Semitism on Dec. 2, sponsored by Hillel and the American Jewish Committee. // Photo by Megan Naftali/Long Island Advocate.

“As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing platforms to stay connected in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking (also called ‘Zoom bombing’) are emerging nationwide,” according to the FBI. “The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.”

Last year, North Shore Hebrew Academy High School’s website was hacked with anti-Semitic messages and references to the Holocaust. The school declined to comment, and the FBI stated the matter is still under investigation.

“Obviously [NSHA High School] had a major breach,” Perlmutter said, “and problem within their computer system, and JCRC-LI was one of the [organizations] that did reach out to them to see if they needed any assistance, but these are things that we are seeing with the Internet, or online or the issues that we are dealing with right now.”

A survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League showed that 41 percent of Americans who answered the survey had experienced online harassment in the last 12 months.

“I can post something,” Perlmutter said, “and no one knows it comes from me, and I can post horrible things and stay anonymous in some respect. These are bullies who are coming out on social media because it is a great way they can hide and get out ugliness.”

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The Long Island Advocate is a multimedia news organization at Hofstra University’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication where students gain valuable real-world experience producing news and features for online platforms. We have partnered with Garden City-based LIHerald.com.

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