by Joshua Bonfante, UGEI Vice President
New year, new projects, and who would have expected that the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) would be suing Twitter! Full details have yet to be disclosed as we patiently wait for the social media company to accept the lawsuit, but this is already in the history books.
UGEI Vice President Joshua Bonfante has had the honour to get an exclusive interview for HaTikwa with the current EUJS President Avital Grinberg, on this monumental moment in European Jewish life.
Firstly, what does this lawsuit mean for EUJS as an organisation?
EUJS has used so many different forms of activism and advocacy in the past and for us this lawsuit also means expressing another form of it, showing how to use one of the highest tools of democracy: the law. Also we are of course dreaming big with this lawsuit. The actual goal is to make this relevant to every Jewish student in Europe, knowing that activism has limits unfortunately and there is potential in actual change. We want to be a part of this change: changing the law and the space we, as young people, use the most, and that’s the online space.
We can’t deny the fact that nowadays the biggest space where decisions are being made or discussed, is online. EUJS wants to be relevant to this space, that’s the goal for us.
Of course the Union has also an incredibly rich history of so many crazy actions, like getting people out of the Iron Curtain and I think that our task is to, on a regular basis, top our own history and to excel time and time again.
We also need to know where we can most be of influence and where we can most help. For us this is a beginning, the idea is to set the stone for it and then see where it goes. If EUJS in a couple of years wants to sue the next platform or wants to use the same structure for something completely different, then we know that we built a very solid ground for it.
What impact do you wish to have on Jewish students worldwide? From the active member of a community, to the activist in a big country, to a young Jew who’s not really involved with any student Union.
The impact I wish for is that any Jew, wherever in Europe, knows that there is someone fighting for them on a daily basis, that has their back and that embraces their living reality and choices. We wish for EUJS to have relevance to them.
We can’t lie to ourselves, the 300 people who are going to Summer U are not equal to the 160.000 that EUJS aims to represent, and we must be very aware of this. The question of representation is an ongoing topic. Even if a person isn’t directly involved in our organisation, that’s totally fine as long as this person benefits from our work in some way.
UGEI, as every Union, is an example of this. The fact that someone like David (UGEI President) can meet Milena Santerini (ex National Coordinator for the fight against anti-semitism in Italy) and meet with all of these decision-makers, having them question things and think about our the local Jewish life is super important, and ultimately that’s what Union advocacy is.
Has the lawsuit had the media outreach you had hoped for? After you finish planning these strategies for months and months, the question about the numbers becomes a natural worry.
It had a very different outreach than what I expected. We ended up being in over 80 media outlets, which is insane. From BBC to Euronews, all of these different players were onto it. To be honest I expected the German media to pick up on it a bit more, but I was pleasantly surprised by the European and International media coverage.
Naturally, though, some things were amazing and some other things were not so amazing. We also ended up on far-right websites, depicting a type of “here is the Jewish power” vibe, but this is simply something that comes with visibility.
In the end we were very happy with the quantity and the quality of the coverage, for sure. Now, do you want to end up on some Norwegian far-right blog? Not really, but it’s ok, because we were prepared for it. We knew that we were going to expose ourselves to trolls, hackers and all kinds of haters, so we were aware of that.
We are very grateful for it all though. The support from Jewish student Unions has been great too. For them all to understand that this is big, even though it started in Germany, and that there is profit for every young European Jew, shows us that EUJS is going in the right direction.
What I thought was interesting at first was your partner in this. I have been wondering: who are HateAid and why did youchoose them? How did the partnership start?
HateAid is a legal justice organisation which is 4 years old, they started out in Germany and are now also working in the EU bubble and have an office in Brussels. I knew about them through my background in Germany for a while already, as they have been handling amazing big cases especially involving victim support.
They had this vague idea of doing something about hate speech and it was really not tangible yet and actually it was my pre-pre-predecessor Benny Fischer who did a sort of “Shidduch” between us and them. Their idea was to build a case tackling online hate and questioning the Terms & Conditions, but they were missing a narrative and that’s where we found each other. So this is how this type of “love story” happened.
Numbers say that anti-semitism is one of the biggest forms of hate online and consequently, as 99% of young people actually are online, the highest victim group are young Jews, whom we represent.
Since the news broke out, many have been asking the same question: why Twitter specifically? Why not Facebook or Instagram?
Basically it comes down to what platform do we want to start with to set the legal precedent. So we looked at where the highest chances to win were and what was, in terms of their structure, the best way to proceed. We then decided on Twitter for several reasons: firstly, Twitter is the space with the biggest decision-makers being active, we see it’s the place where media, politicians and activists are being united, which is not the case for the other platforms.
Whether we like it or not, Twitter is shaping the public discourse, especially on politics, in the strongest and quickest way, and at the same time you also have such a huge amount of extremists and unstable people on there. Twitter profits from people with extreme views and large engagement, the platform doesn’t care about the average person who will tweet about having pasta for lunch.
The second reason is very technical and regards their own Terms & Conditions. Their T&Cs are a lot more explicit than the ones of Meta. They say very explicitly that they don’t want people to be denying of glorifying any Genocide, including the Shoah, and that’s a lot more tangible that Facebook just saying “oh let’s just have a safe space for all”.
Meta, apart from Facebook, also has Whatsapp and Instagram, while TikTok is not exactly a discourse place, it’s more of an output place, so you don’t actually see many real debates there.
When are we to expect the next steps of the lawsuit?
In the next few weeks we expect Twitter to accept the lawsuit, because they have to, and with this the details then become public. It will then be accepted and simultaneously approved by the Court. We think the first hearing might be during Summer, maybe before or right after the break (June-August) and hopefully the first decision might be made before the end of the year.
It will be a matter of a few years overall, but we hope for it to start rolling very soon.
Organo ufficiale di stampa dell’Unione Giovani Ebrei d’Italia. Fondato nel 1949, dal 2010 è una testata online e inserto mensile di Pagine Ebraiche.