Opinion | Online stoking of anti-Semitism becomes China’s new tool against the West

Since the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, the amount and toxicity of anti-Semitic content on China’s tightly controlled internet, especially social media, has skyrocketed. This unprecedented surge in online anti-Semitism in China is only possible with the blessing of the Chinese government, which appears to use anti-Semitic hatred as a tool for anti-American and anti-Western diplomacy.

Videos related to the Israel-Gaza war on Weibo, China’s largest video-sharing platform, are filled with comments comparing Jews to Nazis. The state media spread conspiracy theories Online statements about the American Jewish community include ideas that a small number of Jewish Americans control most of the power and wealth in the United States. False statistics along these lines, originally posted by state broadcaster China Central Television on October 10, have spread online and become a “hot topic” trending on Weibo.

Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, and anti-Semitism existed in China even before October 7th. However, Chinese authorities are fanning the flames of anti-Semitic hatred online through their internet censorship system and state media. The US government is now beginning to publicly push back against China’s promotion of anti-Semitism.

“What we saw after October 7 was a dramatic change in social media within China. Anti-Semitism became freer and flowed more freely.” Aaron Keyak, the State Department’s deputy special envoy for monitoring and combating Judaism, told me in an interview. “And we know that China’s internet is not free, so it’s a conscious decision by the Chinese government to allow that kind of rhetoric to increase significantly.”

The Chinese government denies promoting or condoning online anti-Semitism. When Keyak gave an interview in Brazil last month, accusing China of using anti-Semitism as a tool for anti-American diplomacy, the local Chinese embassy loudly protested. But mounting evidence shows that anti-Semitism is surging on China’s internet, where opinions are not allowed to be disseminated without government approval.

“This wasn’t some kind of upsurge, it was a tsunami of anti-Semitic rhetoric that was allowed to spread on Chinese social media,” Keyak said. “This rapid increase since the outbreak in China on October 7th did not occur by chance.”

After all, China is far more engaged in what its citizens post and read online than the United States we are used to. Freedom House reports that China has “the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship apparatus” and internet platforms carry out strict monitoring and removal of content or face severe penalties. Furthermore, when the government expresses support for a particular opinion or speech, Chinese internet users know that promoting that line will bring influence and profit.

“The government has created an environment in which anti-Semitic content can easily spread,” Yaqiu Wang, Freedom House’s research director for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, told me. “And people know that if they amplify what the government says, they’re safe. And the more nationalistic they become, the more clicks they get.”

Pro-Hamas and anti-Israel content is also increasing on the Chinese internet. Chinese high-tech companies, operating under the strict direction of Chinese government censors, have played a major role. Chinese internet search giants Baidu and Alibaba actually went so far as to temporarily erase the country of Israel from their maps.

Part of this stems from the largely pro-Palestinian position of the Chinese government since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war. The Chinese government has a long-standing relationship with Palestinian organizations and views the Palestinian issue within the context of an overall anti-Western, anti-imperialist worldview. But China does not have a long history of anti-Semitism or targeting Jews as a national policy, as Russia does.

“At this point, it’s very dangerous to be pro-Israel within China without facing some kind of punishment. That’s the environment,” former State Department official Miles Yu said in testimony before the Chinese Communist Party’s Select Committee last month. Stated. “The reason China has chosen this time to take such a staunchly anti-Israel stance is because China considers Israel to be a close ally of the West.”

However, the Chinese government’s promotion of anti-Semitism is not limited to Middle East policy. By invoking the old conspiracy theory that Western democracies are secretly run by a small cabal of Jews rather than legitimate elections, Beijing convinces domestic audiences that the Chinese system is superior. I’m trying to make it happen.

It is clear that these policies distort the news and create resentment among people within China. But hateful content from China doesn’t stop within China. The reach of Beijing’s state media and propaganda extends around the world, and sowing distrust of Western democracies has become a core part of China’s international diplomacy.

“They see promoting anti-Semitism as a way to advance the national interest,” Keyak said. “And that’s a problem for America, and it’s a problem for anyone who cares about the well-being of Jews anywhere, because it’s pervasive.”

A great way to combat bad information is to leverage good information. The State Department has made public much of what it knows about Russia’s use of anti-Semitism as a diplomatic and propaganda tool. We should do the same with China. And leaders in Beijing must be made clear that China’s policy of fomenting anti-Semitism is not only harmful to Jews, but a dangerous manipulation of its own people.

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