Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Religion

Q&A: ‘Internet Should Not Build Firewalls of Hate’

Catherine Makino interviews rights activist Rabbi Abraham Cooper

TOKYO, Feb 3 2009 (IPS) - Rabbi Abraham Cooper, one of the world’s leading human rights activists, is often heard on the subject of hate. He is an international authority on issues related to digital hate over the Internet.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper  Credit: Catherine Makino/IPS

Rabbi Abraham Cooper Credit: Catherine Makino/IPS

As associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a leading Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights organisation that he helped found in 1977, the Rabbi oversees the ‘Task Force Against Hate’.

IPS correspondent Catherine Makino spoke with Rabbi Cooper while he was in Japan this week to have meetings on North Korean human rights and assist relatives of citizens kidnapped from Japan by North Korean agents during the cold war years.

IPS: What is your mission in Japan? Rabbi Cooper: My main purpose is to confer with government officials, political figures and NGOs to discuss ways to further the cause of North Korean human rights and assist relatives of the abductees.

IPS: What is the North Korea Freedom coalition and what are its goals? RC: The coalition is a reflection of the deep concern many Americans have for the long sufferings of the North Korean people and related human rights issues.


IPS: You mentioned you would like to set up a symbolic tribunal regarding North Korea. What was the response to it and what would be its purpose? RC: The concept of a tribunal on North Korean Human Rights was inspired by a similar international gathering in 1981 in Stockholm, Sweden, to draw attention to the achievements and tragedy of holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg.

Eyewitness to Wallenberg’s heroism and testimony from people who saw him in Soviet Gulag were presented before major human rights figures who flew in from around the world. The resulting media coverage helped raise international awareness about this great man that otherwise would have been impossible.

The idea of convening such a gathering on North Korea would help get international attention to the basket of human rights issues and hopefully spur a more unified approach to pressuring North Korea to be responsive on these humanitarian concerns. Of course the Japanese abductees issue would play a prominent role, with an opportunity to educate world public opinion on their tragic suffering.

Such a tribunal could only happen with the support of people, foundations and government of Japan. We will be speaking with a wide spectrum of NGOs and experts to see if such an undertaking will actually take place later in 2009.

IPS: The abductees issue in Japan has become political as well as controversial and is supported by right wing groups. There are more people in South Korea who were abducted by North Korea, but instead you chose Japanese abductees. RC: As far as we are concerned we do not see the suffering of the abductees or their families as political footballs but as humanitarian issues that demand the civilised world’s attention and support. Any gathering would give equal voice to all who fit the tragic category whatever their nationality.

However, Japan is one of the nations involved in the six-party discussions and I believe could be doing more in helping address the overall human rights issues as they relate to North Korea. So examining if Tokyo could be the venue is a worthwhile undertaking. Having Japan signal its non-partisan support for the suffering of the North Korean people would certainly further encourage Washington and Seoul.

IPS: Did the abductee’s families and their supporters sponsor your trip to Japan? RC: No, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre sponsored my visit

IPS: What would you like the International Red Cross do regarding Korea? RC: The International Red Cross (IRC), by its own admission, completely failed to protect European Jewry as it was decimated by the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany during World War II. In 2009, the IRC should formally and consistently request visit to camps in North Korea, to compile a list of the inmates and help identify and gain the release of family members guilty of no other crime than their loved one’s arrest. It may be a long road, but it’s a process long overdue.

IPS: The North Korea Freedom Coalition has sent Secretary [Hillary] Clinton a letter in which you asked her to meet with the Japanese abductees families. Can you tell us a little more about that and if you think she will meet with them? RC: Secretary Clinton is in a unique position to signal the new administration’s commitment to the North Korea human rights issues by meeting with families of the abductees. Such a meeting puts a human face on an issue that has not yet resonated with the American public to the extent it needs to. It’s too early to tell but we will certainly try our best and she is knowledgeable about their plight.

IPS: What do you think of the Clinton and Bush administrations’ policies of dealing with North Korea. RC: Well intentioned with a primary goal of containing the nuclear issue. Judging by where we are today, they both failed. This proves that North Korea actually needs more, not less, attention by the new administration – from nuclear to human rights…

IPS: Do you think President Obama will be more active on human rights? RC: Yes, and it seems the Obama administration will look for ways to working more closely in tandem with other nations and international organisations.

IPS: As one of the leading international authorities on issues related to digital hate and in the Internet, have you seen a spike in hate toward the Jewish people? If so, why? RC: The first hate site appeared in 1995. Today there are more than 10,000 with the viral nature of 2.0 technologies empowering terror and hate groups in ways never imaginable just a few short years ago.

Internet technologies have also served as incubators for outlandish and insidious conspiracy theories. It is also becoming more and more difficult for authorities to track or trace dangerous communications online.

And now governments like Iran and supporters of controversial leaders like Hugo Chavez harness the Internet to mainstream anti-Jewish and virulent anti-Israel hatred, which inevitably spawns or justifies violence and threats against Jews. We are preparing our new report for 2009 that will show how ‘FACEBOOK’ and ‘YOUTUBE’ are being used by extremists.

As for the current spike in anti-Jewish hate and violence…it is traceable to the Gaza war where protestors against Israeli actions too often and too enthusiastically have embraced Hamas’ agenda as the main Palestinian narrative. No surprise then calls for Jews to the ovens!

IPS: What is the message you would like to give our readers. RC: In this Internet age we should use the technologies available to us to break down barriers and intolerance… Not build new firewalls for hate and portals for terror. Invite people to look at our websites www.wiesenthal.com and for Muslims to go to www.askmusa.org

 
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