The answer to hate speech is...
I've been moved to comment on the ongoing efforts to counter JewWatch, an anti-Semitic site which found itself at the top of the Google listings for the search term "Jew," largely to highlight a larger issue. On the one hand, there is the approach of Steven Weinstock, who Steven Weiss at Protocols charitably refers to as a "jackass." He's leading the charge to have the offensive site removed from Google's listings entirely, creating an online petition to accomplish his goal. Predictably, his only success has been generating media coverage for himself. JewWatch remains near the top (if not at the top, depending) of Google's listing.
However, parallel efforts to confront the JewWatch listing have been far more successful by taking an altogether different approach. Daniel Sieradski (aka Mobius) of Jewschool fame, has spearheaded "Jooglebomb," the use of mass blogging to put a legitimate encyclopedia reference to the Jewish people ahead of JewWatch on the Google listing.
The difference is stark. Weinstock has put forth a position that says the best response to hate speech is to silence it, to remove the offensive speech from the public sphere. If Weiss' description of the man is any guide, he's likely looking for an alternative goal of getting his own 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Sieradski has put forth a contrary ideological position, that the best approach to hate speech is essentially more speech. It's an old argument, but it's a valuable one to revisit here, because it applies to the Jewish community's ongoing approach to anti-Semitism and Islamic terrorism.
Weinstock's approach is one of closure. It is to delegitimize the opposing viewpoint and crusade (a word I use purposefully) for its elimination even from public sight. When it comes to anti-Semitic hate speech, delegitimization is not a stretch. Anti-Semitism is illegitimate, but it is the height of arrogance to say that only the truly vile would dare to believe it. It is to blind ourselves, and proclaim ourselves superior, to ignore the ignorance of anti-Semitism's spread. The ostensible arrogance and love of the spotlight Weiss alludes to in the case of Weinstock then makes some sense.
Sieradski's approach, on the other hand, is one of engagement. It is to recognize the need to confront hate speech, rather than silence it. It is to recognize that eliminating public expression of a thing is not to eliminate that thing, but rather to make it harder to detect and deter. It also requires a certain willingness to explain why something is illegitimate, to never succumb to the argument that to grant a debate is to grant legitimacy. It should be no surprise that Sieradski's approach has prevailed. He's made no effort to silence JewWatch, only to counter it with legitimate facts and make more accessible opposing information to the anti-Semitism of JewWatch.
In the larger context, the approach of engagement is failing less and less among the Jewish community. In the face of anti-Semitism we fall back on useless explanations and refuse to address people who embrace anti-Semitic rhetoric, refuse to ask them why they feel this way, and then refuse to directly debate them in a manner designed to show them the error of their ways. Instead, we close them out, ridicule and demonize them. Since much of the rising anti-Semitism of recent years has been linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is all too easy to let this politicized closure prevail and to use it to browbeat those critics of Israel (for example) who are not anti-Semitic with that label.
In short, only by recognizing the need to rely on real argument, to give legitimacy to the voice of all even those who express illegitimate and hateful arguments, can we begin to beat back the darkness with the light. Blinding ourselves, and attempting to silence others, only breeds greater darkness.