ATHENS—Antisemitic hate crimes are soaring in New York City, and Mayor Eric Adams is proposing legally-enforced federal regulations to cut hate speech and antisemitism on social media platforms.
Adams told The Daily Beast—during interviews in New York this week and on a trip to Greece at the start of the month—that the U.S. should consider the introduction of laws to force companies to curb online hate if social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook fail to clamp down more effectively themselves.
“Clean up your act before you are legislated or mandated to clean up your act,” he said, calling on lawmakers in Congress to act, “We have an obligation to make sure that companies are not harmful to the American public.”
Adams, who traveled to Athens for an international antisemitism summit, says democracies must use all available tools to protect themselves.
“Something new and different is happening now, and if we don’t meet the threat with the level of seriousness it takes we are going to fail. That is why I went to Greece, the seat of democracy.’
“We’ve normalized human hatred”
— Eric Adams
Adams advocates American legislators consider a U.S. equivalent of the European Digital Services Act, a law passed in October 2022 that aims to compel social media companies such as Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter to combat disinformation, disclose how their platforms amplify problematic content, and to stop targeting ads based on information regarding an individual’s ethnic group, religion or sexual orientation.
The New York mayor is confronting a tsunami of anti-Jewish crime at home. The New York City Police Department reported 45 antisemitic hate crimes in November, a tally amounting to one attack every 16 hours, an increase of 125 percent from the same month last year.
Adams called for tougher sentences for racially-motivated attackers on the streets of New York.
He said that few if any New Yorkers arrested for hate crime served any time in jail. “That is unacceptable… We have been on a fast track in this country to protect guilty people. It’s time for us to refocus our attention and stop aiding those who participate in criminal behavior.”
“There should be a no plea bargaining rule for those who engage in hate crimes. You attack someone wearing a hijab or a turban? You should not have that assault downgraded to harassment,” Adams said, in an interview conducted in the office of Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis, who hosted a mayors’ summit organized by an American group called the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM).
Bakoyannis, 44, a popular mayor and the nephew of Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, offered as an example his country’s success in crushing Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi movement that less than a decade ago threatened the stability of the Hellenic state, through a combination of effective prosecution and active socio-political engagement. “Golden Dawn was born in the streets of Athens and was destroyed in the courtrooms of Athens,” he said, while Adams took an urgent phone call from home.
Pavlos Bakoyannis, the mayor’s father, was shot and killed by terrorists of the November 17 organization in 1989.
Embattled in New York, where his globe-trotting was not well-received and his new policy allowing city authorities to forcibly hospitalize some mentally ill homeless people provoked deep concern—Adams was welcomed like a celebrity by fellow mayors in Athens.
His call for tougher sentencing and new stricter laws won’t surprise critics who say his approach to criminal justice is too hardline, however.
He has faced withering criticism from other New York Democrats, in particular from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), for his attitude towards crime, and was even blamed for the party’s state-wide losses in the midterms.
But he is unfazed. The criticism, he says, with a flash of annoyance, “is an injustice to the party.”
The Democratic majority is aligned with him, he says, regarding “proper funding” for police and the need to keep dangerous individuals off the streets. “This message from one or two people in the Democratic Party—that’s their opinion. That is not the opinion of the rank-and-file Democrats… That’s the party that elected me,” he said.
Adams’ focus is on a “full-frontal assault” on social media behemoths. “When you look at who is helping to perpetuate this level of hatred we have to point our fingers to social media,” he said.
“They are very sophisticated about using their algorithms to sell a product; now they need to use those algorithms to take hatred off their shelves. Let’s sell tolerance. They know how to do this. It is not by accident that they get people to respond to sites by selling hate.”
Since Elon Musk took over running Twitter, he has disbanded the Trust and Safety advisory group formed to address hate speech and reinstated some users whose accounts were suspended under the previous regime. Analysts claim that hate speech has surged under Musk’s leadership.
Adams ascribes the steep climb of hate crimes in New York to a nefarious confluence of societal alienation and the facility provided by the internet to transmit conspiratorial notions and rage.
“In the past, you’d hate someone and you sat on your block on your own corner hating them. Social media enables you to join groups that not only help you promote hate but help you organize. They’re allowing others to tell people who are in pain how to funnel their hate.”
“We’ve normalized human hatred,” Adams said. “Women wearing hijabs are attacked all the time in Brooklyn. Ultra-orthodox Jews are afraid of walking down the street.”
In Europe, the picture is not much cheerier. Felix Klein, the German Commissioner for Jewish Life, announced earlier this month a National Action Plan to flight racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, which is being seen as a blueprint by other European countries.
The plan largely syncs with a six-point best-practices guide for mayors issued by CAM, which includes the adoption of a uniform definition for antisemitism, employing an antisemitism point person and training municipal and law enforcement personnel. The German plan would also add a muscular law-enforcement approach to social media companies.
Klein, who also attended the Athens summit, estimated in an interview that 3,000 antisemitic crimes will have been committed in Germany by the end of 2022.
In the United States, New York leads the way in antisemitic crime, but the escalation is nationwide. “There are too many grim examples to choose from,” FBI Director Christopher Wray admitted to the Anti-Defamation League in November, noting that fully 63 percent of religious hate crimes are motivated by antisemitism, “targeting a group that makes up just 2.4 percent of our population.”
Addressing Congress, Wray said American Jews are “getting hit from all sides.”