Source: The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 1999, pages 33, 96

ADL Releases Software to Block “Internet Hate” Web Sites

By Shawn L. Twing

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, a Washington, DC-based organization that monitors and combats anti-Semitism worldwide, recently released “HateFilter” software that blocks Web sites and other areas of the Internet with content it deems offensive.

Installed on a personal computer, “HateFilter” restricts access to a constantly updated list of Web sites the ADL considers hate-related. When an Internet user attempts to access these sites, he or she instead is directed to an ADL page that reads: “Hate Zone. Access Restricted. To Find Out More, Click the ADL Logo [below].”

When the ADL logo is clicked, visitors are directed to a special section of the ADL’s Web site with information on nine different categories of hate, including: Internet hate, anti-Semitism, Racism, Holocaust Denial, Neo-Nazi Skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan, the Identity Church Movement, the Nation of Islam, and Homophobia. [Anyone interested in viewing this section may find it directly at hate-patrol/1.html]

Each category subsection has a definition of the subject, a brief history of the topic, and an explanation of why the ADL considers the material to be offensive. Many of the subsections also are cross-linked with other information available within the ADL’s Web site, as well as recommendations for ADL-printed publications on the subject at hand.

“HateFilter” is a component of another Internet blocking software package called Cyber Patrol, which allows users to voluntarily restrict access to Web sites, chat rooms, and news groups that contain pornography and other material that is not suited for children. Rather than using keywords that appear in the text or code of Web sites to restrict access—a method that has been criticized repeatedly for its inability to differentiate between sex in pornographic sites and sex in sexual education, for example—the ADL’s “HateFilter” software uses a list of Web site addresses, created and modified daily by humans, to deny access to material it considers offensive.

For its part, the ADL contends that “HateFilter” was developed to protect children. “Many parents are concerned that the Internet gives easy access to bigotry and prejudice. ADL HateFilter is designed to empower parents who want to restrict their children’s access to hate sites,” the ADL Web site reads (emphasis in the original).

“Hate sites,” according to the ADL, “are those sites on the Internet operated by individuals or groups that, in ADL’s judgement, promote hatred or hostility toward groups—Jews and others—on the basis of their religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other immutable characteristics” (emphasis in the original).

On the surface, the ADL’s “HateFilter” software seems relatively harmless. No one is trying to force it into public libraries—yet. It is installed voluntarily on an individual personal computer, and can be disabled or uninstalled without serious complications.

The problems with “HateFilter” and what it represents, however, are numerous, as are legitimate concerns about the organization that created and constantly updates the list of “hate sites”: the Anti-Defamation League.

“HateFilter” sits atop a long, slippery slope covered with free speech issues, and the ADL has a terrible track record for protecting, or even considering, the free speech of others. The ADL also has a history of serious rights abuse, including spying on more than 12,500 American citizens—primarily pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheid activists—and compiling blacklists of individuals holding these and similar views (see story on facing page).

As recently as Nov. 16, 1998, a California State appeals court ruled that “Pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheid activists are entitled to learn whether [the ADL] illegally disclosed confidential information about them,” the Associated Press reported. That ruling came six years after San Francisco police seized ADL files that included drivers licenses and Social Security numbers, collected and compiled illegally by the ADL, which “used them to get people blacklisted among ADL supporters,” according to AP. The ADL responded to the charges by saying, “it was merely tracking hate groups and terrorists” (emphasis added).

Although the ADL Web site, and an ADL spokesperson, emphasized that Web sites blocked by “HateFilter” are not political—a statement confirmed by this writer, who was able to access dozens of Middle East-related Web sites without a problem—the stage has been set to include political Web sites in the future.

Near the end of the ADL Web site’s section explaining anti-Semitism, under the heading “In the half-century since World War II, public anti-Semitism has become much less frequent in the Western world,” the ADL offers the following caveat: “There are exceptions, of course: disagreement over policy toward the State of Israel has created opportunities in which the expression ‘Zionist’ support for Israel as the Jewish homeland is often used as an anti-Semitic code word for ‘Jew’ in mainstream debate.”

Does that mean that, in the future, the ADL’s “HateFilter” may restrict access to Web sites that contain information opposing Zionism, which is, by definition, a political movement? More importantly, what about the numerous Jewish and non-Jewish individuals and organizations that are not Zionist, oppose Zionism, or both? Despite what the ADL may believe and propagate, the overwhelming majority of people and organizations who oppose Zionism disagree with it on political grounds—particularly its role in Palestinian oppression—with no quarrel or ill feelings whatsoever toward the Jewish people, many of whom also oppose Zionism for the very same reasons.

Finally, it is interesting to note that “HateFilter” does not restrict access to two very serious forms of hate: anti-Muslim and anti-Arab incitement and propaganda. With “HateFilter” installed and operating correctly, the author was able to access a wide variety of extremist Web sites advocating, among other things, forcible expulsion of all Palestinians from the occupied territories, and the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques in Jerusalem, and using ethnic and religious slurs not fit to print against both groups. These Web sites certainly “promote hatred or hostility toward groups—Jews and others—on the basis of their religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other immutable characteristics,” which is the ADL definition of a hate group. Yet these sites are not included in the ADL’s “HateFilter” criteria. These omissions speak volumes about the kinds of hate the ADL is not willing to condemn.

Shawn L. Twing is Web site developer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He can be reached by e-mail at