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Jewish creators are fighting antisemitism–and you should too

By Sabina Wex

Photo credit: TIMACOOL/Shutterstock @bluntblackjew/TikTok teachandtransform/Instagram (Licensed) by Caterina Cox

Analysis

Antisemitism has been trending on social media lately. You may not see the exact phrase “antisemitism,” which the Anti-Defamation League defines as “the belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish.” But perhaps you glanced at Ye’s hateful tweets toward Jewish people or clicked on Kyrie Irving’s link to an antisemitic documentary. Or maybe you read the reports about the influx of antisemitism on Twitter after Elon Musk took over and the 912% increase in antisemitic content on TikTok as reported in 2021.

As a writer covering internet culture, I heard all about this, and yet, I initially said nothing online. I grew up in a Jewish community, with my father being a Yiddish expert and my grandparents being Holocaust survivors. I’m proudly and openly Jewish—in person. Online, I rarely post about antisemitism or anything Jewish.

Any time I think about posting about antisemitism, I feel selfish, like I’m taking away from other causes. Even now, I ask myself: Do I really have a story? Am I just making this up? But from interviewing various Jewish creators for this piece, I realized this isn’t a resurgence of antisemitism on social media. It’s always been there, and it’s never gone away. This is something not only the world needs to reckon with, but I do, too. 

Liz Kleinrock (@teachandtransform) is an anti-bias, anti-racist educator, writer, and facilitator with over 170,000 followers on Instagram. She posts educational, text-based graphics about parts of her own identity, like being Jewish or Asian-American, as well as content related to wider social issues like anti-fat bias and abortion. And yet, she never turns off the comments on her posts—except for one kind of post. 

“There is no other topic that I have to turn off comments on a post, as much as talking about antisemitism or Jewish identity,” Kleinrock said in an interview with Passionfruit. 

Upon completing an email interview with Monika Hübscher, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Haifa who researches antisemitism on social media, it became clear that the abuse Kleinrock described was all too common. Hübscher, who co-edited a book entitled Antisemitism on Social Media, explained that her research revealed antisemitism is spreading at an “unprecedented” rate on social media. 

Hübscher added that a massive contributor to this is social media algorithms’ understanding that people spend more time on “incendiary” content—so the platforms serve it up more often. This is also done to keep users online, which creates revenue for these platforms. The European Commission’s research confirms this: It found a seven-fold increase in antisemitism on French-language social media accounts and a 13-fold increase in German accounts studied. 

But even more frightening is that social media companies aren’t making enough of an effort to reduce antisemitism, according to Hübscher. 

“I cannot fathom how little has been done to contain hate on social media and how insufficient the combat strategies still are in the face of the threat the issue poses,” she continued. “We know that perpetrators of terror attacks against Jewish communities in the U.S. and Germany have used social media extensively to spread hate and to receive validation for their hateful posturing.”

Again, research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate corroborates this: the not-for-profit research center found social media companies ignored 84% of reported antisemitic posts.

If this research only refers to reported posts, then who knows what’s going on with unreported posts—of which, Hübscher added, there are many. The research associate at the University of Duisburg-Essen explained that social media companies primarily rely on artificial intelligence [AI] to detect hate.

But AI can only detect what humans program it to. Those humans only speak so many languages, only know so much about antisemitic images and words, and only can adapt the AI programming so often. In addition, much of the antisemitism on social media is coded. People don’t always say things as candidly as Ye. They use memes and words that alert other antisemites to their bigotry which circumvent the hate-patrolling AI.

An example of this is emoji. Many antisemites will use the rat emoji coupled with the Star of David or the Israeli flag to signify their hatred of Jewish people. This coded antisemitism stems from Nazi propaganda, which often compared Jewish people to rats. The Nazis even used a common rat pesticide, Zyklon B, in the gas chambers to murder Jewish people.

“Since antisemitism on social media adapts to restrictions, … detecting them remains an endless cat-and-mouse game,” Hübscher explained.

Online educator Tyler Samuels (@bluntblackjew) often posts Jewish history and pictures of Jewish life on his Instagram and Twitter accounts. Samuels told Passionfruit that as a Black Jewish man, he contends with a compounded level of racial hatred.

Samuels receives messages saying he can’t “really” be Jewish because he’s Black, or if he just went to Israel and saw how Black people were treated, he would realize that he doesn’t even want to be Jewish. Some messages even include a clip of a deceased rabbi expressing racist views.

“They zero in on our Blackness more than our Jewishness,” Samuels said. “Then, they weaponize it against us.”

Speaking with Passionfruit, Samuels added he believes antisemites can get away with much of their coded rhetoric and emoji because most people don’t know what antisemitism looks and sounds like. He even goes out of his way to post on his Instagram story some of the hateful messages he receives to explain why these messages are antisemitic so people can learn to spot them. 

Kleinrock’s direct messages and comments are also filled with antisemitic messages. The educator took some of these phrases straight from her DMs to create a graphic illustrating “covert” antisemitism, which Kleinrock describes as “socially acceptable” antisemitism. Phrases like: “I hired a Holocaust speaker, so I can’t be antisemitic” or “Jews control Hollywood” are just a few of these “acceptable” ways of signaling antisemitism in some social circles.

Hübscher and her University of Duisburg-Essen colleagues are currently researching what young, non-Jewish Germans know about Jews, Jewish life and the Holocaust, and antisemitism. Based on her research, it seems these teachable moments from Samuels and Kleinrock are desperately needed on social media.

“Despite the fact that the young people position themselves firmly against antisemitism, they are unable to decode it on social media,” Hübscher explained. “High follower numbers and the numbers of likes and comments under antisemitic content suggest validation or even truth.”

This was the moment I realized that antisemitism is not just bad, it’s so much worse than I thought. I had to lie down after reading this answer from Hübscher. The worst part was knowing that I wasn’t even brave enough to speak out against this hate, something that threatens me and my family directly. 

So, I decided to ask Blair Mlotek, a fellow member of the tribe and co-founder of a social media agency, CLEO Social, about my own aversion to posting about anti-semitism. Perhaps she, as a professional social media person, would know why.

“I can only really speak to this as a regular Jew, not a social media agency founder,” Mlotek said. “We just feel like all the time that people don’t react to antisemitism the same way they do to other hate.”

This feeling was also echoed by everyone I interviewed for this piece: antisemitism is not taken seriously. Adidas only dropped Ye after he bragged that the company would never cut ties with him, despite spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories. There are battles everywhere where non-Jews determine what is and is not antisemitic. And the amount of antisemitic hate crimes continues to climb

So, of course, I’m sitting around wondering if antisemitism is even “that bad.” We live in a world whose actions tell Jewish people: you’re exaggerating, get over it.

Shoshana Greenwald (@shoshbg), who runs an Instagram account with over 7,000 followers that often posts about Jewish life and antisemitism, told me that posting about antisemitism was a journey for her. I was relieved to hear that she, an Orthodox woman, also struggled with this. I thought it would have been a walk in the park for her.

“It wasn’t natural for me at first to speak so openly and strongly against antisemitism,” Greenwald said. 

Greenwald imparted some advice to me about getting through that fear and posting about antisemitism: “I really hold compassion for any Jewish person who is scared to outwardly speak about these issues, because fighting antisemitism shouldn’t be on Jews, right? It should be on everyone else,” she said. “So if I’m someone who has the capacity to yell and scream—which sometimes I just feel like I’m yelling into the abyss—then that’s my choice. And if you need to be safe and not talk about it, I really have compassion and understanding for that.” 

I’m seeing this modeled by all the creators I spoke to for this piece. They face antisemitism every day, yet continue to stand up against not just antisemitism but all forms of hate. Plus, they post about the joys of being Jewish, because hate is not the only thing that defines Jewish people. Kleinrock hosts Jewish affinity spaces online. Samuels posts about the rich history of Jamaican Jews. Greenwald chronicles her day-to-day life as an Orthodox woman. 

We can’t just let these Jewish creators stick up for us, we need everyone posting and talking about antisemitism—especially non-Jews. I’ll go first: I’ll post this piece when normally, I’d be too anxious to do so, even though I often post about my writing. I know it’s a small step, but I’ve got to start somewhere.