HATE IS #TRENDING
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the hashtag “#Hitlerwasright” was posted more than 17,000 times on Twitter in a single week in May.
This new wave of hate following the recent developments in Gaza was not restricted to the internet, however, and was further kindled by the repressed frustration of citizens who have been living under COVID-19 restrictions for the past months and saw these protests as a pretext for taking to the streets en masse.
The echoes of the conflict spilled onto the streets of Europe, Northern, and Latin America in the form of unabashed antisemitism. Many are using the Pro-Palestine Movement — the national movement of the Palestinian people for self-determination — to justify hate against Jews, particularly by directly associating the Israeli government’s responsibilities regarding the treatment of Palestinians with Israeli civilians and non-Israeli Jews. The importation of a foreign conflict has had repercussions previously (such as with the anti-semitic violence documented in Paris in 2014 in similar circumstances), but such a global arousal of hatred would have been otherwise unthinkable in 2021.
A HOST OF VIOLENT OUTBURSTS
The Anti-Defamation League counted a total of 193 antisemitic incidents in the week after the conflict began, while the CST (“Protecting Our Jewish Community”, a registered charity in England and Wales) registered a total of 325 incidents since the 8th of May, surpassing the highest of 317 in July of 2014 — but this is only counting those that were reported or recorded.
On the 16th of May, a procession of cars sporting the Palestinian flag rolled through the streets of London while their drivers and passengers shouted antisemitic threats and slurs that were not aimed at Israel’s government — they were aimed at Jews. The ill intentions involved in this enterprise are not represented by the well-meaning, peaceful Pro-Palestine protestors, but by the violent extremists and fundamentalists sporting Saddam Hussein t-shirts and individuals who openly identify themselves as neo-Nazis. Phrases such as “death to Jews” were chanted shamelessly in a protest attended by more than 100,000 individuals.
This was not the only horrific antisemitic incident reported in the last month. On the 13th of May, over 2,500 Pro-Palestine protestors in Austria chanted about the intention of massacring Jews with the phrase “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning” — this chant is a reference to the expulsion and massacre of Jews from the town of Khaybar in the 7th century in Saudi Arabia. The antisemitic slogan “kike-free raleshne [Palestine]” was written on the door of a synagogue in Norwich, England, along with a crudely-drawn swastika. In the Netherlands, Taliban flags were waved by Pro-Palestine supporters while a call for an Islamic Caliphate in Israel was chanted by demonstrators.
In Germany, a 41-year-old man wearing a kippah was punched and insulted with antisemitic slurs while walking home in Durer Square, Berlin. A dozen men set a memorial for a Jewish house of prayer destroyed during the Nazi pogroms on fire. A synagogue was also damaged with stones. Noa Lang, a Belgian soccer player, chanted an antisemitic song titled “I’d rather die than be a sporting Jew” at the Club Brugge title celebrations in May, along with “Jews burn the best”. Pro-Palestinian protesters hurled firecrackers at Antonia Yamin, an Israeli reporter who had decided to cover the Palestinian demonstration in Berlin. On May 26th, in Spain, a Jewish cemetery was spray-painted with white supremacist and anti-Israel graffiti. On May 14th, Vladimir Shchukin, a 67-year-old Jewish scholar, was murdered in Odessa, Ukraine.
Northern, Central, and Latin America
The United States of America experienced especially violent hate crimes against Jews. In Los Angeles, a passing car shot visibly Jewish children (donning kippahs) with a paintball gun. Also in Los Angeles, a vandal targeted an Orthodox synagogue and a publicly kosher steakhouse and tried hurling a concrete slab through the windows. In Florida, the phrase “the Jews are guilty”, along with a swastika, was graffitied on the walls of the Florida Holocaust Museum. In Argentina, the phrase “we will kill you Jewish rats” was graffitied on a building.
A 67-year-old man was punched upon entering a Brooklyn synagogue with antisemitic slurs being yelled at him. Another worrying incident involved the assaulting of a Jewish man wearing the Star of David after being called a “baby killer” (a term reminiscent of the antisemitic narrative of blood libel, born during the Middle Ages). A woman was gravely injured in New York when protestors threw fireworks in Midtown as she was merely passing by. In Seattle, a Jewish journalist was assaulted and hit at the back of the head at a Pro Palestine rally.
THE WORLD’S RESPONSE — OR RATHER, THE LACK OF IT
While it took some time, world leaders responded to these horrifying events on social media. One such tweet was Jamaal Bowman’s, the U.S. representative for New York’s 16th congressional district:
“We’ve seen an increase in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate, in NYC and nationwide — hateful words, hate crimes, and other forms of violence. We must stand together to condemn hate.”
Tweets of this kind are promising, but it begs the question: why water down these awful acts of antisemitism by also mentioning Islamophobic hate? If we were daring, we might say that it highly resembles the claims of “All Lives Matter” tweeted by white supremacists following the popularisation of the slogan.
Not all tweets were of this supportive nature, however, such as that of BBC journalist Tala Halawa, who tweeted:
“Hitler was right.”
Although she claimed to be an “unbiased” journalist, her tweets and commentary do not reflect that. Many would argue there is a strong difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism — but inflammatory rhetoric linking civilians of Jewish origins/religion to the Israeli government’s political agenda blurs these lines. It is frighteningly easy to cover overt antisemitism by concealing it as anti-Zionism (e.g.: claiming that “Jews are responsible” takes the blame off of Netanyahu’s actions and uses Jews all over the world as scapegoats for the conflict).
All in all, the way social media handled coverage of the conflict is lamentable, as similar tweets were allowed to linger for longer than they should have — and some are still online. The biggest problem, it appears, is the gross trivialisation of antisemitism and anti-Jew hate speech, and the normalisation of defamation and human rights violations on the grounds of what a government’s political agenda is.
ALL LIVES MATTER (EXCEPT FOR YOURS)
The instrumentalisation of the Pro-Palestine movement to justify or excuse antisemitism shows just how polarised our reception of international news has become. If all these violent protests were really human rights demonstrations — like the procession of cars in London —, then why didn’t people take to the streets in October of 2017, when the Kurds were attacked by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards?
It seems as if the antisemites are attempting at killing two birds with one stone: today, it is as if antisemitic slurs are mere “criticisms” of Israel’s government. I am not speaking of protests against Netanyahu’s political agenda, but of the demonisation and attacking of Jews all over the world. With this obstacle at hand, real change is next to impossible, and the use of innocent Palestinian civilians as human shields for Hamas (a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist, nationalist, and militant organisation; it was furthermore designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU, Japan, the US, Canada, and Israel) renders the situation as convoluted as ever.
We have seen an incredible, heartfelt surge in social media campaigns with regards to movements such as Black Lives Matter, Asian Lives Matter, and now, with the discovery of the remains of 215 Native American children’s unmarked graves in a Residential school in Canada, Indigenous Lives Matter. But Jews were met with silence. Fighting against antisemitism does not minimise the importance of the Pro-Palestine movement, as both are forms of affirmative action in support of human rights.
What does this say about the wave of hate and political polarisation that has flooded social media?
That is up to you to decide.
For now, all we know is that antisemitism is #Trending.
Lili Virag Szuhay Murciano