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Do Blue Squares Matter?

It’s possible that the greatest pushback against #BlueOutFriday centered around mixed messaging.
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June 8, 2021
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

The recent wave of antisemitism sweeping across the country has captured the attention of the American Jewish community in a new way. Antisemitism isn’t new, but for some it feels like it is, and many are looking for a way to respond. On May 21 the #BlueOutFriday campaign was launched on Instagram.

Given the current cultural moment, it seemed reasonable to hope that the effort would both offer a platform for pride and solidarity, and help make antisemitism as socially toxic as any other form of bigotry in America. The nation seemed primed to focus its outrage on the victimization of one of its smallest minority groups, statistically targeted for hate crimes more than any other in the country.

Did it work?

“It felt good to see the flood of support on my feed that day,” said Charlotte M., a Jewish artist in her 40s whose Instagram followers of all faiths responded positively to her post. But she felt much less optimistic about the larger national response (or lack thereof) from corporate America, politicians and the masses.

“It was obvious,” she said, “that we weren’t getting a widespread show of support on the scale of what other communities have experienced. My daughter’s school always has a lot to say about diversity and inclusion but was eerily silent on this issue. I didn’t get open letters from shopping websites like I did last summer pledging to listen and to do more. It took our Jewish senator more than a week to speak up.”

Perhaps that lackluster response teaches us a sobering lesson. Social capital around support for Jews is thin at best. The national mood didn’t demand statements from CEOs and sports stars, so many didn’t issue them. Those who did speak out are appreciated and admired, precisely because they are in the minority.

Perhaps that lackluster response teaches us a sobering lesson. Social capital around support for Jews is thin at best.

Of course not all Jews participated in the campaign, and for a variety of reasons. “It just felt like we were coopting another movement’s idea,” explained one non-poster. Another told me that he didn’t post because it felt like another empty social media moment.

This form of shoulder-shrugging should make us think about the lack of inspirational creativity in our communal responses to moments of crisis. It should also make us question the wisdom of institutions that busily fight antisemitism together with all other forms of “hate.” Perhaps we have so thoroughly convinced a generation of American Jews that there is nothing particular about antisemitism, nothing that distinguishes it from other forms of prejudice, that we have taken away the special responsibility Jews have to fight it. If you had a black square on your feed last year, perhaps a blue one this year seemed redundant.

Hate is hate, right?

Orit M., who sits on the boards of several Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, didn’t post a blue square either, but for a very different reason. “Turning your square blue and then sleepwalking to the polls every November isn’t helping,” she said. Her objection wasn’t to the virtue signaling, but to the cover it provides those who then take no further responsibility for the cause. They, like so many unaccountable politicians, check their Jewish community boxes by posting blue ones, even while downplaying antisemitic tweets by Ilhan Omar.

What, then, is the point?

It’s possible that the greatest pushback against #BlueOutFriday centered around mixed messaging. “Many of my friends were confused as to whether this was about supporting Israel or speaking out against antisemitism,” said Jake T., a 37-year-old entrepreneur. His circle doesn’t countenance bloodied Jews in the streets, and had this wave of attacks started with anything other than a headline about Gaza, perhaps he and his friends would have gotten on board. But media coverage of recent anti-Jewish hate crimes has relied primarily on such headlines, and that tells us something depressingly important. The campaign to delegitimize Israel has been successful among Jews and non-Jews alike. It has created moral confusion so deep that decency and reason cannot prevail against it.

Never mind that this conflict was started by Hamas, a corrupt, Iranian-backed, terrorist organization with no regard for innocent life, Israeli or Palestinian. It’s a detail that has been conspicuously absent from mainstream coverage of the conflict. We have so lost the narrative that this fact either didn’t make it through or wouldn’t make a difference if it did.

The saddest outcome is that Jews themselves have fallen victim to this narrative. Inject the word “Israel” into the conversation and many dive for cover first and ask questions later. Calls to kill Jews and rape their daughters on the streets of London and Los Angeles were somehow successfully framed as reactions to a political event, rather than the displays of naked Jew-hatred that they were. Jews with neurotic aversions to standing up for themselves wouldn’t speak up because, Israel.

The saddest outcome is that Jews themselves have fallen victim to this narrative.

Inside the Jewish community, pro-Israel advocates have been trying for more than a decade now to remind everyone that Israel is a liberal cause. It is. Every classic liberal value from freedom of religion, to respect for human life, to women’s rights is alive and well in the Jewish State. But it is not an effective argument at a time when the definitions of Left and Right in America are changing so rapidly. That gay men march in Pride parades in Tel Aviv and are thrown off roofs in Gaza has often been cited. Has it changed public opinion or even Jewish support for Israel?

The anti-Israel agenda has little to do with the politics, human rights issues, or the property disputes about which liberal Jews feel defensive. It is rooted in antisemitism. Jews who cannot answer these attacks with a healthy dose of Jewish values will not likely win the debate by pointing to Ra’am’s inclusion in the next Israeli government. We need more Jews with moral self-confidence. That we haven’t cultivated enough of them to decry antisemitism in our streets is something to remedy.

If some people gained a sense of purpose and motivation from posting their blue-squares on May 21 then it was probably worth doing. If the Jewish community learns from the experience for the next moment of crisis, which is sure to come, then it will have been of great value. It isn’t clear that #BlueOutFriday created a movement in our direction so much as it unmasked the depth of the movement against us. But there is value in that reality-check too.


Rebecca Sugar is a freelance writer and philanthropic consultant living in New York. Her work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Spectator, The Christian Post and JNS.org.

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