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Social Media, Infographics, and the Spread of Anti-Jewish Racism

The recent resurgence of antisemitism has brought with it the complexity of voicing our utmost fears and experiences on social media.

I have always considered myself a proud Jew and Zionist. Having grown up in a primarily Jewish community, I didn’t realize just how deeply antisemitism is ingrained in North American culture until I got to university. The true horrors of anti-Jewish racism fully revealed themselves to me in my first year, after a Teaching Assistant showed the class a neo-Nazi video that displayed white supremacists justifying their hatred for Jews as they quoted Hitler. While learning about Cabaret and the atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s, we were shown a video in which people expressed contemporary solidarity with the Nazi party.

While the majority of my classmates laughed, I sat in fear, shoving my Hebrew-engraved necklace underneath my shirt, just in case someone noticed and made a connection. Although one classmate spoke up to tell our TA the video was full of propaganda, the comment was dismissed and the TA blamed the course director who had, allegedly, directed the TAs to share the video with the class. The intent behind sharing the video was never clarified.

While the majority of my classmates laughed, I sat in fear, shoving my Hebrew-engraved necklace underneath my shirt, just in case someone noticed and made a connection.

I don’t know the student who spoke up. But I think of that person to this day because as clubs at my university continue to disseminate antisemitic propaganda online, I thank students who are brave enough to speak up and amplify Jewish voices. The question is whether students are also able to speak up on social media, where antisemitism has infected our feeds.

People have outwardly compared Jews and Israelis to Nazis on social media. And #HitlerWasRight was trending on Twitter for several days, with thousands of users justifying the genocide of 6 million Jews in Europe.

Historically, non-Jews are very vocal when spreading propaganda and antisemitic rhetoric, but are very quiet when Jews are being attacked, discriminated against and vilified. From allegations that Jews sacrifice a Christian child each year during Passover to blaming Jews for the Bubonic plague, erroneously holding Jews responsible for real or imagined problems has historically put Jews in danger. The recent resurgence of antisemitism in the diaspora has brought with it the complexity of voicing our utmost fears and experiences on social media.

Given that Jews are 0.2% of the total population, whenever we voice our fears we are outnumbered by voices perpetuating antisemitic ideas. After posting an open letter to my university about antisemitism on campus, I was met with a wave of antisemitic comments and messages. It was so overwhelming that for the sake of my mental health I deleted numerous comments. While the Jewish community was there to amplify my voice, it was made clear that calling me a terrorist and a pig while wishing death to me had nothing to do with what was happening in the Middle East. Rather, it was the effects of anti-Jewish propaganda in the guise of social justice activism.

Social media has allowed us to use our voices more than ever before. It has connected us to others, introduced us to new ideas, and expanded our knowledge of many topics. It is central to who we are: who we follow, what we post, what we like and share with others. Users have since become accustomed to sharing anything and everything, including an extensive amount of misinformation and antisemitism.

There are 14.7 million Jews worldwide. Bella Hadid has 43 million followers on Instagram, her sister Gigi Hadid has 66 million followers. Pop stars Dua Lipa and Halsey have 66 million and 24 million Instagram followers respectively. Instagram activist accounts such as Impact and “so you want to talk about” have 1.6 and 2.7 million followers. That’s 203.3 million followers. Presumably, there is some overlap of followers so it is probably fewer than 203.3 million people. Nonetheless, there are about 13.8 times more people following these Instagram pages than there are Jews in the world.

Nonetheless, there are about 13.8 times more people following these Instagram pages than there are Jews in the world.

One can easily understand how quickly misinformation can spread. If Bella Hadid just posted one photo full of propaganda, 66 million people would potentially see it, and because of the nature of scrolling quickly through social media many may not realize the dangers within the post. But because it was posted by someone with an incredibly large following, someone whose face we see in countless ads, many people believe the post must be truthful—especially when it is in collaboration with a so-called activist account. However, Hadid did not just post one harmful infographic, but several. And so did her friends.

On social media, we often take things at face value. Infographics that use bright colors and cute cartoons tell us that Israel is an apartheid country, ethnically cleansing Palestinians, committing genocide, illegally creating settlements and colonizing the land. They tell us we must not be complicit in the violence that Israel perpetrates, and  so rather than doing our own research to determine the validity of the claims, we hit the share button.

They tell us we must not be complicit in the violence that Israel perpetrates, and so rather than doing our own research to determine the validity of the claims, we hit the share button.

What infographics don’t tell us are the real definitions of phrases like “ethnic cleansing,” and how sharing them can lead to more racist ideologies. Apartheid refers to systems of legislation that segregate people based on race; it does not apply to Israel as all citizens (Jewish, Arab, Druze, etc.) have the same basic rights under Israeli law. Similarly, ethnically cleansing a population leads to a decrease in that group of people, but the Palestinian population has increased. Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel, and have returned to their homeland after being forcibly ejected from nearly every other nation. It is not possible to colonize one’s ancestral land.

Within the past two weeks, antisemitism has increased by more than 500% in the UK and 63% in the US. One wonders how much social media infographics are to blame for this. We have seen this show before. The same horrors of the past continue to rebrand themselves and shapeshift in order to fit modern day sensibilities. But the story is still the same: propaganda sells.

It is clear that anti-Jewish attacks occurring in the diaspora have nothing to do with the Middle East. Otherwise, David Beckham wouldn’t get comments on a post telling him that he is a murderer or to “Free Palestine” when he is simply wearing a Star of David, journalist Eve Barlow would not face antisemitic comments with every one of her courageous posts, and I would not receive comments suggesting that I am a terrorist, a murderer, or a pig for voicing my fears about antisemitism on my campus.

Speaking out about antisemitism online has made Jews and non-Jews alike the victims of further antisemitic rhetoric. When we speak out, we find that our words, concerns, fears, and experiences do not matter. We are often told that now is not the time to speak about antisemitism, that we are being dramatic. Conversely, it is always the “right time” to be antisemitic.

It seems that Jewish voices don’t matter. But if we don’t speak about it, who will? And if not now, then when is the right time to speak out about antisemitism?


Taylor Levy is a writer based out of Toronto. She is currently completing her undergraduate degree in Psychology at York University and is looking to pursue an M.A. in History.

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