How Jewish Women Are Being Harassed Online for Fighting Anti-Semitism

Ariel Sobel is a TED talker, writer and Bluecat Screenplay Competition Winner.

June 12, 2019

As a Jewish woman who frequently shares her opinions on social media, I’ve been targeted online by white supremacists, communist bots from China, die-hard Donald Trump fanatics, Polish nationalists and Laura Loomer (before she was yanked off every kind of social media known to man). But the worst abuse I’ve received has been from my political home: the left.

Whenever I speak up against anti-Semitism, hordes of liberal men dogpile me, informing me I have a “bad take,” and calling me “stupid,” a “dumba– s—,” “fragile,” “delusional” and a “basic, petty worm.” Sometimes, they send me images of male anatomy or animals defecating. My critics have gone as far as to mock my appearance and advise me to get plastic surgery, or simply tell me to drown.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone.

Although all sorts of women experience abuse online, Jewish women face obscene sexual harassment for speaking out against hate. What’s more shocking is that the attacks come from progressive circles. Despite the left’s emphasis on gender equality, progressive men cruelly and consistently mob online Jewish women who are fighting anti-Semitism.

“Any time a Jewish woman, especially on Twitter, speaks up about anti-Semitism, we get hordes of trolls in our mentions, trying to silence us,” said Rafaella Gunz, a journalist for Gay Star News who lives in New York City. The 25-year-old has received messages telling her “Judaism is a racist cult, worse than Nazism” and “go f— yourself you white supremacist zio fascist b—-.”

“Not only do they despise people taking a stand against anti-Semitism (especially true on the left in my experience), but when the person taking a stand is a woman, there is a much more visceral reaction,” Gunz wrote in an email. “They call us words they wouldn’t call men: b—-, c—, whore.”

Kaitlyn Abas, a 26-year-old waitress in the United Kingdom who is active on social media, agrees. “I’ve seen more Jewish women, including myself, get abused more than men,” she said. “I think they see us as weaker. Clearly, they’ve never met a Jewish woman in their lives because if they had, they’d know how strong we are.”

To me, these attacks are a direct response to Jewish women’s strength. Many of us are unapologetically outspoken against bigotry. When our foes notice how determined Jewish women are in the face of anti-Semitism, they try to intimidate us with floods of misogynist abuse.

While Natalia Sloam, assistant managing editor at Linkwell Health, said she’s often called “condescending phrases such as ‘pet, sweetheart or darling,’ ” other women assert they’ve been threatened with promises of violence.

“What we are seeing is none other than victim blaming, carried out by the activist community that popularized the term.”

“I’ve been told to go back to the gas chamber. I’ve been told I should be raped, repeatedly,” said Elayna Tell, a personal assistant in Washington, D.C., who said she has experienced dogpiling from progressive men online.  “Simply because I speak about the Jewish experience as a Jewish woman.”

These attacks are rooted in anti-Semitism and misogyny.

After college student Ellen Borenstein called out anti-Semitism on Facebook, a man taunted her, writing, “I’ll send you a box of Kotex.” When Chicago-based 39-year-old Naomi Schmahl spoke up against anti-Semitism on the left, she was sent messages calling her a “Nazi whore” and “b—-” and to “go get f—ed but don’t reproduce, the world doesn’t need any more of you neocons running around.”

“I’ve been threatened. I’ve been called everything from a Jewish b—- to a baby killer to a Satan worshipper,” Abas said. “I feel alone. I feel sick. I feel like no one really cares. Each abusive message drains me as a person. I took out ‘Jewish’ from my Twitter bio so I’d get less abuse.”

Few are more explicitly Jewish on Twitter than Tablet contributing editor Carly Pildis. “I have been harassed by both the left and the right,” Pildis told me. “It’s definitely a trend.”

But for others, the attacks overwhelmingly have come from left-wing voices.

“I get more anti-Semitism from the left than I do the right, at the moment,” noted Abas, who predominantly is targeted for speaking out against anti-Semitism within the British Labour party. Sloam, who lives in London, is in the same boat. “It is absolutely extraordinary to me that this comes from Labour members,” she said. “They are supposedly the ‘anti-racist’ party, but since [Jeremy] Corbyn has become [the party’s] leader, everything has changed.”

According to Carly Susman, New York-based junior art director at the advertising agency Soubriet Byrne & Associates, the problem has crossed the Atlantic. “I see so much of it happening, specifically in spaces that pride themselves on being diverse and welcoming — anything from the Women’s March, [Rep.] Ilhan Omar’s tweets, other leftist spaces. I feel defeated and unwelcome pretty quickly,” the 27-year-old said.

In the case of prominent New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss, speaking out against anti-Semitism involves being called a b—-, whore and “bislut.” Some of her critics, one of whom said, “do not call yourself a lefty. You are nothing but an Israeli whore,” refer to her as a “worthless stupid c—” and wish for her violent death.

Now, Weiss is explicitly a liberal. But progressives are the first to attack her, along with scores of other left-wing Jewish women.

“I’m a registered Democrat but don’t always agree with the far left, as a lot of harassment comes from them,” said Renae Ison, 36, a customer service representative in Louisville, Ky. “I regularly feel dogpiled by them.”

“We not only get intimidated by the right, we are also incessantly harassed by the left — and this includes way too many Jewish men,” said Sara Bobkoff, a progressive writer living in the Netherlands. “If Jewish men put the focus on Jewish women, they can deflect from being targeted themselves and show loyalty in a movement where their role is precarious to begin with.”

When Schmahl accused liberal Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley of normalizing anti-Semitism, she was dogpiled. “I’ve been harassed by Neo-Nazis before but I’ve never had this level of sexual violence directed at me,” she tweeted.

What is the justification? If a woman criticizes anti-Semitism on the left, she is betraying progressive values. “If I speak up about anti-Semitism on the other side of the aisle, I get labeled as some sort of Republican enabler and not on the left,” progressive activist Schmahl said.

“Although interviewing many Jewish women who’ve faced this made me feel validated, it didn’t make me feel better.” 

For these men, social justice is a loophole to harass Jewish women without being called out as sexist. They rationalize we are the real threats to progressive ideas such as gender equality if we speak out against anti-Semitism demonstrated by people with whom they are politically aligned. In their eyes, they are the true feminists. Women are simply getting in the way.

When Schmahl went public with the abusive messages she received from criticizing anti-Semitism on the left, more liberal men shamed her for speaking out against the harassment. “I don’t know who you are trying to impress by making your conversations public on Twitter but it’s a low blow,” a man who identified himself only as Chris wrote to her. “It might do you some good to get a tougher skin,” Chris said. “The thing that I hope you understand is airing these comments publicly only strengthens the right. I know women who get inappropriate messages like this from overzealous people, they certainly don’t tweet about it publicly because they know it can be used against the left, they understand that there’s a greater good involved.”

For Chris, the greater good involved not ever coming forward with the sexism Schmahl experienced from progressives. “Your energy and time would be better spent going after conservatives and those fake lefties who enable them, these are the real culprits of sexism, misogyny and anti-Semitism,” Chris wrote, deciding that liberals who called a strange woman on the internet a whore weren’t the real misogynists. “I would also encourage you to consider deleting your thread with the messages you received from Eli’s followers and in the future think about how your tweets about others may hurt real progressives.”

(From left) Author Ariel Sobel and Sara Bobkoff, progressive writer from the Netherlands.

Chris is right. There are real progressives hurting from sexism, misogyny and anti-Semitism. But it’s not men like him; it’s women like Schmahl. Not only is the left demanding our silence on anti-Semitism, but also on sexist harassment we receive for speaking out against it. If a Republican terrorizes a woman, it’s despicable; if a Democrat does it, it’s “overzealous.”

The rationale behind the abuse is creative. Many liberal men are desperate to sexually harass a woman on behalf of another woman. Criticized Ilhan Omar’s tweets? There are plenty of “Bernie Bros” (angry male supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) ready to call you a dumb b— in her (and what they see as feminism’s) defense. God forbid, if, like 97% of Jews, a woman supports Israel’s right to exist, anything goes. Everyone knows it’s disgusting to call a woman a whore, but according to this crowd, if you call her a “zio whore,” she deserves it.

What we are seeing is none other than victim blaming, carried out by the activist community that popularized the term.

“We not only get intimidated by the right, we are also incessantly harassed by the left — and this includes way too many Jewish men.” — Sara Bobkoff, progressive writer from the Netherlands

“Misojewny,” “anti-Semisogny” or whatever term you’d like to use to describe hatred of Jewish women, exists on the left, just like misogynoir, the hatred of black women. Although these prejudices take different forms, both are rooted in the desire to take down the most vulnerable woman in the room. Jewish women often are blamed for others abusing us, particularly if we have a controversial stance on Israel. This makes Jewish women easy targets for progressive men.

Some people might think these scenarios are cherry-picked. This article began as an investigation of harassment against Jewish women by anyone and everyone, but scores of victims kept pointing their fingers to the left.

That’s not to say Jewish women don’t receive harassment from the right. Ariel Gold, the staunchly anti-Zionist national co-director of CODEPINK, the women-led grassroots peace and justice organization, has been subjected to misogynist hate from men who believe she encourages anti-Semitism. Gold said she recently received a message that read “suck big fat Nazi d— you kapo b—-,” along with a picture of male anatomy. She’s also been told, “I hope all your Arab friends rape you at once” and received verified death threats.

“I think they see us as weaker. Clearly, they’ve never met a Jewish woman in their lives because if they had, they’d know how strong we are.” 

I spent months this year with my picture as the pinned tweet of a white supremacist’s Twitter feed, which was devoted to spreading “profiles” of predominantly Jewish women and their anti-racist tweets as proof Jews are “trying to replace the white race with black people.” The humiliation and targeting I experienced was unbearable.

But it haunts me that the self-identified feminists I should be able to go to for help in these scenarios are not speaking out against this behavior. In fact, I find harassment from the left to be much crueler and consistent; others find it unbearable.

For Sloam, the harassment has reached a breaking point. “I’ve been on Twitter for 10 years and I am seriously considering changing my screen name. It’s my real name and I feel vulnerable,” she said.

I put on a tough front, but I feel vulnerable, too. 

I’ve tried blocking and reporting. Still, these men remain fixated on me, regularly attacking me long after I’ve had a “block” party. The worst part is that some women who dislike my opinions are all too happy to join in on the misogynist dogpile. These liberals rail against me because by speaking out against left-wing anti-Semitism, I am somehow “not progressive enough.” The truth is, no woman — progressive or not — deserves to be sexually harassed, whether she votes Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Communist or Labour.

“I put on a tough front, but I feel vulnerable, too.”

Although interviewing many Jewish women who’ve faced this made me feel validated, it didn’t make me feel better. The women quoted are among the few who felt safe enough to use their names. Some were so terrified of more harassment, they made sure their social media handle wouldn’t be included in this story.

To break this cycle of abuse, I’d like to make less an argument than a plea. When you see a Jewish woman being dogpiled, come to her defense. When someone on Twitter gets “ratioed” (has much more disapproving comments than likes), it’s not a joke. It’s a rabid mob hellbent on silencing us, intent on damaging our mental and emotional health.

Please, jump in and tell the perpetrators they are engaging in sexual harassment. The progressive abusers often identify as feminists. Nothing would unsettle them more than getting called out for mistreating women. We have to recognize this for what it is: sexual harassment tinged with anti-Semitism.

Regardless of our gender, we must speak out against this abuse, and not just for women whose opinions we agree with — or even women we like. For women, Jewish or otherwise, to have voices in our society, we need the right to disagree without being mobbed, threatened and humiliated.

Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist, and won the 2019 Bluecat Screenplay Competition. Her website is arielsobel.com.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote. Chris wrote, “It might do you some good to get a tougher skin.”

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