Ed Tyler - FZY Mazkir 2015-16 - takes on the antisemitic abuse that plagues Twitter.
Over the last week I have witnessed antisemitic abuse, the likes of which I have not seen before. Izzy Lenga, one of our most keenly involved FZY members for many years, and now the Education Officer of the University of Birmingham, simply tried to highlight that antisemitism is still an issue today. If her original tweet – of a poster plastered on the university campus stating “Hitler was right” – didn’t show the extent of the problem, then the response she received certainly did that.
The examples Izzy highlighted in the above image are hardly even the breaking the surface of some of the vile responses she received. Some came out in support of Hitler, saying he was right, and those who came to the defence of Izzy were told to #GetInTheOven. Others accused the whole thing of being part of that infamous worldwide Jewish conspiracy which is so obviously a thing, accusing Izzy of putting up the Hitler poster herself.Others were even worse; Holocaust deniers, hiding behind fake Twitter names to protect their identities. The stupidity and cowardice of these people is astonishing and while I have known antisemitism is an issue in itself, particularly when conflated with Israel, Holocaust denial really is not something I thought we would see in 2015. The tweet which caught my eye most prominently was hugely upsetting to me, and I am sure would be to anyone who has ever had any connection to the Holocaust, whether that is as a survivor, a relation of one, or simply someone who has visited concentration camps or museums which demonstrate the horrors performed by the Nazis. In fact it would be offensive to anyone with even an ounce of humanity.
Lie upon lie upon lie, posted as truths ready to explode out of a box and reveal to the world the “truth” about the “Holocaust myth”.This may have been trolling, in fact every piece of abuse may have been, in the sense that there is a chance none of these trolls actually believed what they were posting. This is an optimistic view, and still strikes fear in me to know that someone out there made cartoons, memes or simply said some of the disgusting things we see in examples such as the cartoon above. Someone had these thoughts, people agreed with it, and people shared, retweeted and celebrated the very public abuse of a young Jewish woman who tried to stand up for her religion. She brought to the public’s attention an undoubtedly antisemitic poster and was greeted by those glorying in the poster’s message, rather than by a barrage of support and condemnation.
There were and are those who have condemned the original post, and every bit of abuse since, but this is too few and far between. Astonishingly I can still access every single account that has posted this abuse. Izzy retweeted many of them onto her timeline to show the extent of the issue and despite what I imagine have been numerous reports to Twitter of their content, they and the profiles who posted them still remain on the site. People have been publicly arrested and shamed over trolling before, and while tracking these people down may be extremely difficult, they are still allowed to remain active! It is barbaric.
The saddest aspect of this is rather than erupt into full scale cyber warfare of those with a moral compass tearing into these abusive trolls, the situation escalated into one where the tirade of antisemitism built up against Izzy, and while there was a steady flow of condemnation of the racists and support for Izzy, she was left largely alone by those who should have been supporting her. While MP’s, journalists and friends tweeted messages of support, the campaign of support was left overcome by the campaign of hate. I can’t say I was much better, not picking up on what was going on early enough and not knowing what to do once I did.
This is the crux of the problem. What do we do? How do we tackle this? It is easy to sit behind a computer screen and throw abuse at someone who is relatively helpless, but how easy is it to respond? Izzy did the right thing, bravely retweeting the hate and threats and drawing the community’s attention to what was going on. Her Facebook status on the matter has received over 500 likes and 150 shares; from those close to her, to those who have probably never met her. Awareness is key and finally now people are drawing attention to what has been going on and the story is picking up traction. I would urge everyone who comes across it to keep sharing the story and face up to the fact that antisemitism is still rife. It may be passive and cowardly through racist posters and threatening messages on social media, but it is there. The support for that side cannot override the support for Izzy and the Jewish people as a whole.
Some will say there has been an over-reaction. That these accounts are two or three sad, lonely individuals who have little better to do than create conspiracy theories and abuse someone who without the protection of the rest of the community, can do little else but watch the abuse flood in. It is shocking to see just how many Jews I have come across who deny antisemitism is an issue, and it is something I believe is ingrained in today’s society. Would the reaction to some of the antisemitic hate we see today be afforded to any other form of racism?
For some reason when it comes to antisemitism there is a question mark over it. I would actually say there is a similar issue with Islamaphobia, where associating any Muslim with Islamic extremists becomes common place. Similarly with antisemitism it is a conflation with Israel that seems to justify hate speech in many people’s eyes.
Criticism of the Israeli government is fine, and I found it baffling at the World Zionist Congress to see may shouting “ANTISEMITISM!” any time someone felt the need to criticise Benjamin Netanyahu for his outrageous comments about the Grand Mufti’s role in the Final Solution. It’s not antisemitic or anti-Zionist to criticise what was clearly a false statement from Netanyahu, and everyone from the left to the right of the political spectrum should have condemned what he said. Would you call it anti-British to criticise David Cameron for referring to refugees as a “swarm”, or Theresa May for her comments on the lack of contribution immigrants make to British society. Would you call it anti-patriotic to disagree with cutting tax credits or making huge cuts to disability benefits? No, you would not. Some may agree, some may not but what a democracy provides is the ability to criticise your government, even if in general you are an ardent supporter of them. So no, criticising Netanyahu and the Israeli government is not anti-Zionist, and certainly not antisemitic, it is a key part of the democracy we should be proud Israel has.
It becomes antisemitic when you state the Jewish people have no right to a homeland, no right to self-determination and no right to live in peace throughout the world. Somehow though it becomes excusable to tell Jews to go home back to the Eastern European countries they were so cruelly forced out of. It is ignored when campuses are full of BDS supporters who are boycotting Kosher food products, and forgiven when an American, Jewish music artist is banned from a music festival after refusing to condemn Israel. This is where the line disappears and Judaism and Israel, anti-Zionism and antisemitism become one and the same.
It is terrifying as a Jew, to witness what is going on, to witness the lack of voices standing out and the lack of action being taken to truly combat this. Once this all blows over Izzy will return to her normal life on campus and will probably still face horrific antisemitism from BDS activists, she will still face the prospect of being threatened by the likes of CAGE coming onto campus to speak, and Jews running for positions as ethnic minority officers on campus will be told as they were last year they can’t self-define as an ethnic minority, or represent the views of minorities. Any white British gentile would be permitted to run for this position either self-defining as a minority, or as a white representative of minorities. When a Jew ran for the Birmingham position last year – the vitriol and protestation aimed at her was huge.
For some reason the intrinsic link between Judaism and Zionism means the thoughts and feelings of Jews, the abuse they get, is not given the standing it should as an issue. The hatred shown towards Israel on a day-to-day level on campus makes it impossible to be proud to be Jewish, because of this cowardly way people can hide racism behind their feelings towards Israel. On our student radio show last year; Izzy, Sophie Calmonson and I mentioned being Jewish and our immediate thoughts were “that was a mistake”, and it took a few shows (and the realisation that only our Jewish friends were listening to us), for us to be comfortable talking about it. We still never mentioned Israel.
This is the sad position we are in and we should all be thanking Izzy for bringing to our attention what real antisemitism looks like. The cause of this is the passiveness of student bodies in taking seriously the fear that Jewish students now live under on campus. We should feel safe in the UK, but if Israel is taken as the safe haven for Jews it was created as, one can’t help but feel that is the best place for us now. It is the only protection we have, yet its existence is seemingly one of the main reasons we feel so threatened.
In my opinion it’s an excuse. Jews have suffered for centuries in some way or another and Israel is a convenient cloak to hide behind to excuse this. There would probably be something else. After all, we were told to go back to Palestine before 1948, and told to leave it thereafter.
I spoke on BBC Radio West Midlands a couple of weeks ago with an elderly couple; Mary and Jake Jacobs, about the differences between growing up as a Jew in the UK now and when they grew up in the 40′s and 50′s. Jake had moved from Trinidad and converted to Judaism when he married Mary. The abuse they suffered at that time both as Jews, and as an inter-racial couple, was difficult to hear about. One thing we all agreed though was that we live in a much more accepting community nowadays. This may be the case but as with anything, the smallest groups make the most noise. I may feel safe from 99.9% of the country but that 0.1% is more threatening and terrifying than ever before. I spoke to Mary and Jake about an antisemitic attack I was the victim of nearly ten years ago, and while it left me scarred (literally), it’s the only real experience I have had, certainly the only violent one. Seeing the abuse Izzy has received may be more passive, but has just as sinister a tone. The only difference to the cowards who hit me as a twelve year old boy and ran away, and the cowards behind a computer screen today, is that these trolls can rally support and spread their hatred like never before. It may not be as visible but it is certainly as effective. So what we need to do is find ways to adapt to countering this social media hate speech. We need to stand up and be proud to shout that we are Jews, that we do not tolerate hate speech, that we support Israel’s right to exist and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. There are people out there who do not believe we have the right to that.
Izzy’s aim of drawing attention to the Hitler poster was an attempt to highlight antisemitism as an issue. I don’t think anyone could have imagined how effective this would be. Everyone continue getting behind her, raising the awareness, and let’s find ways to pro-actively prevent this happening. We are a great community when it comes to reaction, but in terms of action we lag behind. We should be shouting from the rooftops how proud we are of being Jewish and if we don’t show this to the world then we will keep living in fear as antisemitism builds up once again, and the safety of Jews throughout Europe and on campuses continues to be compromised.