“Jews are News” on Twitter – why?
Dec 15, 2022 | Alana Schetzer
Despite being just 0.2% of the world’s population, Jews are news, especially on Twitter.
In the past three months, Jewish and Israel-associated words have trended daily – sometimes multiple times daily – on the social media platform, which was recently taken over by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
“Jewish”, “Jews”, “The Jews”, “Israel”, “Holocaust”, “antisemitism”, “Yiddish”, “Hebrew”, “American Jews”, “Tel Aviv”, “Jerusalem” and “Jews in Hollywood” are just some of the trending words and phrases that have been all but unavoidable on Twitter for months.
This began well before music icon Kanye West started so prominently spewing antisemitic hatred, commencing on October 9, and also well before Israelis went to the polls on Nov. 1. It has continued since.
The fact that this consistent trend has been apparently occurring largely outside of any major stories in the news cycle superficially seems bizarre. However, when you consider how much antisemitism and the world’s obsession with Israel have gone mainstream in 2022, it becomes much less so.
Israeli journalist, social media expert and activist Emily Schrader believes that this trend – and antisemitism in general – can be at least partly explained by “envy”.
“Jews are disproportionately successful as a community in the Western world and unfortunately a by-product of this is envy,” she explains. “A huge part of antisemitism is motivated by envy and that often manifests in antisemitism.”
“When it comes to Twitter, Jews, LGBTQI+ and women are among the most targeted groups on the platform and this is directly related to the fact that oppression of these minorit[y] groups is not accepted in society… those with bigoted beliefs take to Twitter where they can express that hate without the consequences they would face if they behaved violently towards Jewish people. Unfortunately, in the long term this normalises antisemitism in person as well.”
A survey of tweets that mention any of the above trending words shows some involving an intense mix of vile antisemitic hatred, racism, and conspiracy theories, others that involve uneducated statements and stereotypes, and thirdly, tweets from passionate Jewish activists and allies attempting to both educate the public and hit back against this ongoing wave of hatred and racism.
However, the latter group is being swamped in that wave, just in terms of sheer numbers.
Twitter has long been a largely hostile environment for Jewish people; in September, a peer-reviewed study from the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (ISCA) revealed that antisemitism has been on the rise, and that between 2019 and 2020, an antisemitic tweet was published every 20 seconds.
Most of them involved conspiracy theories about the Holocaust, the Middle East and “Jewish global dominance”. In 2020 alone – during the global COVID-19 pandemic, which inspired a new wave of deranged antisemitic conspiracies – anti-Jewish tweets rose to total 14% of all tweets posted.
“Social media has become the largest medium for antisemitic narratives, which can radicalise individuals and lead to violence,” the ISCA report said. “Coronavirus has only exacerbated the challenge posed by hatred against Jews and antisemitic conspiracy theories.”
ISCA is now focusing its research on identifying the sources of these tweets, which it says appear to largely originate from neo-Nazi groups, anti-Zionist groups and state-sponsored activities from Iran and other countries.
Schrader adds that while antisemites have long been able to peddle their abuse and conspiracy theories online while hiding behind a veil of anonymity, the increasing mainstream visibility of antisemitism has evolved to the point where this is changing.
“That hate has increased over time and created a reality where Jew-hatred is normalised. This cycle will continue until social media platforms develop better ways to cope with hate speech against Jews and other minorities,” she says.
Since Musk bought Twitter in a controversial $US44 billion takeover, finalised in October, antisemitic tweets have reportedly spiked. The Network Contagion Research Institute – which monitors online hate and disinformation – has called it a “prolific surge”. It stated that “terms associated with Jew are being tweeted over 5,000 times per hour” and that “the most engaged tweets are overtly antisemitic.”
The obsession with Jews on Twitter appears also to be a symptom of what is happening in the real world; over the past three years, there have been record spikes in antisemitic incidents globally, including physical attacks. Over 2020-2021, antisemitic incidents in the UK increased by 78%, in France by 75%, and by 34% in the US.
Moreover, several current and former United States federal officials have stated that antisemitism on Twitter is actually fuelling verbal and physical attacks against Jews.
In late November, more than 180 non-profit and civil rights organisations (including AIJAC), signed an open letter to Twitter, calling on it to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism. The definition, which has been taken up by dozens of governments across the world, including Australia and the United States, is a vital tool in supporting governments, businesses and organisations to combat antisemitism.
Schrader stresses there “absolutely” is a problem with antisemitism on Twitter, adding that its own policies are either not being enforced or are being enforced “selectively”.
“Social media platforms have an opportunity to educate the public about the toxic hatred of antisemitism instead of simply removing content or banning users. As a private company, they can flag or downgrade content based on the promotion of antisemitic or hateful speech. This would be a much better alternative than censorship in most cases,” she urged.