It would appear Twitter has an antisemitism problem – and also a penchant for double standards. The social media platform has become a cesspit of antisemitic hatred. In just 280 characters, users are able to communicate some of the most vile invective, conspiracy theories and caricatures. Many of the “twits” who tweet, invariably hide behind avatars or their twitter handles, failing to provide proper profile pictures and names. Cowards.
Over the last few weeks, Twitter has given a tailwind to a new breed of hater – the celebrity. Not content to sit in their mansions and virtue signal on issues ranging from the environment to social justice, it seems that quite a few have decided to parlay their “talent” to Twitter and other social media. Rapper Ice Cube, comedienne Chelsea Handler, football player Desaun Jackson, former America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon, and even Madonna (is she still relevant?) have espoused anti-Semitic rhetoric. Some like Nick Cannon, Desaun Jackson and more recently, Ice Cube, have apologized and offered to engage and learn about Judaism. But there are others who have not.
Enter British rapper, Wiley. Born Richard Kylea Cowie Jr, the rapper went on a tirade against Jews that included accusations that would not have been out of place had Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels written them himself. In a rant lasting nearly 24 hours, the hate included comments like “Israel is ours,” you cannot “challenge the Jewish community” without losing your job, the Jews were equivalent to the Ku Klux Klan, and that he was “not antisemitic, I am anti-slippery people.”
“I don’t care about Hitler, I care about black people,” he commented, adding of Jews, “Do you know what these people do to the world?”
This raised the ire of many, not just the Jewish community. It also brought to light the horrific abuse that Jews are facing online. In the last two weeks, Twitter has faced a barrage of criticism – first for allowing white supremacists to persist with the hashtag #JewishPrivilege and the second, controversy over the symbol of the Jewish people, the Star of David. The extraordinary activist, Hen Mazzig, led a campaign to take back the hashtag and soon Jews were sharing their agonizing stories of experiencing antisemitism. We then turned it on its head and started celebrating the things we feel makes us proud to be Jewish. This was followed in quick succession by the banning of the Star of David as a “hateful image”. After a massive outcry, Twitter apologized and rectified but the Wiley tweets were just the straw that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back.
After Wiley’s tirade, Twitter was inundated with complaints and calls to shut his account down. Wiley was banned from Twitter (as well as Instagram and Facebook) for a week. This was not suitable punishment – just a mere slap on the wrist.
This prompted Jewish organisations that were joined of prominent figures and organisations in the United Kingdom and around the world to boycott Twitter and Instagram for 48 hours starting on Monday morning in response to antisemitism on the social media platforms.
The boycott was promoted under the hashtag #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate, which participants shared on their social media pages along with an image that called out Twitter’s “inaction on anti-Jewish racism”. Israelis, Americans, Australians and many others took a stand against online hate. What was particularly heartening was to see allies from the Muslim and black communities joining their Jewish brothers and sisters. Lawmakers, celebrities and more also went Twitter radio silent.
The expectation was not to shut down Twitter but to raise awareness and the alarm against growing online Jew hatred. And so far it has succeeded with that mission – and also sent a clear message that when it comes to antisemitism, Jews will no longer be passive. We will shout as loud as we can or sometimes resort to silence – which can be deafening. Sometimes the silent protests achieve the loudest results. Wiley has now been permanently banned from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Jews should not have to resort to protests to raise the alarm against antisemitism. One hopes that Twitter will wake up and realise that they cannot have a double standard either.
The social media platform announced yesterday they had withdrawn a video retweeted by US President Donald Trump in which doctors made allegedly false claims about the coronavirus pandemic, after Facebook took similar action.
“Tweets with the video are in violation of our COVID-19 misinformation policy. We are taking action in line with our policy,” a Twitter spokesperson says, declining to give details on how many people had watched the video.
Like or loathe President Trump, it appears that when the US President tweets, he is sanctioned almost immediately but arch antisemites like Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan and the Iranian Ayatollah Al Khamenei who have tweeted appalling hatred that has included calls for Israel to be eradicated or referred to Jews as “cancers” are allowed.
Words have meaning and consequences. Over the last few years, Jews have been the victims of violence and in a number of cases; hate crime murders. The message was clear – there can be no safe space for Jew hate, no matter how famous you are. We hope that Twitter received the message. Loud and clear.
Feature picture: The Twitter logo superimposed on antisemitic tweets (photo credit: SCREENSHOT/JTA)
Imagine for a moment, what it would feel like for a small child to taste ice cream for the first time, to feel the soft, comforting hug of a giant teddy bear. Imagine as a parent, being able to sit and enjoy a quiet cup of coffee while your child plays safely. These are small, everyday gestures that we take for granted but for those many thousands affected by civil war in Syria, they are miracles.
Civil war broke out in Syria in 2001, affecting millions of civilians. This is a war that still continues. My Lay of the Land colleague, Yair Chelouche, and I recently had the pleasure of travelling to the Golan Heights (responsibly masked of course!) to meet with Lt Col (Res) Eyal Dror, commander of the “Good Neighbor” directorate, under the IDF’s Northern Command.
We meet Lt Col (Res) Dror at a lookout point that gives us a clear view of Syria, the surrounding hills and the old city of Quneitra. The landscape is dotted with apple orchards and cherry trees and seems peaceful. Deceptively peaceful.
To understand the tremendous security threat that Israel faces on the border, we have to look at the topography of the landscape. From our vantage point, just 500m from the border with Syria, we gain a better understanding just how close terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS are to Israel. The ever present threat posed by Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah is not too far away and the IDF need to be ever vigilant.
We also cannot forget that there is still an ongoing civil war in Syria.
The impact of civil war on a civilian population is tragic beyond belief. Civilians are not only caught in the crossfire but are often used as pawns between warring factions, women raped and children severely traumatized. Information about what was happening to Syria’s civilians reached the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and Lt Col (Res)
Dror, who had previously served in coordination and liaison units with the Palestinians, was approached to form a unit that would carry out an extremely important mission – helping to save the lives of Syrian civilians by enabling them to receive medical and humanitarian care in Israel.
The result was “Operation Good Neighbor”, which started in 2016 and was forced to come to an end in 2018, following the return of the Assad government’s control of southern Syria along the border with Israel.
Over 700 missions were carried out and nearly 5000 civilians brought into Israel. A field clinic was also set up with the aid of a Christian organisation near the border and this allowed for the treatment of 8000 Syrians. The IDF also opened up a maternity ward next to the field clinc and one of the greatest achievement of “Operation Good Neighbor”, was welcoming 1000 babies into the world!
“First of all, I always remember that my mission is to create security – to create good neighbourly relations on both sides of the border. We do this, perhaps, in the noblest way possible,” says Lt Col (Res) Dror commander of the “Good Neighbor” Administration. “It is a great privilege for me to command a unit whose mission it is, in this place and at this time. We have been given the opportunity to influence reality, and with a lot of will and good people – I believe we will continue to do the best we can.”
Looking out at the ruins of the old city of Quneitra and surrounding landscape, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the brave soldiers of the IDF, who endured immensely difficult and dangerous conditions, to rescue these equally courageous civilians. I imagined heavy fire exchanges between Assad’s forces and rebels, frightened civilians and extremely alert IDF soldiers, with an ever present awareness that they were helping to rescue civilians from an enemy country and that very territory was fraught with terror entities. The IDF soldiers knew that they were carrying out a sacred mission, in line with the ethos and moral code of the army – the sanctity of protecting civilian life.
“Aid operations take place almost every night, at high intensity and in all weather,” says the commander of the 77th Battalion, Lt Col (Res) Shaul Israeli, whose battalion performs operational employment on the Syrian border. “Sometimes it is about transferring food to children, sometimes with medicines and sometimes also real medical equipment. The most exciting action of all is the transfer of children to medical care in the country – patients, the disabled and those who do not have access to appropriate medical care in Syria, find in us light and hope for a better life for them.”
From our vantage point, we can see the enormous United Nations compound, where peacekeeping forces are stationed. I asked Lt Col (Res) Dror if the UN or any other counterparts like the EU (European Union) had any part to play in “Operation Good Neighbor”. He explicitly replied that they did not. It would appear that neither major international body (who are often prone to great criticism of Israel) was interested in helping in any way. The IDF was also responsible for the rescue of 400 Syrian civilians who were members of the ‘White Helmets’, a civil defense volunteer organization and their families.
But this mission was all about the civilians. The individual stories grip your heart. Listening to Lt Col (Res) Dror, the tears welled in my eyes.
What is important to understand, is that this wasn’t simply a case of bringing people in, patching up their wounds and then sending them home. It was not a “band aid” approach.
Many civilians required long term care and were dispatched to various hospitals.
“Imagine what it was like to come to a country that you are taught is the devil and receive care from an Arab doctor or a Druze nurse, speaking to you in Arabic. Those making it possible were Israeli soldiers in uniform. They see that Israel is made up lots of different people”, says Dror. I asked him if the IDF was ever acknowledged and his reply was that they didn’t need it but having received the smiles, the pictures drawn for them by children and just the knowledge that generations of Syrians will grow up with a positive understanding of Israel was thanks enough.
Lt Col (Res) Dror, recalls how he asked one little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. His question was met with silence. To this sweet little boy, who had seen his closest friend killed, the idea of reaching adulthood, let alone contemplating a career was something he could not fathom. After a while he remarked that he could now have hope that at least maybe he could grow up to reach adulthood.
The gift of hope is priceless!
The soldiers who served on this mission have a lifetime of memories from the individual stories of the people they helped.
Lt Col (Res) Dror is visibly moved when he shares two stories. A little girl was brought into Israel, her leg completely crushed. In such cases, she would have had her leg amputated and sent back to where she came from. Doctors who treated her however, decided that she would stay in Israel for several months for rehabilitation after being fitted with an expensive Ilizarov external fixator, the cost covered by Israel. The IDF and her team of doctors and caregivers made sure that she would have everything she needed to improve her quality of life.
Lt Col (Res) Dror shares a lovely picture of an Israeli flag. This story is very special to him. Another little girl was safely brought in for medical care. Suffering severely from diabetes, doctors remarked that if she had not been brought to them for care and treatment, she would have been dead within hours. Her palate had virtually disintegrated as a result of her illness. Doctors and surgeons treated her, reconstructed her mouth and sent her home with a year’s supply of insulin and medicine. Medicine for diabetes is hard to find in Syria and is prohibitively expensive.
The stories are endless and so moving. Children were able to play for the first time without fear, taste the simple pleasure of ice cream while their parents can enjoy moments of respite from war. It is hard to imagine the courage that it took for these
civilians to risk their lives to receive care from an army and country that they once perceived as the ultimate enemy. It is even harder to imagine their life under constant threat of war. For the soldiers of the IDF who participated in “Operation Good Neighbor”, the ultimate ‘Thank You’ was evident in the hope that they helped instill, the improvement in the health and quality of life for thousands, and the massive barrier of distrust and hate that came crumbling down under the force of humanity and care.
The IDF proved that in a time of strife, you can still love thy neighbour.
Warning: This video clip might contain imagery not suitable for sensitive viewers
Operation Good Neighbor is a mission of compassion for those in need and of hope for a better, more secure border between Israel and Syria. Over the past six years, we’ve seen war destroy the lives of Syrian civilians. We couldn’t stand by and watch. While carrying out Operation Good Neighbor, we’ve had the honour of meeting our neighbours and hearing their stories. #OperationGoodNeighbor#IDFOperations
Whatever happened to the art of conversation and polite debate? There used to be a time when we could engage in robust, often passionate discussion and if we had divergent opinions, we would politely agree to disagree and then move on. No friendships were ended. No ties were cut. Nobody was “cancelled”.
Cancel culture is an ugly new phenomenon and lately it seems to be gaining a stronger tailwind than ever before. One only has to visit the social media platforms of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see how anyone with a different opinion from the “woke” norm, are summarily subjected to online abuse and then cast aside. Cancelled. Persona non grata. You will never work in this town again!
It would appear that the first casualty of this is nuance. Understanding the complexities of issues is important if we are to find middle ground – and tolerance. Somewhere and nobody is certain when we lost our ability to politely and respectfully debate, discuss and engage in discourse. Having an opinion today can get you into serious trouble. As the momentum from Black Lives Matter protests grows around the world so to increasing extremism of some elements within the ranks that are pushing an agenda. One of the issues of this agenda is erasing those parts of history that explain the injustices of the past because they don’t support a narrative that the movement would like to promote. Statues, movies such as the classic “Gone with the Wind”, product branding and even great literary works like “To kill a Mockingbird” seem to have no place in current society because there may be references to inequality and racism.
From New York to South Carolina, and from London to Liverpool, statues are being pulled down off their respective plinths. The war on history and culture has started. But will cancelling important historical narratives really bring about racial equality or justice?
The only way to move forward, to teach tolerance and help to heal and understand the injustices and hurts of the past so that we can all do better is to have nuanced, robust and even painful conversations.
When Apartheid fell in South Africa, there were hearings conducted between victims and perpetrators of the racist system. The intention was to try and heal some of the terrible pain of the past and to help each side understand each other’s experience. Perhaps this is needed in other parts of the world so that the perpetrators can understand and learn, and we can all work towards a better, more just and tolerant society.
It is not just around issues of race where cancel culture is flourishing. Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, created a storm that had muggles on social media channeling their inner Voldemort. All jokes (and bad references to the wizarding world) aside, Rowling’s attempts to explain her position regarding the transgender community. The row began after Rowling responded to a headline on an online article discussing “people who menstruate” by writing in a tweet: “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
Critics accused her of being transphobic, but Rowling said she stood by her comments, saying it “isn’t hate to speak the truth”. Rowling took umbrage to the definition of women as “people who menstruate” and in an impassioned essay warned of the erosion of the identity of women.
Rowling was summarily called a “TERF” – transgender exclusionary radical feminist and cancelled across social media. Even the stars of her movies, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, whose careers were effectively birthed by the series, criticized Rowling. Was this because they honestly took offense or because they themselves were fearful of being cancelled should they be seen NOT to take a stand?
Cancel culture which is favoured by the far left is the most illiberal form of liberalism. There is nothing progressive about killing debate – or careers.
There is also a difference between cancel culture and holding someone accountable for their actions. By removing debate and discussion, the ability to teach the importance of taking accountability and the relevant consequences falls by the wayside.
The one area where cancel culture seems to have disappeared is around antisemitism. This ancient hatred is allowed to go unchecked. It is quite unbelievable that while the world holds important and necessary discussions around race, the rising discrimination and hatred targeted at Jews is roundly ignored. Those of us active in the fight against antisemitism are routinely told “don’t make it about you”. This is an appalling double standard. Jews are paying with their lives having been killed in synagogues, museums, grocery stores and in their homes from Pittsburgh to Paris. The time for silence is over.
The only way to fight racism is to deal with all forms of hatred and prejudice. Fighting racism effectively should not be done at the expense of promoting another form of prejudice, including antisemitism.
Cancel culture is dangerous. At a time when the world has become more and more polarized, we can ill afford more divisions, let alone shutting down conversation and people entirely. The dangers of this kind of extremism supported by the far left are that eventually the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction and give a tailwind to the alt-right.
The only way forward is to seek middle ground and engage in discourse and education.
Perhaps the time has come to cancel this cancel culture?
I was asked recently if it would be possible to appear on an international news channel and be a “neutral” commentator on the announcement by the United Nations Human Rights Council of a blacklist of 112 companies doing business “related to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” which for the UN includes the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. This is an issue that defies neutrality for so many reasons. As Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin said, it recalled one of the darkest periods of our history, a time just before the outbreak of World War II, when Jews were forced to wear yellow stars, denoting us as different – and Jewish owned business boycotted, looted or destroyed.
It defies all rationale when countries like Sudan, Venezuela, Algeria, Bahrain, Bolivia, Chad, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Libya and others form part of the bloc that sponsored the March 2016 resolution that led to the publishing of the blacklist. After all, these are not countries that enjoy good records on human rights.
There must be many victims of conflict wondering why their cries fall on deaf ears. The United Nations prove time and again that when it comes to Israel, they have a focus that has become an obsession. Resolution after resolution time and again, single Israel out for opprobrium but gross human rights violations like those in Iran, Venezuela, Syria and many other places barely elicit a response.
The publishing of this blacklist also plays right into the hands of the BDS (Boycott Divestment and sanctions) movement whose desired end goal is for Israel to not exist, a desire expressed clearly on their website and in their rhetoric. BDS is anti-normalisation – they are against any discourse and interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. For many who believe that peace will be built from the interaction between ordinary people and the provision of jobs and opportunities, a campaign like this deals a decisive blow to any efforts towards sustainable peace.
According to NGO Monitor, an organisation that monitors the often murky activities of non-governmental organisations, many of whom are associated with the BDS movement, not only was this list made in conjunction with pro-BDS and PFLP-linked NGOs, but these companies have done nothing wrong and many are involved in providing goods and services to Palestinians pursuant to the Oslo Accords.
These companies help create employment and opportunity for many Palestinians, who stand to lose the most. The decision to create a blacklist of companies not only threatens Palestinian employment opportunities but blocks access to the much needed humanitarian aid and infrastructure that these companies provide. The blacklist also hearkens back to times when Jews were singled out and put on exclusionary lists and today, the growing practice of labelling products manufactured in the West Bank is tantamount to wearing a modern day yellow star. Why is Israel singled out for this treatment but other countries with conflict situations are not?
A few weeks ago, I attended a conference where the CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birenbaum, was a featured speaker. SodaStream is a well-known Israeli brand, sold to PepsiCo for a whopping $3.2billion, faces threats by BDS because their factory was situated in the West Bank. Birenbaum addressed the discriminatory practice of labelling goods produced in the West Bank by saying “if they want labels, we will give them labels” and promptly displayed the label found on all on SodaStream products.
Perhaps it would behoove the UN to learn from examples of co-existence and not pander to campaigns that are anti-Semitic and fall into the trap of questioning Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state. Blacklists, boycotts and labelling campaigns are harmful to sincere peace building efforts.
The timing of this could not be more bizarre. The release of the blacklist comes against the background of the release of the Trump Peace Plan. Although the Palestinians have roundly refused to even look at the plan, it has been endorsed by countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and other Arab countries.
The Arab world is slowly opening up to the realization that recognition of Israel and the potential mutual business potential only bode well for the people of the region – and helps stave off the massive threat posed by Iran, a country not exactly lauded for its record on human rights.
This move by the United Nations Human Rights Council is a dark day for the institution, for Israel and the Palestinians and gives a tailwind to anti-Semites. It is a failure of the power of an agency charged with the mandate of protecting global human rights.
For the United Nations that is fast losing credibility and the regard the institution once held, the publishing of this blacklist, coupled with the obsessive focus on Israel at the expense of other conflicts and human rights issues around the world prove that or this once venerable body, antisemitism is just business as usual.
Unto every person there is a name. If you think about it, our names are the only possessions that we retain throughout our lives and many of us worry if they will be remembered long after we pass. In Jewish tradition, names are symbolic of divine energy.
Memory can be also regarded as the lifeblood of Jewish tradition. We remember our dead every year with special dates in the Hebrew calendar that mark the anniversary of their death and by lighting a yahrtzheit (memorial) candle. But what of the millions who perished in the Holocaust? Whole families and communities who were murdered? How do we remember them?
One poignant way is through a project called Stolpersteine(stumbling stones).
If you walk through the streets of Prague or Berlin or any number of European cities, you will come across brass plates, no bigger than 10cm x 10cm, dotted all over the cities. These are Stolpersteine.
Stolpersteine or “stumbling stones’ was founded by artist, Gunter Demnig. The project was started as a way to commemorate the victims of the Nazis. These plates are painstakingly and respectfully placed into the pavement in front of the last voluntarily chosen places of residence of the victims of the Nazis. Their names and fate are engraved into a brass plate on the top of each Stolpersteine.
These modest memorials keep memory alive; they bear testament to the tenet that here too, lived a person. This person had a life, a family and a future. The person that lived at this address ceased to exist because of hatred and intolerance.
It is not just Jews that are honoured by the Stolpersteine project. Famed Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, once commented that not all the victims were Jewish, but all the Jews were victims. The Nazis with their racist ideology, also deemed the Sinti and Roma, people from the political or religious resistance, people who had physical or mental disability and were “euthanized”, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and anyone who they felt was “sub-human” and not a perfect Aryan.
For some families, participating in the Stolpersteine project, it is not just a way to eternally memorialise their lost loved ones, but a way to learn family history. It is also important for the descendants of those who perished, to have the opportunity to restore dignity to the victims that were so cruelly robbed and to give their loved ones the funerals they never had.
Yair Chelouche has a Stolpersteine dedicated to his family members in Berlin and Halle, Germany shared some thoughts:
“When I visited Berlin a couple of years ago and participated in a guided tour, I became curious where these Stolpersteine came from. I wrote to the project founders; and was told that my application was referred to the relevant region where my family came from and that it could take a few years to process. One day, I was contacted by one of the volunteers who dealt with the Stolpersteine in Pankow, where my family lived. Finding information on my grandmother was easy because all the documentation was there, where she lived and where she died later in Theresienstadt. My grandfather was more of an enigma; but after a lot of intense research, we found out that he was a PhD from Heidelberg University and one of the founders of one of the first Jewish student fraternities of that university. He was a great Zionist who knew Herzl, Bodenheimer and others who were giants of the Jewish world,” continues Yair, a great-grandchild who searched for his family roots and history.
“Finally, we were able to tie up all the loose ends and close the painful chapters of our family history that we did not know. Through learning about our family during this process, we were able to give them their name, their dignity, make sense of the places they lived in. We were able to follow in their footsteps until the cruel end of their lives”, he says.
Stolpersteine exist in many countries across Europe but not everyone embraced the memorials. The German city council of Munich rejected the Stolpersteine following objections from Munich’s Jewish community (and particularly its chairwoman, Charlotte Knobloch, then also President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and herself a former victim of Nazi persecution). Knobloch objected to the idea that the names of murdered Jews be inserted in the pavement, where people might accidentally step on them. It would be seen as “walking on the graves of dead Jews”.
Founder of the Stolpersteine project, Demnig, participated in the discussions, stating that “he intends to create a memorial at the very place where the deportation started: at the homes where people had lived last”. A compromise was reached where plaques were put up on the walls of homes of individuals and not the pavement.
In other cities, permission for the project was preceded by long, sometimes emotional discussions. In Krefeld, the vice-chairman of the Jewish community, Michael Gilad, said that Demnig’s memorials reminded him of how the Nazis had used Jewish gravestones as slabs for sidewalks. A compromise was reached that a stolpersteine could be installed if a prospective site was approved by both the house’s owner and (if applicable) the victim’s relatives. Since 2009, 23 Stolpersteine for the Belgian city of Antwerp have been produced but have not be placed due to local resistance against the project. They have been stored in Brussels where they are regularly exhibited.
Most cities across Europe welcome this initiative. They recognize that as time passes and the numbers of survivors dwindle, projects like Stolpersteine play an important part in saying, I too existed. I too lived and loved.
I too had a name.
*Feature picture: A view of some “stolpersteine” in Berlin, August 2012. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images via JTA)
Genocide seems to have become a hot commodity these days. For those with discerning but appalling taste, images of Auschwitz can decorate your closet or your home. Fancy an “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will set you free, the sign at the entrance to Auschwitz Death Camp) scatter cushion or even more disgusting, a gas chamber print shower curtain? You can purchase on a variety of e-commerce sites.
For some reason, companies like Pixel.com, Amazon and Red Bubble, all of whom have featured Auschwitz-themed products, think it is okay to commercialise and commoditize the world’s most notorious death camp which saw amongst others, the wholesale extermination of the Jewish people, including the elderly and children. Over a million people were slaughtered, tortured, had medical experiments inflicted on them and endured hell on earth at this place. Jews were the only group targeted for mass murder.
Auschwitz is a monument to the darkest, most traumatic time in our history – not a desirable print for your fall fashion line or the perfect way to accessorise your couch. Fashion website, Red Bubble thought a pencil skirt or scatter cushions was a fetching way to make a buck. They faced a barrage of outrage and were eventually forced to take it down.
In the last week, e-commerce giant Amazon was taken to task for selling Christmas ornaments with images of Auschwitz on them. Because nothing says festive season and peace and goodwill to all men like genocide? You could also order the matching bottle opener.
The Auschwitz Memorial in Poland weighed in on the sale of Christmas ornaments and bottle openers calling it disturbing, inappropriate and disrespectful and eventually, Amazon took the offensive products off their site.
With the avalanche of complaints from Jews and people of common sense around the world, one would think that other merchants would have learnt. Is it an act of deliberate provocation, ignorance or just plain bad taste?
When did it become okay to treat the worst genocide in history as a saleable commodity, to be exploited on clothing and home accessories?
This week, Pixels.com, a site that facilities the selling of artist’s prints and photographs also jumped in on the profiting off mass murder bandwagon when they advertised the opportunity to but beach towels, phone cases, yoga mats, duvet covers, tote bags, t-shirts, mugs, portable battery chargers and other items on their site. There was even an image of the gas chambers on a shower curtain. There are barely enough words to express how hurtful and offensive this is.
There is nothing remotely “beachie” about a towel with a death camp on it. There is nothing zen about prisoner barracks on a yoga mat. Only an avalanche of outraged complaints seemed to wake up these pornographers of death. Inundated with complaints, they eventually removed the offensive articles from their website; but this has not been the first time this site has published these products. It probably won’t be the last.
A recent study in the USA found that two thirds of millennials can’t identify Auschwitz. It is an absolute imperative that we educate our youth – and these sites. Education first – before the grossest genocide in human history becomes nothing but an item for sale. Sadly, some experts say that as these e-commerce sites become more automated, this horrible trend may only grow.
We cannot be complacent. I can only imagine the pain of Holocaust survivors when they see that their grief, their pain, their torture is for sale and we need to speak up for them. We need to act for those who perished who have no voice. Our message has to be clear.
Our pain, our loss is not for sale. Our trauma, our lost loved ones are not for your profit margins.
Genocide is not a profitable commodity – no matter how you accessorise it.
There is barely a day that goes by without some iteration of antisemitism rearing its ugly head, somewhere around the world. In every guise you can image – the desecration of graves in Jewish cemeteries, shootings in synagogues, the alt-right, the ultra-left, campus activism, venomous slurs directed at children, rabbis beaten in the street, the new phenomenon of political antisemitism – you name it, this hatred has manifested.
Antisemitism is at a record high and it seems that no corner of the globe is immune. The message seems to be clear – it is open season on attacking Jews – verbally and sometimes physically.
Antisemitism is often referred to as the “oldest hatred” and it metastasizes quickly and in various forms. This ancient hatred has the uncanny ability to adapt to changing times and political climates. It seems that in this age of global uncertainty; where identity politics is becoming more and more prevalent; if you have a divergent opinion you could be “cancelled”, Jews once again, are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine.
In parts of the world where it was taken for granted that the vile tentacles of antisemitism would not reach, this is no longer the reality. It used to be taken for granted that countries like the United States or Australia were immune to this hatred or that Germany and Poland had learnt from their history less than a century ago but sadly, this isn’t the case.
According to recent surveys conducted by organisations like the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and the AJC (American Joint Committee) who conducted their research on growing antisemitism recently, they both reported an alarming rise in statistics.
The ADL findings reported that these countries had the highest percentages of antisemitism: Poland, South Africa (although the SA Jewish Board of Deputies disputes these findings), Ukraine, Hungary, Russia, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Belgium and Austria.
Australia reported a 30% increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the last year that included verbal abuse, harassment, and intimidation. This is according to the country’s annual Report on Antisemitism in Australia.
The United States has seen antisemitism spread like a plague across university campuses, Orthodox Jews harassed and beaten up in New York City, and violence has escalated to the point where the community has endured two deadly synagogue shootings and the site of members of the alt-right marching with their tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us”. Like Britain with controversy surrounding antisemitism in the Labour party and the reluctance or stubborn refusal of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to tackle this scourge which leaves many of England’s Jews feeling politically stateless, the United States has seen the same phenomenon rears its ugly head in US politics. 2019 has been the year of the “Squad” – rookie congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and to a lesser account, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has used their newly minted status and platforms like Twitter to excoriate the Jewish state. This has filtered out into the ultra-left and is evident on university campuses and in movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March.
The irony is that the two seemingly divergent left and right meet in the middle when it comes to opinions on Jews and the nation state of the Jewish people – Israel.
It is social media that is perhaps becoming the most alarming platform for hate. Mediums like Facebook and Twitter have created a space where like-minded haters can band together to create community. In this instance, these communities empower each other to prey upon their targets.
As an outspoken supporter of Israel, I have received my fair share of nasty messages and have summarily reported them to Twitter and Facebook. Apparently wishing me dead does not violate their “community standards”. Pop superstar, Lady Gaga, once commented that social media was “the toilet of the internet” and she could not have been more right.
Actor and comedian, Sasha Baron Cohen, famous for playing some of the most controversial and sometimes tasteless characters in his movies (albeit to prove a point) recently took Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg to task for among many things, not effectively regulating his platform. Cohen rightly stated that should platforms like Twitter and Facebook been around during Hitler’s time, the dictator and his murderous henchman would have used it to full effect to propagate hate. Cohen called these platforms “the greatest propaganda machines in history. “
He went on to take shots at Zuckerberg for allowing Holocaust deniers to go unregulated because of the “freedom of speech”.
“Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach,” Cohen asserted. “I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.”
Social media is not the only battlefield for rising antisemitism. The battlefield has moved to the streets, the schools, the corridors of power, the graveyards, university campus, and the holy sanctuaries. It has become pervasive.
The only way to fight this scourge is to speak up. Stand Up – it is important to remember that we have a voice. Social media platforms used for propagating hate can also be used to educate against it. It is important that intolerance is not allowed an environment to flourish. Antisemitism gives a tailwind to those who wish to discriminate against any minority. Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor in his famous poem first they came said the following,
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Speak up. Do not let hatred go unchecked. Don’t let this become the new “normal”.
Maligned, misunderstood, and derided, provocative, emotive and polarizing. Often condemned, just the mention of the word Zionism is enough to raise the blood pressure of many. This often results in both pro and anti-Israel activists engaging in a battle of words. Frighteningly, this battlefield has expanded way beyond the Social Network to university campuses and other congregating venues where Jews identifying as Zionist are at physical risk.
So, what is Zionism exactly and why is it such a hot-button issue?
Simply put, Zionism is the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of the rights of the Jewish people to organize themselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to ancient roots and love for Zion.
Zion is synonymous with city of God; the place that God loves – Jerusalem. ‘Mount Zion’ – on the southeast side of the Old City – is the high hill on which King David built a citadel. The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised” as a “monument”.
Zion is described both as the City of David and the City of God.
The word Zion is embedded into Jewish religion and culture as it is embedded into the rock and masonry of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.
The great American civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King is rumoured to have described Zionism as “nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”.
After thousands of years of being made aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, Jews have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland. The word Zion refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.
Israel’s detractors are quick to point out that Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle’s support of Palestinians. What they neglect to conveniently mention is Madiba’s support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – Zionism.
Mandela has been quoted as saying
“As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” he said in 1993. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”
There has been much debate, discussion and social media brouhaha over who is or what defines a Zionist. Zionism is not restricted to Jews, but many Christians, Druze and yes, even Muslims consider themselves Zionists. Supporting Jewish rights to self-determination in no way makes one anti-Palestinian. Sadly, so much misunderstanding about what constitutes Zionism has resulted in alienating people who have an emotional attachment to Israel. Too many would prefer that Zionism be relegated onto the pile of other unwanted “isms”.
Many thought that with the realisation of the modern state of Israel, anti-Semitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.
The world has emerged a hostile place for Zionists.
Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis, the UK Labor party with its ongoing accusations of institutionalized antisemitism and BDS supporters in Europe, South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.
The argument “I am not an anti-Semite, I just don’t like Zionists” is spurious.
Even the French President, Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is “a new type of antiSemitism.” He told the Israeli Prime Minister when speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps that France will “not surrender” to anti-Israel rhetoric.
There are an estimated 50 Muslim countries in the world, and an estimated 30 countries that define themselves as Christian. There is only one Jewish state and yet, so many have an issue with its very existence?
Saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is in fact, racism.
Is it politically correct to criticize Israel?
Criticising the government and its policies is the national sport of Israel.
Is Israel perfect? No. And it is perfectly okay and healthy to say so. However, saying that Jews have no right to national self-determination or that Israel has no right to exist is racist and anti-Semitic.
I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and improve. I believe that Zionism means that you want to see an exemplary Israel – a light unto the nations. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as from left to right across the political spectrum.
These values are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
I invite anyone who is somewhat skeptical or perhaps undecided about their views on Zionism to ask themselves how different it is to their national aspirations. Perhaps this will lead to a lot more understanding, a lot less maligning and hopefully an end to the rising violence that so many supporters of Israel are currently enduring.
Israa Ghrayeb was 21 years old. Like most millennials, Israa was social media “obsessed” (to use the vernacular) but little did she know that the platforms so many of us take for granted every day to share the titbits of our lives that are envy inducing to our online communities, would lead to her death.
Israa’s only crime was that she dared meet a young Arab man in a restaurant and document it by sharing it to social media platform, Instagram. Millions of people do this every day and while this meeting was innocent enough, it inspired the rage of the male members of her family to severely beat her. Israa did not meet a stranger that she did not know, she met the man she was intending to marry.
When the family found out, Ghrayeb’s brother, Ihab, allegedly beat and tortured her in their family home.
Trying to escape the violent blows inflicted on her, Israa then fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and was reported to have broken her spine.
Her brother, who is a Canadian resident, was apparently incensed by the video – saying it “dishonoured” the family by presenting herself with her husband-to-be ahead of the actual wedding, according to local media. Her father had allegedly ordered her brother to beat her after family members witnessed the footage online.
After being admitted to hospital following the initial attack, Ghrayeb said she would not be able to work for the next two months as she waited for a spinal cord operation in a post on her Instagram account.
“I’m strong and I have the will to live – if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday,” she said. “Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”
After posting this message, her brother, along with other male relatives, reportedly brutally beat her in the hospital. Footage surfaced on social media of her screaming and begging for her life during the attack.
Israa succumbed to her wounds and passed away. Israa Ghrayeb became the latest horrific statistic in an “honour killing”.
Palestinians took to the street to protest Israa’s death and an end to honour killings.
Israa’s death is not isolated.
Honour killings are not a new phenomenon. In fact, this heinous occurrence has been practiced from as early as Roman times and is prevalent today in North Africa and the Middle East but don’t think that western countries are exempt – incidents of honour killings have been reported in the UK, USA, Canada and others.
The term “honour killing” sounds like a really ridiculous paradox, after all there is absolutely no honour in killing anyone – how could there be? But the issue here isn’t really about honour but more about control over reproductive power. This being said it is not always sexual in nature or about controlling sexual behaviour but rather about fertility.
Now I am scratching my head in confusion as much as you are but these horrendous events occur because in some communities that are patrilineal in nature, a woman’s right to govern her own reproductive freedom. In these societies, women are seen as reproductive factories not seductive sirens.
This makes this barbaric act a lot more complex than originally thought, but in most cases, honour killings occur because women in communities that adhere to strict religious doctrine are expected to toe the line and behave in accordance. In Pakistan for example, women’s right to life are conditional on their “obeying certain norms and traditions.”
Nighat Taufeeq of the Women’s Resource Center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.”
Honour killings are seen as less serious than murder. Sounds like a contradiction but women are being killed for “infractions” ranging from dressing more western to adulterous affairs. This is becoming more and more common, especially in societies that adopt Islamic sharia law even though in centuries past, they have occurred in ancient Rome or medieval times. In some communities, where women are gaining economic power and adopting more customs, there are men that feel that they have to act out in some way, usually violent, to regain some control.
Women who have been raped are also seen as bringing “disgrace” to their families and it is shattering that they become victimized twice over. Should pregnancy result from this, the consequences are catastrophic.
Homosexuality is also seen as legitimate grounds for killing. The United Nations and other NGO’s are alarmed by this phenomenon and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees state that “claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honour killing.”
So surely divorce or a court injunction against possible perpetrators would be the solution?
Sadly, this is usually a trigger for violence against women and for many; the feeling is that hope is lost.
What can be done, if anything, to stop honour killings or as they are called in some countries “crime of passion”?
The first step would be to be to really understand the “honour code” and learn from the lessons in history. For some cultures this practice is repugnant but in others it is acceptable “code”. One solution that has been discussed is “naming and shaming”. Another possibility is in communities where honour killings are seen as part of religious doctrine, to prove that this is not the correct interpretation of the Quran.
The battle to end honour killings is a long and arduous one but necessary. Perhaps the starting point is learning to respect life – not end it. That is the true shame and dishonor. The right to live in dignity and safety is a woman’s right.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege of attending a rehearsal by a fantastic organization called Ukuleles for Peace. The brainchild of Briton, Paul Moore, who realized that something positive had to come out of the chaos of the second Intifada, this outfit endeavours to bring together Jewish and Muslim youth in Israel to find common ground by creating beautiful music together. The instrument of choice? Ukuleles.
Now one would think that the idea of 12 youth from various backgrounds creating harmony while strumming their ukuleles would melt the most cynical of hearts. It did for some – but not others. The 12 unsuspecting students and their stringed accoutrement unwittingly unleashed chaos on social media.
There were a few who took great exception to this story and unleashed a tirade of accusations – accusing those of supporting this project of being “naïve” and of “not taking into account the threats posed by Iran or Hamas” and that we needed “to go back to lalaland with our ukuleles”.
This was quite a strong reaction and it made me wonder what triggered this kind of negative response. Was it the idea of youth from two different communities coming together? Was it that someone not Israeli had identified an opportunity and come up with a solution how to transcend the chaos and conflict and create something positive? Was it the ukuleles?
Whatever it was, it triggered a very aggressive reaction – and an all-out social media war. Many who support this initiative felt compelled to jump in and defend the other position and it got me thinking, we are all working on the same side so why is there such mutual aggression?
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the mediums of choice for anyone wishing to share an opinion.
These social media platforms, while being very positive and useful mediums for sharing your message also has a dark side. These platforms have also provided a space for many who think that they are “experts” or at the very least keyboard generals. In the war against racism, discrimination and antisemitism, social media is fast becoming the biggest battlefield.
As the mega-superstar, Lady Gaga, once said social media is the toilet of the internet.
Nothing is off limits – body shaming, parenting shaming, political viewpoint shaming is all the rage and if anyone can find something about you to insult, you bet your bottom dollar that they will.
And if you are a Zionist –whoo boy, it is open season for attack!!!
It is important to engage and be engaged BUT the how we do it is so important. At a time when antisemitism is rising around the world and many of us feel vulnerable; afraid and attacked (especially by trolls who hide behind the anonymity of a keyboard) is the right response to be as aggressive and abusive?
I am of the opinion that it is not. It is one thing to stand strong and unwavering in your identity – it is another to abuse someone else for a divergent opinion. Make a point emphatically but don’t personally attack people. In other words, play the ball not the player – that way you don’t come across as aggressive – and keep your credibility.
The way that we make our arguments in a public sphere has tremendous impact on our community – and Israel. We forget that the words we say have power. Aggression only serves to harm an empathy and open-mindedness that many have for hearing our point of view.
Have we lost our ability to have intelligent, nuanced conversation?
The whole point of social media is to create community and it is a great medium for connecting Israel to our diverse diaspora communities and is a great opportunity to engage on issues which can be very emotive. This can be done without baying for blood or verbally abusing someone with a different opinion. It only harms us.
Sometimes it is hard to keep a level head – the world seems so polarized, divided between left and right, pro and anti and often nuance and context are the first casualties. Antisemitism is rising; it makes us angry and rightly so.
I believe we need to show up. Show up for the conversation, no matter how difficult it may be. I sincerely believe that very time we engage, like or share on social media, send an email, we stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before us who had no voice and we speak for them. It is a moral imperative to talk, to engage with others, to take advantage of the uncomfortable questions not just as an opportunity to present Israel’s side of the argument but to truly listen to the concerns of others. Instead of shutting down, let’s learn how to answer effectively, factually and with maturity.
We can go on the offensive and fight fact with fact but it is not about who screams the loudest. It is about fighting the injustice of hatred and also making sure that Israel’s narrative is presented in a way that does not bring harm to the image of the country her civilians and our diaspora communities. It is a hideous side effect that every time there is a conflagration or issue in Israel, those who hate take their tempers out on our diaspora communities.
We also need to celebrate the small victories. In a region where terrorism and incitement are all too often the norm, small occasions that bring together people from different backgrounds are cause for celebration – not condemnation.
Perhaps we should take the oath that doctors take before we react emotionally on social media. Our words have consequences. Perhaps it is time to take the oath first do no harm.