On the 5th day of Hanukah this year, a Jewish high school in New York faced a brutal anti-Semitic cyberattack, leaving faculty members and students distressed and many in fear. Their official school website, which had represented a safe space like that of a second home that students would attend five days a week, was bombarded with Nazi propaganda, slurs, and hateful twists on the school’s name such as “North Shore Concentration Camp.”
The trolls did not stop at hijacking the website but continued to release the faculty’s and students’ personal information. Students were even unable to access the information they needed to enter online classes, which also forced the school to cancel classes for that day.
We must ALL speak out against anti-Semitism and hatred in no uncertain terms. We reject it, and we stand with the students, families, and staff of the North Shore Hebrew Academy during this difficult time.
My statement on today's vile anti-Semitic attack ???? pic.twitter.com/oWPHrm2gD3
— Senator Anna M. Kaplan (@AnnaMKaplan) December 15, 2020
At a time like now when school is digital, teen mental health is on the line, this could be even more damaging. And though it is repulsive in itself, it is just one of the many hate crimes and cases of harassment targeted towards the Jewish community that have peaked as of late.
What with lockdown and stay-at-home lifestyles becoming the new normal, anti-Semites have also found themselves safer at home – away from the pandemic and hidden behind a screen, crashing webinars and Zoom classes. And while anti-Semitic behavior is not new in America, the sudden influx in these kinds of cases these few years is fairly recent. In 2017, white supremacists in Charlottesville, their eyes and torches blazing with hate, chanted, “Jews will not replace us” and stood in front of synagogues with rifles. The following year, Robert Bowers took four firearms to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and fired recklessly, killing 11 people.
Attacks against the Jewish community stem from supremacist ideas and conspiracies based on misconceptions about Jews that sprung before and persisted through a span of centuries. Interpretations of the Bible, for example, first influenced many Christians to view Jews as evil and responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Later in history, restrictions placed on Jewish economic activity turned Jews to banking as one of the few remaining means to earn a living. This is said to have engendered the money-minded trope, while other moments in history, such as the false conviction of a Jewish member of the French Army for exposing classified information, birthed and fed the stereotype that Jews are sly double-dealers. Much of these negative associations were perpetuated by and gained significance because of Nazis in the 1930s.
Some of us today, even if we’re well aware of the horrors of the Holocaust, might have subconsciously adopted anti-Semitic perceptions. Cartoons, movies and children’s picture books depict power-hungry witches, wizards, goblins and burglars with exaggerated crooked noses, which, ill-intentioned or not, follow the anti-Semitic assumption about a typical Jew: crooked-nosed, greedy and disloyal. Think of Gargamel from The Smurfs, any classic fairytale description of a evil witch, and even Fagin, the ringleader in Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
In addition, it’s flat-out obvious that Jewish voices and awareness about anti-Semitism are not getting the necessary attention it needs. The Black Lives Matter movement surged in the nation and in areas across the globe (although it has noticeably died down and inarguably deserves further amplification), while Hispanics and Asians got a few heads turned. Middle Eastern and Islam awareness need work. Indigenous rights are beginning to gather recognition. All of these conversations are crucial and are lacking, including ones regarding Judaism.
Unless there’s a significant incident for it to get enough publicity, there simply isn’t as much ongoing education on Jewish rights, especially in America. This is the reality despite Jews being the number one target for religious hate crimes for years, according to the annual FBI hate crime statistics. Last year, 60.3% of hate crimes motivated by religious biases were targeted towards Jews, compared to the 13.3% crimes against Muslims.
Some platforms go so far as to silence Jewish creators and divert attention for Jewish livelihood elsewhere. TikTok users are trying to bend the algorithm to fool the system just to counter the apparent shadow ban on pro-Jewish content such as by reposting videos disguised under popular songs. Aviva Lehman, @lillehmy on TikTok, had to reupload her videos about the North Shore Academy attack multiple times after they were banned for “violating community guidelines.”
As violence against Jewish communities rises, it is our time now more than ever to combat it. Administrators and educators have a job to teach future generations in legitimate ways that will eliminate anti-Semitic tropes ingrained in society. Social media platforms like TikTok’s terms of service are performative and do not reflect how they manage content. Gen Z needs be the tour de force of social change that many claim to be; educate and magnify Jewish voices as well as that of other marginalized communities, especially online.
In the past, we collectively have had both success and failure in supporting our people unjustly stomped upon by white supremacy but have proved that continuous, genuine activism makes actual systemic change possible. So gather your resources. Help America and the world take another lunge forward in the fight towards equity.