My Shabbat Message for August 23, 2019
It has been another week of outrage in the US. This time, the strong responses were, in part, the result of comments made regarding Jewish dual-loyalty. They were outrageous, offensive and dangerous. I have little doubt they were intended to create a firestorm of response, and once again the media and the Twittersphere fell for it.
A great deal has been written in response to these comments regarding Jewish loyalty. I’ll be addressing one aspect of this during services tonight but, for now, I want to invite you to join me in being part of a much needed counter culture.
I want to invite you to begin reading social media posts with a skeptical eye. What should be platforms to enhance connection and facilitate debate have, instead, been weaponized by those seeking to do harm to the Jewish community specifically and our country as a whole. And it is working.
There are reports that hateful groups such as those on the social media platform 4chan are creating fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook pretending to be Jewish and using their new “identities” to create more chaos, anger and divisiveness. Sadly, as I wrote above, it is working.
An OpEd in the New York Times relates the experience of a rabbinic family returning to the US from a trip abroad only to find that the rabbi’s likeness was being used by a fake account to sow discord in our community. As the author, the rabbi’s wife, notes,
[My husband’s] photo was not the only one stolen. The identity theft was part of a larger scheme that had been organized on 4chan, the notorious online forum where white supremacists reign. Dozens of Jews from diverse backgrounds were affected. Among them: a Chabad-affiliated rabbi, Mendel Kaplan; Josh Goldberg, a Reform cantor in Los Angeles; and Hen Mazzig, a Mizrahi Israeli gay activist. (source)
Sadly, they are not even trying to hide it. As that article notes, one anonymous user on 4chan posted:
We must create a massive movement of fake Jewish profiles on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Since Jews shapeshift into whites anytime they want, we can do the same to them.
A short time later numerous profiles began to appear on social media. Most posed as committed Jews promoting anti-Semitic and anti-Israel content. And the comments, likes and retweets show just how effective they have been.
The attempts to sow discord are sophisticated, extensive and… they are working.
Here’s where the counter cultural response comes in.
Twitter and Facebook have made it clear they have little intention of reining in the ugliness that has turned their platforms into cyber-latrines. They have made small efforts but, as the hijacked identities show, it is having little to no effect. If they aren’t going to police their platforms, we will.
We will… by reading posts that make our blood boil with a skeptical eye.
We will… by fact-checking what we read before we report or respond.
We will… by reporting accounts that seem to be fake and are fueling discord. (I was able to get two such accounts suspended this week alone.)
We will… by not buying into any litmus tests with regard to who is a good Jew and who is not, who is a loyal American and who is not, who is deserving of respect and who is not.
We will… by not letting those seeking to sow discord succeed.
Sadly we have been here before. According to the Roman historian Josephus Flavius, during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in the year 70, Roman emperor Vespasian opted to refrain from attacking the city. “The Jews are vexed to pieces every day by their civil wars and dissensions,” he reasoned, “[thus] we ought by no means to meddle with these men now they are afflicted with a distemper at home.”
Their strategy was to not only to let us fight with one another but to do whatever they could to make such infighting more frequent and increasingly violent. And it worked. By the time the Romans entered the city our community was already weakened and in crisis.
The same thing is happening today and, sadly, both we and the media are often unwitting helpers in this process. As the OpEd notes, the 4chan user stands directly on the shoulders of Vespasian. He wrote,
[let us] subvert Jews themselves [and] create infighting as righty Jews will accuse lefty Jews of being fake profiles. This creates more division.” And “You also have the benefit of labeling anyone an anti-Semite who disagrees with you. Use this to your advantage.
It is ugly… and it is working.
So let’s commit to acting in a manner counter to our current culture. Let’s actively look for ways to lift one another up, model respectful disagreement and focus on the issues that really matter rather than the distractions that are put before us on a daily basis. Only then will we create new connections rather than fueling division. Only then will we be part of the solution instead of unwitting pawns of those who sow hate.
Rabbi Dan Cohen