Almost a year ago, I wrote an article for The Forward entitled “The Privilege and Peril of Being a White Jew in Today’s America.” In it, I discuss how a white-skinned Jew, such as myself, can both experience white privilege and anti-Semitism on a regular basis. The question at the heart of my article was asking if I, and other Jews like me, were white enough to be kept safe in contemporary America. It happened to be posted two weeks before the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.
The next day, The Daily Stormer, the most widely read white supremacist hate site in the world run by Andrew Anglin, posted an article reacting to my piece. Titled “Jew Woman Mourns That She May Not Have Enough White Privilege to Survive Trump’s America,” I was officially on the radar of online white supremacists who proceeded to write more articles and send anti-Semitic and sexist harassment my way.
There were a lot of tweets informing me that I wasn’t white, that I didn’t look European, and that it was an insult to white people to claim I had white privilege. They used those awful DNA tests showing Ashkenazi test results to prove it. Others suggested Jewish men were perverts and used Harvey Weinstein as a prime example. The ones that hit me the hardest, though, were those that went through my Instagram and Twitter feeds to find the worst pictures I had posted of myself and then further elongate my nose, making me look like a witch.
To this day, I still feel shame that the harassment aimed at my looks hit me the hardest. I know I have a long “Jewish” nose and frizzy hair. I often take pride in these features and feel confident in my looks. So why did I care what white supremacists who I would never deign to talk to in real life thought of my looks?
I finally realized it wasn’t the fact that these men thought I was ugly that bothered me, it was that they reduced me to my looks despite my writing and accomplishments. They had trolled through my pictures which was a violation I couldn’t shake off easily. And of course, it never feels good for bigots to use you as an example of an anti-Semitic stereotype.
While the intense focus of that week eventually died down, I wasn’t forgotten by these white supremacists.
A few months ago, a Twitter account with the handle @TheEuropeanMan1 started collecting screenshots of Twitter users who had white skin, identified as Jewish, and called out white privilege, including myself. For a particular subset of white nationalists, this group of people, to which I belong, poses a threat because they believe we are trying to infiltrate “real white people.”
After months of reporting this account to Twitter, it was finally banned. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer around — it was this existing list of Jews and collected tweets that has sparked a new list of Jews being spread on Telegram, a popular chat service. This list also includes Jews of Color and Jews who don’t have white skin. As Mother Jones reports, “The list is mostly made of archived tweets from individuals criticizing white supremacy, misogyny, and other types of bigotry.” Based on the tweets collected for my listing, it seems my big crime according to this group of people is that I accurately explain systemic causes of oppression.
It’s hard to explain how this targeted harassment feels over such a long period of time. When Andrew Anglin first wrote an article about me, I was amused and pretty surprised that I was even on these people’s radar. I made a joke of it and posted about it on Twitter, refusing to let it bother me. As more and more harassment rolled in, the amusement faded and the danger started to sink in. I was being targeted with the same hate that was used in pogroms and during the Holocaust against my ancestors. I began obsessively checking the locks on my doors and windows, grateful I lived in a populated area of Brooklyn.
Despite the fact that these people hide behind the claim that they aren’t calling for violence, we know the purpose of collecting this kind of information and where it leads. Many of my friends and I are getting used to being targeted in this way. We know we’ll get a little more online harassment, but we also know every new list doesn’t change our lives in a substantive way.
For many of us, it’s the reactions from our community that has a far greater effect. A lot of people have reached out to offer emotional support and to help report the targeting lists to authorities.
But there are also those within the Jewish community who have been making jokes about how they wish they were on this list, like it’s some sort of badge of honor. As well-meaning as they might be, it can be hard to hear as someone actually on the list, as it feels like it diminishes the harm being done.
However, far more confusing are the responses (or lack thereof) from our Jewish institutions and organizations that are supposed to speak out against this specific kind of hate. Bend The Arc, a progressive Jewish organization for political action, is one of the only organizations to tweet out support for those being affected and to specifically condemn this list. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice kindly called for their followers to tweet why they love lefty Jews as a show of solidarity. However, neither the Anti-Defamation League or the Southern Poverty Law Center (not a Jewish institution but a leader in the fight against white nationalism) have specifically mentioned this list or offered words of support to those facing harassment.
For me, personally, perhaps the worst response to this week’s event is that from Zioness. Zioness is supposed to be a home for feminist, progressive Jewish women. Many of the people included on the list fit that description, but in the days after Mother Jones’ explosive report on the issue last week, Zioness was more interested in tweeting about their disappointment in the new Women’s March board instead. Only today did they finally tweet out to condemn the list.
SPLC speaks often about the danger of Andrew Anglin and his use of online propaganda to radicalize young men, and recently released a report of policy recommendations urging companies to #ChangeTheTerms to “reduce hateful activities on their platforms.” The ADL posted a blog post two weeks ago warning of “New Trolling Efforts Target Jews’ Appearance, Attempt to Sow Political Division.”
Both these reports are important, but neither organization is doing much to provide report mechanisms or support for the day-to-day harassment many of us are facing. People ask how they can help, and there’s nothing I can tell them. Reporting offensive accounts isn’t enough, and we need these organizations to be more present and proactive in fighting on the front lines with us. For example, they could set up an online reporting feature so harassment would be collected somewhere, which could be then used in the next SPLC lawsuit or an ADL lobbying effort.
Every time this happens, I get more and more used to the low hum of danger and harassment. It never occurs to me to stop speaking out, I just make my skin a little thicker and double-check the locks on my door again. But it shouldn’t be this way. The rise of white nationalism and lists targeting left wing Jews put all Jews and marginalized groups at risk. We need better tools to fight these threats.
Top image credit: Andrew Brookes/Getty Images