Updated: August 20, 3:30 p.m.
This past weekend, a story unfolded on “Jewish Twitter” that had many people talking. If you’re unfamiliar with Jewish Twitter, that probably means you’re not on Twitter (which, congrats). “Jewish Twitter” essentially refers to Jewish people on Twitter who often tweet about very Jewish topics (similar to “Jewbook” and “Jumblr“).
Jewish Twitter is no stranger to drama: Fights have erupted over everything from the Israeli occupation, whether some Jewish people should be considered white, and where the best bagels really come from. But this weekend, the discourse reached a whole new level when Jewish journalist Ariel Sobel was accused of making a fake Twitter account impersonating an anti-Zionist Black Jewish woman with the name Evonne Schwartz.
We must note that, as of writing this, all we have are accusations. Asked if she created or had any involvement in creating or running the Evonne Schwartz account, Ariel Sobel, through her PR representative Nathan Miller, denied the allegations but declined to comment further on the allegations on record multiple times over the course of August 19 and 20, both over the phone and via email. As we get more information, we will update this story (if you know or saw anything that could help illuminate us, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org).
But for those of you who weren’t glued to your Twitter app for the past few days watching this all go down (again, congrats), here’s a recap:
First, who is Ariel Sobel?
Ariel Sobel is a writer and filmmaker who’s written for several Jewish publications, including Haaretz, the Forward, Tablet, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and this website. She’s currently a columnist for the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles. Her recent Jewish Journal headlines include “You Can’t Fight Anti-Semitism With Racism;” “Jews Protesting Detention Centers: Inside Never Again Action;” and a cover story titled “How Jewish Women Are Being Harassed Online for Fighting Anti-Semitism.”
Okay, who is Evonne Schwartz?
The account @evonneschwart18 was created some time in August 2019. The bio reads, “Sephardic lesbian waiting for the next Rihanna album. #Bernie2020 @IfNotNoworg.” The avatar is an image of a Black woman; the cover photo is an image of a group of Jewish women of color who marched at the Women’s March earlier this year. In general, her tweets suggest she is fiercely pro-Palestinian and regards liberal Zionism as an oxymoron.
The account first tweeted on August 13, critiquing liberal Zionists:
Liberal zionists are worse than conservatives. Not only do they feel entitled to Palestinian land, but to the spaces of people who actually give a shit about human rights.
— ✡️ Evonne Schwartz 🔥 (@evonneschwart18) August 14, 2019
The account retweeted several people known for their criticism of Israel and the occupation, and then on August 13, compared Ariel Sobel to Ben Shapiro, a right-wing Jewish political commentator.
Ariel Sobel is Ben Shapiro's long lost daughter and one day they will bond by colonizing some brown person's home
— ✡️ Evonne Schwartz 🔥 (@evonneschwart18) August 14, 2019
For several days the account continued to tweet, retweet, and reply to comments taking a staunchly anti-Zionist position, and many times specifically calling out Ariel Sobel as having “no shame” and that “we’ve made [Sobel] more powerful because she’s a bigger force bc we waste too much time on her zionist ass.”
So what actually went down?
On August 16, someone who claimed to go to undergrad with Sobel tweeted screenshots from a blog allegedly full of Sobel’s poetry written in college. Nylah Burton, a Jew of color and Alma contributor who has clashed with Sobel in the past, shared the poetry and called it “horrific” and “racist.” The @evonneschwart18 account responded to Burton, tweeting, “I hope she gets assaulted by a white man so she’ll have no one to blame but her own bs.”
I hope she gets assaulted by a white man so she'll have no one to blame but her own bs
— ✡️ Evonne Schwartz 🔥 (@evonneschwart18) August 17, 2019
About 15 minutes later, Sobel screen-shotted the exchange with the caption (referring to Burton): “She’s completely silent as someone” — that is, @evonneschwart18 — “calls for my rape in the replies of her mocking me.”
(For what it’s worth, Burton responded to @evonneschwart18’s inflammatory tweet later that night, saying, “Girl wtf. Why the hell would you say something like that” and then, “This is literally not ok. Like, yeah she’s a gross and disgusting racist but like why would you say something like that? It’s not computing” and “Like as a black member of the LGBTQ community, do you not see how harmful this is? Normally I would just block someone for this but like, you’re a JOC so I feel the need to engage about why what you said was harmful.”)
Later that night on August 16, the account @JewishWorker, which is associated with the website JewishWorker.org, tweeted the following two screenshots from @evonneschwart18 and Ariel Sobel with the caption, “Mighty curious how the sockpuppet calling for harm against AS is also writing her tweets”:
Mighty curious how the sockpuppet calling for harm against AS is also writing her tweets pic.twitter.com/8Y8J7roYyp
— דער ייִדישר אַרבּעטער (@JewishWorker) August 17, 2019
The screenshots show @evonneschart18 commenting on how people shouldn’t be shaming U.S. congresswomen Rashida Tlaib for her recent decision not to visit her grandmother in the West Bank. That tweet was published at 2:24 p.m. on August 16. Sobel’s tweet, published 10 minutes later at 2:34, uses almost identical language to reverse her previous statement criticizing Tlaib for putting politics over family. The side-by-side screenshots were enough to have many people convinced that Sobel created @evonneschart18 as a “sock puppet” account — a fake online account used for the purpose of deception.
On the morning of August 17, IfNotNow, a protest group dedicated to ending Israel’s occupation, and of which @evonneschwart18 claimed to be a member of, both in her Twitter bio and several tweets, shared this statement:
You may have seen some violent, threatening tweets directed at Jewish women from someone claiming to be an INN member tweeting under the name Evonne Schwartz. We have no record of anyone by that name as a member.
We unequivocally condemn their vile posts and have reported them.
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) August 17, 2019
Later that afternoon, @JewishWorker followed this thread up with another discovery: The phone number associated with the @evonneschwart18 account has the same last two digits as Sobel’s phone number:
It just gets more and more curious. What are the chances? Top of the below image: A screenshot of the password reset screen from the sockpuppet attacking AS, sent to us by a confidential source. Bottom: Using Google, we were able to verify AS's number ends in the same digits. pic.twitter.com/oZKnltgljb
— דער ייִדישר אַרבּעטער (@JewishWorker) August 17, 2019
We also verified the phone number associated with the @evonneschwart18 account, and found that the last two digits did match the number we had on file for Sobel.
@JewishWorker also shared that “after an exhaustive internet search, we have discovered the existence of *one* Evonne Schwartz in the entire United States and she is a 41 year-old white woman from NJ. A reverse image search for her avatar yielded zero results leading us to suspect it is AI generated.” Before this incident, the @JewishWorker account had previously clashed with Ariel Sobel on Twitter (here is one example).
The Jewish Worker told us on August 20 via email that multiple individuals operate the @JewishWorker account. Daniel Sieradski, who was suspended from Twitter in 2017, works with them “in a technical capacity but is not the person running the Jewish Worker account.”
“Our only history with Ariel Sobel is criticizing articles and tweets she wrote…” they added, citing occasions when Sobel criticized anti-Zionists and accused some of her critics of misogyny. “We did not set out to get to the bottom of it, initially. Rather, our primary social media person was taking a break when we were contacted by multiple people who brought the evidence we provided to our attention. We verified the information we received before sharing it.”
At 3:30 on the afternoon of August 17, a Twitter user pointed out that Sobel’s Twitter account was no longer up:
Ariel's account is gone pic.twitter.com/3AfQOCHgUA
— ג'וני (@bavacumma) August 17, 2019
As of writing this, Sobel’s account is still down, and the @evonneschwart18 account remains up, but has not tweeted since August 16.
What have been the reactions?
While many people took the tweets shared by @JewishWorker as evidence that Sobel was behind the @evonneschwart18 account, not everybody was convinced. One person suggested Sobel “was framed;” writer and Alma contributor Rafaella Gunz, while defending Sobel, alluded to months of online abuse that Sobel had faced.
One account by the name @Hack4Israel implied it could actually be Rashida Tlaib or “a close ally used to attack Jews.” (We are trying to be as professional and journalistic as possible here, but, really?!)
However, the majority of people tweeting about the Evonne Schwartz account seem to believe that Sobel was behind it.
In the meantime, while we wait for more conclusive answers, many Jews of color and allies on Twitter are using this moment to highlight how incredibly harmful and hurtful it is for someone to impersonate a Black Jewish woman on social media.
On August 18, @BlewishAnd tweeted, “I’m tired. What does it take for black jewish women’s wellbeing to matter to some of you? Do you know what it looks like when someone vilifies us to cause us harm & everything we are about & your consistent response is ‘I hope the accused is ok?'”
Rebecca Pierce connected this incident to a wider issue faced by Jews of Color in a thread: “This anti-Black (and antisemtic) sock puppet thing is part of the same trend of racist harassment where people were publishing birther conspiracy theories about JOC this past year. It’s increasingly clear there is a crisis of racism and white supremacy in the Jewish community.” Pierce also pointed out, along with many others, that the choice of the fake last name Schwartz is particularly racist, as it’s a form of the word schvartze, which means black in Yiddish and is considered a slur when drected at people of color:
If you want me to believe your racist sock puppet account claming to be from my community is real, maybe don’t make the last name a common slur against us?
— Rebecca Pierce (The Afrikomen) (@aptly_engineerd) August 18, 2019
Nylah Burton tweeted, “I’m also really shaken up bc the vast majority of the time I accept black Jews into my digital space without ANY reservations, which is what I did with ‘Evonne.’ That shit is scary, that someone would weaponize the trust and love and community Black Jews have for each other.”
Another user pointed out that not only was this incident racist, but deeply anti-Semitic, adding in a follow-up tweet, “You cannot claim to be pro-Jewish if you are okay with leftist Jews being harmed. You cannot claim to be fighting Jew hatred if you are okay with Jewish Black women being defamed as sexual predators and as the enemies of Jewish people.”
And many just pointed out the sheer insanity of Jewish Twitter, like Black Jewish writer Ma Nishtana:
Oh Jewish Twitter you never fail to amuse. But like, in the exact opposite way that Black Twitter does.
— (((Ma Nishtana))) (@MaNishtana) August 18, 2019
Someone made a fake account of a Black Jewish woman; that account made inflammatory and morally reprehensible comments; people gathered enough context clues to accuse Jewish journalist Ariel Sobel of making the account; we’re still waiting for more answers.
With reporting from Laura E. Adkins.
This piece has been updated to include a comment from the Jewish Worker.