Hebron, Ramallah, and eastern Jerusalem are tough neighborhoods. I know, because I served there as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). I was stationed on a front line where Israel fought for both its existence and its reputation as a humane, decent neighbor. I was a humanitarian officer overseeing the building of infrastructure, education, health, and housing projects for Palestinian communities — but many saw me as an enemy combatant.
After completing my service in the IDF, I began to advocate for the safety, empowerment, and appreciation of Israel and Jews worldwide. I toured Europe, Australia, and North America, addressing diverse audiences about our history and heritage. Today, a decade later, I’ve realized that the real battlefield for the future of Israel and Jews worldwide isn’t in Jerusalem, Gaza, Iran, or on the hundreds of college campuses where I have lectured.
The frontline is online.
Today’s social media digital pen is mightier than any sword that has ever existed.
What do the assailants in the lethal attacks on Jews in Monsey, Jersey City, and Pittsburgh have in common? They all posted their hatred of Jews before acting on it. It is through social media where today’s hatred of Jews and Israel finds its voice, and where it gains its lethal force. In many cases, it is on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and in the dark underbelly of hundreds of discussion groups, where antisemites are radicalized and called to action.
Every bigot, demagogue, and hate monger knows the power of social media. These extremists post jokes and graphics geared toward impressionable teens. As purveyors of hate, they devote themselves to indoctrinating the naïve and vulnerable. “Extremists are able to reach, research and radicalize in ways that they haven’t had to, or could do, in human history,” Oren Segal, the ADL’s Vice President of the Center on Extremism, told NBC News, noting how they target isolated teens who turn to online for community, and can recruit them into hate “without ever leaving their couch.”
During the violence between Israel and Hamas in May 2021, we witnessed alarming flare-ups of antisemitic rhetoric online, which experts say inspired a spike in violent crimes against Jews and a demonizing of Israel. An ADL report found that more than 17,000 tweets used variations of the phrase “Hitler was right” between May 7 and May 14, 2021. The age-old tropes about Jewish power over the media and government were repackaged as activism online, and it incited antisemitic hate crimes in real life.
How does social media wield so much power?
Where you get your news is where you get your opinions. Over 100 million young Americans get their news often exclusively from social media.
What are audiences supposed to believe if they only see a video of IDF soldiers shooting a Palestinian when that video omits the image of him stabbing a mother with her stroller seconds before? And this actually happened. After a December 2021 terrorist attack in Jerusalem.
Mohammed El-Kurd, an influencer who has 240.7K followers, shared a video of only the assailant being shot, without the footage of him stabbing a Jewish woman first. Nearly 200,000 people saw that video on Twitter. For most, that was the entire story and ample reason to despise Jews and Israel.
Social media is where narratives are built and disseminated to millions each day. El-Kurd’s misrepresentation had more eyes on it than the average Monday-Friday print circulations of The Washington Post, The LA Times, or New York Post. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we as truth-tellers have the same tools at our fingertips. One example was when a Torah was destroyed on campus at George Washington University. When I found out about this brazen incident of antisemitism, there were no articles on what happened. So I posted a photo of the defiled Torah along with an explanation of how serious the attack was. That tweet reached 4 million people, including journalists, who only after that reported on the incident in mainstream outlets such as NPR, The Washington Post, CNN, and USA Today.
To truly end antisemitism, we have to stop it where it starts: online. That is what I do through my work with the Tel Aviv Institute (TLVi). TLVi’s roots are in an ad hoc group originally organized by Seattle philanthropist Mark Bloome. Prior to his death in 2019, he provided the funding for me and my co-founder, Dr. Ron Katz from UC Berkeley, to form a 501c3 non-profit that uses data and social media strategies to advocate for Jews and Israel online.
While white nationalists and anti-Zionists radicalize the masses against our people, we are in the trenches recruiting the vulnerable people they target to our community of love and co-existence.
With the work of data scientists, writers, designers, and researchers, our content has already reached over 100 million people. We have provided resources and partnered to help dozens of individuals and Jewish organizations, like JIMENA, Israel Coalition on Campus, JewBelong, Zioness, CAMERA on Campus, Artists 4 Israel, Muslims Against Antisemitism, Combat Antisemitism, Fuente Latina, and many others, to advance their own social media messaging programs.
What is truly remarkable about fighting antisemitism on social media is that it is possible to use technical tools to test what kinds of messaging and strategies work. Groups can recruit digital influencers with unique perspectives on Judaism, antisemitism, and social media, and then use data-driven strategies to help target audiences, reach more people, and bolster their cases with graphic design, copy editing, and researched and tested messaging around Jews and Israel.
The Jewish future relies on young people having a sense of self and belonging as Jews, which is increasingly forged online. At our organization for example, youths are following our digital producer Matthew Nouriel for an LGBT perspective on Zionism, Tova Ricardo for poetry about connecting to Judaism, Sefira Lightstone for art on our traditions, and Westside Gravy for rap music about Jewish pride.
Antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred. So we must harness new ways to fight it.