Boycotting Twitter to protest its handling of anti-Semitism could backfire - Rabbi Emily Cohen ('18) | Page 2 | Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Boycotting Twitter to protest its handling of anti-Semitism could backfire - Rabbi Emily Cohen ('18)

News

by Rabbi Emily Cohen; Graphic: JTA Screenshot Montage

Originally published by JTA on July 27, 2020.

The Twitter logo is superimposed on anti-Semitic tweets.

The Twitter logo is superimposed on anti-Semitic tweets.

NEW YORK (JTA) — On Friday afternoon, a few hours before Shabbat, I found myself scrolling through Twitter when I stumbled upon an anti-Semitic rant. 

This by itself is hardly unusual — the amount of anti-Semitic vitriol on Twitter is horrifying. But when I checked the account, I found that it had nearly half a million followers. 

Wiley, a Black British musician, used hateful language to articulate several conspiracy theories about Jews. I, along with many others, reported the tweets, but Twitter was slow to remove them. Again, this is not unusual: While Twitter’s stated Hateful Conduct Policy prohibits hate speech against protected categories, including Jews, Twitter’s actual response to problematic posts is often lacking. 

In this case, Twitter eventually removed the most egregious of the tweets but did not suspend Wiley’s account. In response, some British Jews issued a call for a 48-hour “walkout” from Twitter under the hashtag #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate.

At first, I considered joining in. In a world more online than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic, carving out space away from screens is crucial. Perhaps two days away from the challenging dynamics of Twitter would do me good and also draw attention to Twitter’s need to up its responsiveness to hate speech. In that sense, the digital walkout’s mission is one I fully support. 

But, of course, effective action is a little more complicated than that.

First, there’s the issue of this boycott catalyzing around a Black man. Anti-Semitism comes from everywhere. While perhaps it’s chance, and celebrity, that led to Wiley’s particular thread being the tweet that broke the bird’s beak, I can’t help but worry that white Jews and their allies were more ready to speak out against Wiley than against anti-Semitic white people. 

In the United Kingdom, white people — including prominent politicians like Jeremy Corbyn — have been spouting anti-Semitism for some years. While these statements have hardly gone unnoticed — responses have included a film about Labour Party anti-Semitism and suits for libel resulting in formal apologies — to my knowledge there has not been a public call for a comparable social media boycott. Not for Corbyn, not for the many George Soros conspiracy tweets and not for any of the countless instances of anti-Semitism that show up on my feed every day. 

I believe that we must stand against anti-Semitism in all its forms, but I also know that anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in white supremacy. Fixating upon anti-Semitism expressed by Black people more than that expressed by white people hurts all marginalized peoples.

 A virtual “walkout” is nothing more than performative allyship or, for Jews, an opportunity to break and breathe away from social media. But on a platform where currency is written characters, silence does not speak. While it can be effective to cease advertising on social media platforms, as many have opted to do on Facebook and Instagram this month, opting not to tweet for two days does not offer a visual or financial incentive to Twitter to change its ways. 

Tweeting and retweeting is the most effective method of promoting a cause on the platform. If Jews and their allies want Twitter to pay more attention to anti-Semitism, and to actually enforce its stated Hateful Conduct Policy, why not ask supporters to spend time each day reporting anti-Semitic tweets? Why not ask supporters to retweet posts by Jews — particularly marginalized folks like Jews of color — in order to draw attention to our community? Better yet, why not ask everyone to commit to reporting hate speech against all protected categories? 

I would never be one to argue against taking a break from social media. On Shabbat, from candle lighting to Havdalah, I stay away from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Rest matters.

But I am under no delusions: To combat anti-Semitism, we must not stay silent. We must speak out, tweet, retweet and report — not just for ourselves, but for all who face hate, online and in the streets.

Rabbi Emily Cohenis the spiritual leader of West End Synagogue in New York City, a podcast producer and an artist. She tweets @ThatRabbiCohen.

More News

College News

Yardley native finds faith, path to become rabbi - Rabbi Nora Woods ('20)

Rabbi Nora Woods received her rabbinic ordination at a private and socially distanced ceremony at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa., June 2020.

News
College News

Rabbi Solocheck ordained - Rabbi Lily Solochek ('20)

Rabbi Lily Solochek, spiritual leader of Adas Yoshuron Synagogue in Rockland, on June 7 graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

News
College News

Mazel tov to our New Rabbis

With great pride and joy, we introduce the rabbis of the graduating class of 2020/5780.

News
College News

Closing Circle Music Collaboration 5780 - Eilecha (from Psalm 30) by Adam Cerino Jones

In May 2020, three of our rabbinic students, Koach Baruch Frazier, Solomon Hoffman and Adam Cerino Jones, gathered video and audio from other members of College community to create this beautiful musical piece.

News
College News

Spotlight: Rabinnical Student Koach Baruch Frazier

I definitely want to continue to be with the people who, in my eyes, are neglected by spiritual caretakers — people of color, queer folks, people who are at the margins, disabled folks. How can I best support, particularly spiritually, the people who have for many years been neglected? So wherever that happens to be, that’s where I will be.

News
College News

The Four Children Of COVID-19

By Janine Jankovitz Pastor; Photo: eJewish Philanthropy

Originally published in eJewish Philanthropy on April 1, 2020

News
College News

How to Have a Kid-Friendly, Meaningful Virtual Seder - Rabbi Tamara Cohen ('14)

If members of your crew seem a bit disappointed that this year will be different than all the others, remind them that this whole scenario is actually kinda fitting: Mitzrayim means “narrow place.” “We’re experiencing narrowing very literally right now,” Cohen says. “What we can take from that is not just a message about our own longing for liberation, but our responsibility to help others who are in places of constriction. In many ways, it’s the right holiday to have this happen.” Look on the bright side!

News
College News

A Rabbi’s Cure for Coronavirus Anxiety - Rabbi Emily Cohen ('18)

“Now, I’m not a doctor, epidemiologist, sociologist, or psychologist. I’m a rabbi. I’m someone who does a lot of thinking about how to hold communities in moments of joy, fear, and pain — and, often, how to hold communities experiencing multitudes.”

News
College News

A Moment of Crisis Can be an Opportunity for Connection - Rabbi Ari Witkin ('19)

…we at the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, and the broad array of communal agencies we support, are grappling with what it means to navigate the programs and resources we offer amidst this unprecedented moment of public health concern.

News
College News

Washington Jewish Week Spotlights Rabbinical Student Mikey Hess Weber

“I wanted to work at Hillel, and now I’m finally doing it. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of,” she said. “Listening, building relationships, giving resources and texts along their Jewish journey.”

News
College News

Rabbi Darby Leigh ('08) authors chapter in newly released book

Rabbi Leigh is one of few deaf rabbis in the world. As an expert in Torah, who has travelled extensively teaching Torah analysis, he could offer the full analysis of moving in deaf and non-deaf religious worlds.

News
College News

Rabbinical Student Koach Baruch Frazier named LGBTQ Jewish Hero by Keshet

“I express my Jewish identity at the synagogue, at work as I serve people and my community, and through my social justice activism.” This includes drumming for justice “using my djembe — an African drum — that provided the cadence, much like a heartbeat, to help us as we marched in Ferguson.”

News
College News

Rabbi Sandra Lawson (’18) named LGBTQ Jewish Hero by Keshet

“We are raising a generation of Jews to look past whomever their grandfathers’ rabbis were. One of the things I want the larger Jewish community to understand is that rabbis today are a diverse group. Many are people of color. Many are not straight. Many might be married to non-Jews. My difference, my diversity, is helping people become aware of that.”

News
College News

Rabbi Sharon A. Kleinbaum ('90) Appointed to US Commission on International Religious Freedom

“We welcome the appointment of Rabbi Kleinbaum to USCIRF.” said Chair Tony Perkins. “Rabbi Kleinbaum is a widely recognized leader in both faith and politics, which will make her a great asset in the complex environment in which we advocate for communities and individuals around the world who are discriminated against or persecuted for their beliefs.”

News
College News

Hate Knocks on the Door: What to do when your synagogue is vandalized? - Rabbi Shira Stutman ('07)

The door flew open, and there was Rabbi Shira Stutman.  She beamed, smiling and immediately embraced us. “Welcome,” she said, “welcome to Sixth and I.”

News