Why 2022 Won’t Be a Sweet New Year for Jews Online
Jews are the internet’s most valuable free resource for identifying online extremism: human honeypots.
While this post references the Beth Israel terrorist hostage situation, it was drafted much earlier.
If a place like Beth Israel, whose rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, is involved with interfaith and intercommunity dialogue, can be so vulnerable to a terrorist attack, it could be anyone. The news mentions he seeks to create inter-community connections; this is far from an “isolated” or “insular” (grumble) community of “others,” but one that is establishing strong ties across multiple borders and has family throughout the country. Likewise, the news had mentioned Beth Israel underwent active shooter training, because since the Tree of Life Massacre and Chabad Poway Shooting, terrorist attacks in the United States’ Jewish spaces have been realized as a “when” when perhaps they once were an “if.” Here’s an example of an organization that provides active shooter training to faith environments.
The Colleyville Police, an FBI SWAT team, Colleyville Police, the Consul General of Israel in the region, top officials in national security agencies, and even President Biden monitored the situation. The terrorist had originally livestreamed his actions, claimed he’d planted bombs (unconfirmed), and repeatedly said during his actions he’d die. He did and everyone else is okay. B”H.
How did we even get here?
We have the United States’ national security alerted to an antisemitic terrorist attack, Israeli governmental representation present, and local law enforcement in other states monitoring the atmosphere created by the terrorist today; we have an uptick in antisemitism accompanying political extremism, but also an uptick in awareness of antisemitism. How is it that a terrorist can livestream an attack on a shul, it took several hours to resolve?
Because antisemitic extremism and attacks are allowed to continue, encouraged, even, and extremism spreads through social media. Jews are the country’s best gauge of extremism. Antisemitism is the bent spectrum of hatred: all extremes believe we’re an unseen, dominant political force, and removing us will yield some benefit to them, and parts of removing us can entail genocide, “resistance” attacks, and scapegoating.
Every excuse for all of these things is spread online, and who reports it?
And who suspends accounts that spread antisemitism and endanger Jews?
Who can sell whatever data it pleases to whomever it pleases?
Social media companies!
So who does the heavy lifting of attracting antisemitic extremism by existing, reporting it, and monitoring it by continuing to report it and begging companies to act on previous reports?
We are Big Data’s most valuable source of extremism monitoring. No survey, study, or agency is going to come close to the work Jewish users do daily via the tools social media provides, including demonstrating how terms of service are not being applied to antisemites, most of whom are spreading extremism. This takes an extreme toll on Jewish mental health, which alone endangers Jewish lives, but also encourages targeted harassment and physical violence against Jews via doxing, SWATing, stalking, and political litmus tests in public and career spheres.
The crest of MAGA and prior right-wing extremism has long come and gone, and it’s almost hard to remember such a simple time when a bunch of yutzes carrying tiki torches, screaming Nazi jingoes and marching like them were the Big Bads. They were not taken seriously, and their evolved movement including the 2020 Election results deniers and January 6th, 2021 Capitol attackers are little more than a bad punchline. We’re currently witnessing the crest of CRT clownery as more and more individuals refuse “anti-” racist ideology in the workplace and among children. This end of socially acceptable extremism is becoming less socially accepted, and while the average bear might have been interested in liberal philosophy, it appears not to be interested in neo-segregation. While CRT-heads may think they’re morally and intellectually superior to the average bear, there are a lot of average bears.
The Big Bad right now is terrorism, and gone are the days of terrorists jumping on a plane from a training camp in the Middle East or truly lone-wolf white males. The terrorists aren’t coming, they’re waiting. They can run recruitment without going through the enormous effort to bypass security measures to obtain a visa or US passport. They just need an internet connection, messaging service, or social media account, and they have an infinite pool of potential radicals. While most people couldn’t imagine taking hostages or blowing themselves up, we’ve all had days we feel unappreciated, unwanted, or like our talents aren’t being utilized to their fullest potential — no mental illness required. It just takes the right post at the right time on the right forum for the right extremist to slide in, provide a supportive ear, and slowly start the grooming process by exposing a target to increasingly extreme content they wouldn’t have entertained otherwise.
This is not dissimilar to how Facebook became inundated with what was first labeled “misinformation” but turned out to be straight up conspiracy theories, resulting in countless families ripped apart by radicalization. The Beth Israel terrorist believed the prisoner-terrorist he demanded to be released had been framed, and had Rabbi Cytron-Walker call a rabbi in New York, thinking a New York rabbi would surely have the power to release a prisoner serving 86 years in Texas.
What has been benignly labeled and mainstreamed as “social justice” has backdoored segregation and the worst of Islamism, right down to every act of antisemitism being a cue for a condemnation of Islamophobia instead of time to address antisemitism alone. Any condemnation of antisemitism is met with backlash for not condemning other forms of hatred, because Jewish pain isn’t allowed to exist on its own. Jewish suffering must be universalized, not addressed, and when Jews defend ourselves or add the smallest safety measure, it’s denounced as “racist” and “unwelcoming.” However, there’s never any suggestion on how Jews can defend ourselves in an “anti-” racist and welcoming way, because that’s the whole point: Jewish self-defense makes us [*checks notes*] racist against foiled and deterred terrorists.
When we throw up our hands and say we should leave for Israel, a Jewish country where we’re allowed to defend ourselves? We’re colonizers and how dare we not stay and “learn” our lesson, that we must accept historic revisionism rife with antisemitic tropes. At present, “social justice” isn’t about social justice. It’s about control, the swing of the pendulum from dominant Christocentric antisemitism to Islamist, and we’re being gaslighted that white Christian supremacy is the “real enemy” when Islamist Jihad and Holy War is a mentality the United States could not beat in the Middle East. The reason Israel, a Jewish country, can endure in the region, whereas the US turned tail and ran is because expansionist mentality doesn’t win against expansionist mentality. You don’t beat fire with more fire: you beat it by being an oasis it can’t burn.
This is what US Jews have to build here: an oasis antisemites can’t burn. We have been reduced to uncompensated human honeypots. Terrorists and all manner of evil are allowed to harass us with no immediate consequence. The worst that ever happens to them is an exhausted Jew reaches out to that person’s workplace or school to let it know it’s harboring a potentially dangerous individual, especially if they’re in the medical industry. The problem is that unless there’s a major terrorist event like at Beth Israel, Jewish safety is screened out at the door and hate crimes are heavily scrutinized as “resistance,” “punching up,” or not truly hateful, even in the presence of antisemitic slurs or internet search histories. The proof is right there; the value of Jewish life is not.
How we tackle this is manifold, and we do have some decent groundwork. We need to look at this defensively and offensively.
Firstly, we have databases like Canary Mission, AMCHA Initiative, and Jewish On Campus tracking antisemites and antisemitic incidents on campuses across the USA, while Crown Heights Official Live is a great source of New York City Jewish news, including antisemitic attacks that often don’t fit the prevailing socially acceptable narrative of who can be antisemitic or whose attacks viscerally hurt Jews.
I think not having these sources consolidated is advantageous because we should never be in a position where it’s possible to compromise all data. If others are going to collect data on us, we should do the same, and do it way better, organized by niche — location, self-reporting networks, and niche databases like Canary Mission to sort and document antisemites and make them easily findable. I think it’s important we pour our efforts into documenting antisemitism there instead of social media sites that aren’t paying us to enforce their Terms of Service. I’m curious to see what would happen if every Jew just stopped trying to clean up social media’s antisemitism problem, but there’s no trusting social media.
Defense includes communal education. We need to recognize red flags of online extremists, some of whom try to infiltrate the online Jewish community. We must teach a separation of Judaism and politics so we don’t find ourselves enabling evil for a “greater good” that tends to leave us behind. We have to reduce our and our children’s vulnerability to predation by extremists, including refusing historic erasure of antisemitism — the United States’ utter failure to acknowledge the antisemitic core of its contemporary politics is what got us here; the main people who suffer or “lose” as the pendulum swings between vicious Christocentric and Islamist antisemitism are Jews. If we truly want to thrive in the USA, we need to help it live up to its guarantees: we have to reach out and take life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for ourselves when the USA isn’t upholding that properly.
Defensively, according to the news, it appears Rabbi Cytron-Walker had the right skills for a hostage situation (the terrorist said he liked that the rabbi held open the door and there was never a period of time where chaos could be heard outside). We need to expand that training to maximize the likelihood of survival when, HASHEM-forbid, another such situation arises. I would expand that to having hostage negotiation training as most of us will probably not have the patience or people skills of a rabbi. I’m not saying everyone needs to be a hostage negotiator or we need legions of amateur hostage negotiators, but basic de-escalation training should be commonplace and would probably benefit everyone in many non-crisis situations. Along with these trainings should come training for those congregants who wish to bring firearms, and that should include communication methods during a potential crisis to ensure there aren’t more bullets fired than necessary.
Keeping positive relationships with law enforcement and private security is a must, and it’s important to ask someone who suggests we don’t what services they would replace that with. We cannot let someone’s idealism or potential feelings stand in the way of our safety. If they would like us not to defend ourselves, I highly recommend they contribute to a national culture that no longer requires Jews to defend ourselves. We have to kneecap the exploitable idea of unconditional support and only support groups and causes that, y’know, aren’t antisemitic and don’t lie with antisemites.
We have to do away with political litmus tests, period. We have to hold political organizations that claim Judaism accountable. If it’s a group that isn’t serving Jews and isn’t made up of Jews, it’s not a Jewish organization and needs to stop misrepresenting itself — and the whole Jewish community. The Jewish community has the right to self-representation and speak for ourselves. Fringe antisemitic groups using “Jewish” as a shield must come for an end; antisemites already have enough tokens to play with. Likewise, synagogues have to distance themselves from political agendas and ideologies. We deal with constant antisemitism; Shabbes is supposed to be a time away from ideologies that promote that. Give the politics a rest…permanently.
Offensively, we need to adopt the “long arm” strategy. The companies and courts only act when there’s no other option or it becomes inconvenient for them. It’s awfully less inconvenient to ignore antisemitism when condemning antisemitism is more likely to draw criticism than applause. There is less motivation to acting on antisemitism or protect Jews than ever. What we can do is upscale the way we use the data on antisemites we already collect in order to publicize their behavior further: breach their spheres of interaction such as schools, workplaces, and private social media pages with record of their antisemitic behavior — make their own behavior uncomfortable for them. If they don’t behave antisemitically, it won’t be possible for them to have this problem.
On the flip side, extend the peaceful long arm towards our fellow Jews who’ve been targets of antisemites: make sure they have a Shabbes invite, kosher food, employment, community care, Jewish study buddies and reading materials, and security. Most importantly, we must not be commanded to do so for others. Antisemitism is not universal, so Jews must not be forced to universalize our response to antisemitism. We are the targets of antisemitism, and weak-kneed compromises in the name of not offending others only dilute our ability to fight it.
Beth Israel is the micro of the Palestinian terror-rocket assault on Israel in May of 2021 in which thousands of rockets were launched indiscriminately into Israel — partly as an extreme response to the region’s increasing normalization of relations between Islamic Countries and the Jewish Nation. Here we have a congregation and a rabbi involved in interfaith and intercommunity dialogue and a terrorist decided to target that congregation. It’s the same horrific message: Jewish existence must not be normalized. Thankfully, the outcome is also fairly similar: the terrorist is dead, and the Jews are here to stay.