The Jewish social media mob who highlight the infractions of fellow Jews are playing a risky game of in-group politics.
The recent public scandals in our local Jewish community in Melbourne Australia – an engagement party and minyanim in breach of public health orders – have brought out two similar but different forms of hatred.
Firstly, there has been a noticeable spike in antisemitism: not just online comments, but verbal abuse in the street and even cases of assault. This should not surprise or shock. There are no shortage of people out there who hate Jews, and when incidents like these receive disproportionate media attention (as they do), it gives haters an excuse to crank up expressions of their hatred. Previously, they thought it, and now they are brazen enough to say it publicly and even act on it. The woman who was sacked recently for suggesting on social media that party attendees should be “put in a gas chamber” will not change her views about Jews as a result; if anything she’s likely to blame us for her job loss as well.
The second, and darker hatred that has found voice is that directed against Orthodox and Haredi Jews, by other Jews (the majority of whom are non-observant). The social media “name and shame” lynch mob was in full force, with venomous comments and attempts to destroy the reputation and professional careers of some of the offenders.
The social media mobsters exist in something of an echo chamber. They erupted on Rosh Hashana itself with hundreds of comments written about a group of people who would not even see their comments until after the Chag ended, and if they did see them, they would be unlikely to change their behaviour as a result. One writer was quick to publish an opinion piece on mainstream media headlined “Behaviour of a minority does not represent values of Jewish tradition”, distancing her understanding of Jewish practice from that of the splinter group of Haredim (only 2% according to a demographer), and suggesting that the overwhelming majority of Jewish people share her anger and hurt. Another acknowledged that these breaches of the law will lead to an increase in anti-semitism, yet qualified it with the suggestion that the Haredi offenders “might be instigating some of it” by breaking the law in the first place.
To whom are these Jews directing their opinions? And what do they hope to achieve with them?
They are putting forward the notion there are two kinds of Jews: the nice, law-abiding ones who respect secular society and are well assimilated into Australian culture, and those nasty extremists who insist on keeping these archaic customs at the expense of public health and are an embarrassment to “the rest of the Jews”. Their message must be directed to the wider community, and says: “don’t hate us Jews because of them”. They more closely identify with their non-Jewish, progressive friends than with an Orthodox Jew. They are Australians first, and Jews second. This is a case of performative identity signalling.
This contrasts with the so-called “Northern and Western suburbs” of Melbourne, an “ethnically diverse” part of town where we dare not mention the religion of anyone, lest we offend and are found guilty of a new “phobia”. In those suburbs, there has been relatively low take-up of vaccination, plenty of non-compliance with regulations, and unsurprisingly, the source of most of the new cases. But those communities do not publicly turn on each other. For all these reasons, they are not plastered all over the news.
In the Jewish suburbs, there are relatively high vaccination rates, and virtually no cases. But we are all over the news, and in the process we are destroying ourselves from the inside. We are our weakest when we are divided.
There is a poignant message in the approaching festival of Sukkot, when we bring together the Arba Minim – etrog, lulav, hadassim and aravot – and make a blessing on them. The four species symbolise four different types of Jews: from those who study Torah and observe mitzvot, to those who do neither. The message of this mitzvah is one of unity and Ahavat Yisrael. The “aravot” Jews do not name and shame the observant “etrog” Jews as entitled, and no-one pours scorn on the “lulav” Jews who do not observe mitzvot despite their knowledge of them. The mitzvah of the Arba Minim requires all of us together, and if any Jew is missing, it cannot be performed.
Being an Australian Jew or a Jewish Australia matters not to an antisemite. The woman who lost her job is not going to qualify her hatred of Jews to just Haredim or Orthodox. Looking back through history, we see that the haters did not care for ministrations of identity and pledges of allegiance to the laws of the land. It made no difference how one chose to look or dress or to try and hide their Jewishness and be like everyone else. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.
Those who hate us make no distinction between different types of Jews. The lesson from this awful episode in our community and from Sukkot is that neither should we.