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Jenna Ortega: Antisemite or useful idiot?

With more than 40 million followers on Instagram, what she says about Jews matters. And what she’s been saying has been bad
Jenna Ortega at 2022 Comic Con. (Chris Roth; used under a Creative Commons license)
Jenna Ortega at 2022 Comic Con. (Chris Roth; used under a Creative Commons license)

On Instagram alone, Gen Z superstar Jenna Ortega has more than 40 million followers, roughly three times as many people as there are Jews in the world. Consequently, what she says about us matters. And what she’s been saying has been bad.

Very bad.

I wrote in these pages last year that Ortega seemed to be an intelligent person who had, in her naivete, made an innocent mistake in posting propaganda from a website that justifies violence and seeks Israel’s destruction. I also argued that she probably isn’t an antisemite.

I retract at least one of these judgments.

She’s either a smart antisemite or a decent person who happens to be, to put it plainly, stupid. As I demonstrated in previous posts, the website she linked to had deeply antisemitic content. It was created by people who champion terrorists who killed civilians and who think that a “free Palestine” would mean most Jews leaving Israel and the remainder being “re-educated.” After the article and ensuing blowback, the actress quietly removed the pinned post from her Twitter (now X) feed.

Everyone makes mistakes, but a smart person in her position would be extremely careful in what content she posts moving forward, at least if she cares an ounce about the Jewish people. Unfortunately, she hasn’t been.

On October 18, yesterday, Ortega used her platform to broadcast to the world a message calling to “stop the genocide against Palestinians.” The idea that the planet’s only Jewish state, uniquely evil, is somehow hellbent on killing innocent Palestinians harkens back to the Middle Ages. Then, Jews were routinely accused of plotting to kill children or other crimes. It was common to accuse us even of trying to wipe out much of Europe by poisoning drinking water. The only difference is that before Jews were thought to be working out of their shtetls; now we are assumed to be using the miraculous state we established to kill for fun. 

The notion that Israel is consciously trying to kill off the Palestinians is not just insane – it is, as President Herzog himself said in reference to the various conspiracy theories being pedaled, a modern form of blood libel.

And now Ortega’s broadcast it to 40 million people, most of them young and impressionable kids who listen more to celebrities than thought leaders.

It should come as no surprise to any thinking person that these kinds of accusations fuel hatred against Jews and can end up getting people hurt – or worse. In recent years, but especially since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel and Israel’s response, Jews around the world have been fearful of going to synagogues, wearing their Magen Davids in public, sending their kids to Jewish schools, and a host of other things that non-Jews do without a care in the world.

They’re not fearful for no reason: the FBI and police departments across the country and world have been forced to step up security around Jewish institutions. Antisemitic incidents in the U.S., which had already been on the rise, rose by a whopping 300 percent, dramatically increasing after the Israel-Hamas war began. A teacher was stabbed in France. A synagogue was firebombed in Germany. The list goes on. Even as I write this, the news is reporting that a New York woman was just punched in the face by an assailant who yelled, “You are Jewish.”

And Ortega decided to fan the flames to her 40 million followers around the world.

Here’s the tricky part, the part that makes it unclear whether Ortega was motivated by a belief that Jews are generally bad and wanted to hide that unfortunate believe or if she is just really, really gullible.

The post Ortega shared was from a group called “Jewish Voice for Peace.”

Perhaps Ortega thought that JVP must not be a problem, given the term Jewish in their moniker. But a person of goodwill who had already been condemned for posting a call to destroy a nation, if they were smart, would have done at least a little bit of research into the organization whose voice they’re amplifying to millions, especially when it’s making accusations of genocide.

If Ortega merely spent a moment on Google, she would have found that JVP, far from being a nice and fluffy peace group full of Jews, is actually a shadowy organization flagged by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. The ADL’s report is literally the second thing that comes up in a Google search for “Jewish Voice for Peace.”

The ADL states the problem with JVP very clearly: “JVP does not represent the mainstream Jewish community, which it views as bigoted for its association with Israel.” Further, “The spread of JVP’s most inflammatory ideas can help give rise to antisemitism.” The idea that the Jewish state is engaged in genocide is certainly one of its most extreme ideas.

The ADL also states, “In addition to JVP’s promotion of messaging that descends into the antisemitic vilification of ‘Zionists,’ the group has expressed support for violence and, occasionally, classic antisemitic tropes. Some JVP members, leaders and chapters propagate rhetoric or sponsor events where participants express support for violence or terror against Israelis and vilify Zionist Jews. In a few instances, they have espoused blatant antisemitic tropes, including modern manifestations of the blood libel and allegations of Jewish dual loyalty to the countries in which they live.”

In yet another document, the ADL writes, “More troubling, JVP’s dissemination of the view that Israel and its U.S. supporters  are fundamentally racist oppressors of non-Jews has the effect of perpetuating the classic anti-Jewish stereotype of Jews as self-centered elitists, disdainful of non-Jews, who are focused on their own interests, sometimes at others’ expense. Additionally, JVP’s ongoing insistence that virtually all criticism of Israel cannot be anti-Semitic gives cover to anti-Semites who couch their malice toward Jews as mere anti-Zionism.”

In one notorious incident, when the Chicago Dyke March expelled women carrying rainbow flags bearing a Star of David – not the Israeli flag – JVP posted to social media that it “stands 100% with Dyke March Chicago.” Women were expelled from a march for carrying a Star of David, and this “Jewish” organization applauded. Virtually every real Jewish group condemned the Dyke March’s antisemitism, including the ultra-liberal Religious Action Center of the Reform Jewish movement, the largest Jewish denomination in America.

One more point about JVP: it’s not Jewish. By its own admission, it is only founded “in the Jewish tradition,” and membership is open to non-Jews. The actual percentage of Jews in the organization is a closely-held secret. It is known, though, that Ibrahim Samirah, a Palestinian-Jordanian founded JVP’s first college chapter. Samirah was on the board of the “Islamic Association for Palestine, an organization listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial for serving as the propaganda and fundraising arm of Hamas.”

Ortega shared JVP’s social media; the ADL refers to JVP’s social media presence as a “hotbed of classic anti-Semitic language and conspiracy theories.”

Is this stupidity, or is it antisemitism? If Ortega has no idea who JVP is and only felt assured because the word “Jewish” appears in the group’s name before sharing the accusation of genocide with her followers, she’s a fool. As mentioned above, she already created controversy earlier by sharing an antisemitic site with calls to terrorism on it – and was then praised by the Hamas-connected Quds News Network for doing so. The fact that these are (supposedly) Jews making the argument won’t change anything. Could she be so dumb as to do the same thing a second time?

Or is she just an antisemite, someone who knows that broadcasting to 40 million followers a modern form of blood libel is dangerous to Jews everywhere, but doesn’t care? Someone so desperate to nonsensically accuse the Jewish state of genocide, who knows it’s wrong, and thus feels the need to hide under the cover of a “Jewish” organization?

Whether Ortega’s an antisemite or has just again played the role of useful idiot doesn’t really matter that much. The damage is done. 40 million people, likely the vast majority of whom wouldn’t have seen the “genocide” accusation elsewhere, have now been given the message that the Jewish state is out to kill a whole nation of innocent people.

The only thing that could undo some of the damage would be an apology, but, as she showed before when she quietly removed her terrorist-supporting posts without saying anything, she’s rather cowardly.

Though they haven’t done anything to deserve it, celebrities have an immense power over the thoughts of millions of people. It is thus morally incumbent upon them to either speak wisely or hold their tongue. Julianna Margulies recently criticized Hollywood for staying silent on antisemitism.

In Ortega’s case, silence would have been better.

About the Author
Daniel Margolis is a US-based journalist, writer, educator, and fundraiser. He now works in the private sector and writes on a freelance basis. His work has been published in various publications, and he contributed to the Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography, published by Oxford University Press. Margolis is also a member of the board of his synagogue and of the governing board of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts.
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