Who’s more dangerous to the safety of Jewish people, Kanye West or Jenna Ortega?
Easy, right? Kanye is an open Jew-hater. He creates tweets that are both incomprehensible and threateningly antisemitic, spews Black Hebrew Israelite and Nation of Islam propaganda, and declares his love for Hitler and the Nazis. He even appeared to cause discomfort for even Alex Jones, the guy who attacked the survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting. Ortega, who plays Wednesday Addams in the current Netflix series, is, according to those who work with her, genuinely nice. While West uses his social media for self-aggrandizement, unhinged rants, declarations that he is a god, and, most troublingly, Jew-hatred, Ortega uses hers to promote her work and humanitarian causes. She seems to genuinely want to help others.
And therein lies the problem.
The antisemitism of the well-intentioned but uninformed
West understands antisemitism perfectly well. He hates Jews. Whatever else is going on in his addled mind, that much is clear. Jenna Ortega presumably sincerely believes that antisemitism is evil, no less so than sexism, homophobia, hatred of Muslims, or other forms of racism and xenophobia. The idea that she promotes anti-Jewish causes would likely make her shudder. The problem is that, like millions of other well meaning Americans, she has no real understanding of antisemitism, and therefore is unlikely to recognize it in at least some of its forms. And, also like millions of other Americans, she likely doesn’t do much investigation into a cause before she posts it to social media. (The number of celebrities who at least in part handle their own social media is astounding.)
Earlier this year, someone forwarded a link to a group chat, horrified that “the girl from Scream” (the Netflix series hadn’t yet been released) would post something like it. (My friend, a Russian-speaking Israeli Jew, used far more vividly descriptive and colorful language which I avoid repeating here.) The link was to a Jenna Ortega Tweet that read simply “Decolonize Palestine,” with an embedded link to a website bearing the same moniker.
Decolonize Palestine. https://t.co/MlI5Gpr2QN
— Jenna Ortega (@jennaortega) March 6, 2022
Decolonize? Was this a clumsy attempt at supporting a two-state solution? I clicked the link.
And I was horrified.
I found a site that was extremist propaganda (sadly not uncommon, even on Netflix), advocating for the same position Hamas holds: abolition of the State of Israel — the world’s only Jewish state, existing only in part of the land to which Jews are indigenous. The site tells a fictional story in which Jews from Europe were and are foreign invaders who violently displaced a pacific Palestinian people. For example, the following appears in the “Palestine 101” section:
Aiming to establish an exclusive Jewish ethnocracy, the Yishuv had to contend with the fact that the entirety of the land was inhabited by the native population. This is where the settler “logic of elimination” came into play. Coined by scholar Patrick Wolfe, this means that the settlers needed to develop not only moral justifications for the removal of the natives, but also the practical means to ensure its success. This could take the form of ethnic cleansing, genocide or other gruesome tools of ethnocide.
According to this, everything was pre-planned: the fighting, the partition, the Arab rejection of it, the war initiated by Arab states after the British were expelled by the Jews, and everything else was part of a Zionist Jew conspiracy. The pogroms that began even before the British mandate came into being, initiated by the Arabs and killing hundreds of Jews, all were part – according to this website – of the Zionist plot. There was Arab “resistance,” of course, and it was armed, but this was to be expected, apparently. The fact that this “resistance” had started decades before the term “Zionism” was even created (for example, the 1847 Jerusalem pogrom) is left unmentioned. Also unmentioned is the fact that Palestinian leaders, like the grand mufti of Jerusalem, openly aligned themselves with Hitler and recruited Palestinian Arabs to join the Third Reich’s army.
In its “washing” section, the site lists all of the different ways in which every good thing Israel does is actually a Jew trick to oppress Palestinians more. Tel Aviv is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world? Pinkwashing. Israel is a world leader in environmental protections? Greenwashing. The IDF routinely embarks on humanitarian missions to disaster zones, risking Israeli lives to save those of others in countries around the world? Bluewashing. Israel has ultra-progressive governing structures? Redwashing. Etc.
The “FAQ” page defines the Intifada as related to “Palestinian cause and resistance to tyranny” and omits much, including, for example, the Palestinian bombing of a Sbarro’s pizza, described in its Wikipedia entry as follows:
The dead included 13 Israelis, one pregnant American, and one Brazilian, all of them civilians. Additionally, 130 were injured. One victim, Chana Nachenberg, remains hospitalized, in a permanent vegetative state, more than twenty years after the attack. She was 31 years old at the time of the bombing. Her daughter, who was 2 years old at the time, was one of the few in the restaurant who came through the disaster unscathed.
Yocheved Shoshan, age 10, was killed, and her 15-year-old sister Miriam was severely injured with 60 nails lodged in her body, a hole in her right thigh, third degree burns on 40 percent of her body, and a ruptured spleen
The rest of the site is full of similar rhetorical tricks, facts out of context, “authoritative” links to paywalled articles or the Goodreads pages of out-of-print and long-ago-debunked books (Ilan Pappé, the “historian” notorious for omitting sources for outrageous claims, criticized even by the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, gets a mention!), and more than a few outright lies. It is unnecessary to catalog every lie the site puts forward; it’s voluminous and more fiction than fact (any questions, though, can be posted in the comment section below).
This website does not criticize Israel. It doesn’t call for a change of Israeli policy towards the Palestinian areas. It’s not suggesting that all haste should be made in creating a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish one. No, the solution proposed by whoever is behind the “Decolonize Palestine” website is the destruction of the State of Israel, home to about half of the world’s Jewish population, the country to which Jews, persecuted where they live, flee. In the past few years alone, tens of thousands fled France due to rising antisemitism. The only developed democratic state in the history of the world to have airlifted thousands of Black refugees out of Africa and into its borders, the “decolonize” people say, should be destroyed.
This is antisemitism
According to all major Jewish organizations, both religious and secular, denying the right of Israel to exist is antisemitism. This is also true, as opinion polling shows, of the vast and overwhelming majority of Jewish people. As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks put it, calling for the abolition of Israel is only the newest form of antisemitism. First Jews were attacked for their religion, and then their race, and now for the State of Israel, the Jew of nations.
Good intentions pave dangerous roads
How can all of this be? How is it that a well-known and well-loved American actress, Jenna Ortega, can link to a site that calls for Jews to return to their status as a stateless nation, especially at a time when even open Kanye West-style Jew-hatred is on the rise? How could Ortega post blood libel? It would be far less troubling if I could believe that Ortega had something against the Jews, if she simply hated us. But that is highly unlikely. The more likely answer is ignorance.
The suggestion that Jenna Ortega is ignorant of affairs in the Middle East should not be taken as an accusation of low intelligence. Indeed, putting aside bad actors (like Kanye) and the truly stupid (like Roger Waters), some of the worst offenders are highly intelligent, empathy-driven people who simply know little of the actual facts. They often read widely, but not deeply. This seems to be the case with Ortega.
Ortega posted the anti-Israel link as part of a pinned Tweet series with links to a variety of human rights causes. She’s clearly read widely on humanitarian issues, but not deeply into any particular one of them. If she did, she would surely feel torn by the cognitive dissonance of posting a link implicitly supporting Hamas, while on Instagram praising Planned Parenthood and the heroic women of Iran. And, given Ortega’s seeming support for the LGBTQ community, it is hard to imagine she would really want to get rid of the state gay Palestinians must flee to in order to avoid persecution and murder.
Ortega is not alone; she is in the company of millions. Those who support things like “Israeli Apartheid Week” or the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement pollute college campuses across the country. And terrorist sympathizers run the BDS national committee, which is led by the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine. Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups, virtually all of which have been engaged in terrorism against civilians and been labeled as terrorists by the U.S. and numerous other states, lead the Council of National and Islamic Forces.
The hardcore Israel/Jew-hating groups tend to be fairly small, but they express their ideas and statements in slick, social justice-mimicking propaganda that comes to be accepted by those who know nothing of the actual history of Israel and the Palestinians, even Jews who don’t know their own history or seek assimilation. (To be clear, this refers to those who seek to abolish the State of Israel only; Israel can be legitimately criticized as much as any other country.)
Is it necessary to criticize celebrities for their well-intentioned mistakes?
Is it right to criticize publicly those who post anti-Israel/anti-Jewish content (again, as opposed to simply criticizing Israeli policy)? The answer is an emphatic “yes.” It’s not only right, but necessary. These ideas are dangerous. Anti-Zionist rhetoric leads to an increase in open, undisguised antisemitism, and vice versa.
To see anti-Zionism weaponized against Jews, simply look to March 2021, when Israel entered into war with Hamas. Anti-Zionist rhetoric skyrocketed, and so did antisemitic incidents: anti-Israel fanatics threw an explosive device in Manhattan’s Diamond District, thugs harassed Jewish restaurant goers in Los Angeles, hateful demonstrators marched through residential neighborhoods in NYC and elsewhere, London demonstrators chanted “death to the Jews” and “Fuck their mothers, rape their daughters,” and more. A woman I know was assaulted at a pro-Israel rally in Toronto. Ask any Jew who posts Jewish – not specifically Israeli, just Jewish – content on TikTok, and they’ll tell you how often they’ve had comments asking how many Palestinian babies they’ve killed.
Unfortunately, the conversation is asymmetric. Jenna Ortega has 946,500 followers on Twitter. She has more followers on that platform alone than there are Jews in any country in the world besides Israel and the United States. The actress has 26.1 million followers on Instagram – and there are only 15.2 million Jews on planet Earth, according to the Jewish Agency. Even if you add in every single person who has at least one Jewish grandparent, the total number of Jew-ish people comes to 23.8 million.
This is the problem with people like Jenna Ortega. The people who are (according to those who have worked with them) kind and good and intelligent and well-meaning. When Kanye says, “I love Hitler,” that’s a problem. He brings out the open Jew-haters the way that darkness brings out cockroaches. But normal people easily see that Kanye says evil things that should be scorned. Such isn’t the case with people like Ortega, who stumble into transmitting Jew-hatred to an army of fans who outnumber all the world’s Jews.
I’ve focused here entirely on Jenna Ortega, because she is an extreme example. There are many others who have taken on Hamas’s talking points, such as the Bella Hadid, Emma Watson, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah, who seems to believe it possible to determine which side in a war is just solely by counting casualties. None of the entertainers mentioned above have called for the elimination of the State of Israel. Only Ortega, who actually seems nicer than the others, has done that (probably without even realizing it). She seems to be one of the most genuinely well-meaning people, and yet she was the one to post the most genuinely evil piece of anti-Zionist propaganda and broadcast it to more people than there are Jews on Earth.
Anyone who knows or who has worked with an even moderately well-know entertainer knows that they tend to be extremely busy. This, however, even when combined with good will and a lack of ill intent, is no excuse to post propaganda aimed against an extremely small minority group. Hopefully Ms. Ortega and others like her – there’s no hope for Kanye or Kyrie types – will try to learn more about what they post – and who they could harm – in the future.