Antisemitism is proliferating through social media, and Jewish teens are facing the brunt of the assault. Because the public needs to better understand this growing phenomenon, it was with relief that I noticed a recent article titled “Jewish teens say life on TikTok comes with anti-Semitism” by NBC reporter Kalhan Rosenblatt. However, Rosenblatt failed to break down one of antisemitism’s key drivers: anti-Zionism, and her piece will only further the public’s misunderstanding on this important issue.
As an educator with Zionist youth movement Club Z, I have continuously heard from our teens about the antisemitism they face, particularly on the video sharing social media platform TikTok. Common on TikTok, as on all social media, are Holocaust denial or mockery, conspiracy theories and the trending hashtag #Jewishprivilege. But no form of Jew hate is as common as the hate directed at Israel and its supporters.
One needn’t work for a Zionist youth organization in order to grasp what’s been happening. It’s been a much discussed issue within the Jewish world. Mainstream Jewish organizations like the ADL and AJC, as well as Amcha Initiative, have produced detailed reports on the connection between anti-Israel activism and growing hatred directed at young Jews. Yet any exploration of this connection was absent from Rosenblatt’s piece. There was nothing on the growing trend of anti-Zionist activism, on campus and more recently in high school.
BDS and other anti-Israel campaigns center their case not on supposed Israeli “human rights abuses,” but on what they claim is the racist and illegitimate nature of Zionism (i.e, a Jewish state). This activism aggressively labels as ‘racist’ not just Israel, but its supporters — of whom are the overwhelming majority of Jews, including young Jews. This ‘racist’ slur is commonly heard on TikTok, yet didn’t make it into Rosenblatt’s report
Rosenblatt points out that younger Jews are more ‘critical’ of Israel than their elders. While true, this misses the point that these young Jews still support Israel’s existence, and reject being labeled racist for this belief fundamental to Judaism and Jewish identity. The anti-Israel movement has for decades been mainstreaming this ostracism of Israel supporters. Horrifically, there are Jewish teens throughout this country daily getting called racist and Nazi, getting kicked off student councils, all for their identification with Israel — and merely for not repudiating Israel. What we see on TikTok is the inevitable result. Yet Rosenblatt irresponsibly frames the problem as either random antisemitic trolls, or the unfortunate conflation of young American Jews with Israel and its supposed crimes.
While Rosenblatt neglected the findings of the aforementioned mainstream Jewish organizations, she takes the time to quote individuals from T’ruah and New Israel Fund. One needn’t be a right-winger to correctly identify these as left-wing political organizations unfairly critical of Israel. Readers of Rosenblatt’s report would see as self-evident Israel’s “human rights abuses,” as pointed out by the T’ruah rep.
Not interviewed is even one Jewish teen who feels any connection to Israel. Instead, she quotes a Jewish teen who’s been unfairly blamed for “the actions of the Israeli government,” which she wouldn’t “even condone”. This teenager Rosenblatt chose to interview said she’s accused of being a “land stealer” and a “war criminal,” which she says is “just not the case”. What this teenager means is not that those are dishonest smears directed at Israeli or Jewish Zionist teens. What she means is that “it’s just not the case” she supports Israel, and ergo its crimes. Hence the Israel hate is misdirected, if somewhat understandable.
This teenager is entitled to her views. However, Rosenblatt’s job was to convey to the public the concerns of the average Jewish teen, and the true nature of the hate they face. Readers should’ve been given an opportunity to understand how anti-Israel activism affects young Jews, and how this activism is driven by a fundamental hatred of what Israel is, not what it does. Rosenblatt missed the mark on this teachable moment.