The #MeToo Movement led to 2018 being enshrined as “The Year of The Woman.” The year was also marked by outcry regarding the separation of immigrant families at the border. In preceding years, the #BlackLivesMatter movement emerged, spread throughout the country, and continues today with force. These social justice-driven issues were amplified and bolstered by the use of social media, a tool first and still largely wielded by the Millennial generation.
In 2019, to what cause should we lend our collective weight as the largest generation, both online and off, next?
If you ask me, that question was answered on October 27, when a 46-year-old murdered 11 people and injured seven at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The question was answered in recent weeks, when a doctor at the esteemed Cleveland Clinic was exposed for publishing a series of tweets filled with hate speech and threats targeting Jews between 2011 and 2017. In these tweets, she called for violence against Jews, stated that she would purposefully give Jews the incorrect medications, and called Jews “dogs.”
The question was answered in early January when, as the feminists of the nation began gearing up for the next Women’s March, various news outlets revealed a fragmentation within the movement rooted in accusations of antisemitism.
The New York Times article detailed a discourse among event organizers that sought to silence Jewish participation in the event in order not to offend other participating minority groups.
Prior to that news, a number of high-profile individuals made headlines for supporting anti-Semitic rhetoric. Just before Christmas, locally beloved basketball star LeBron James casually tweeted these lyrics by rapper 21 Savage: “We been getting that Jewish money, Everything is Kosher.” James said he thought he was being complementary and was unaware of the offensive origins of the lyrics.
Earlier in December, a much-admired literary figure, Alice Walker – author of “The Color Purple” – came under scrutiny for telling The New York Times that she kept a copy of David Icke’s “And The Truth Shall Set You Free” on her nightstand. The book details a conspiracy in which secret societies tied to Judaism control global events.
Here in Long Beach, the Alpert Jewish Community Center was one of many such centers around the nation targeted by bomb threats in 2017. The year prior, the campus of California State University, Long Beach was targeted by a neo-Nazi who hacked the university’s wi-fi network to cause the library’s printers to produce Nazi propaganda flyers.
There are so many reported incidents of antisemitism associated with England’s Labor Party that the BBC published a guide to those events in September, and Harry Potter novelist J.K Rowling – who has a massive social media following – has made it something of a personal mission to take members of the party to task on the matter publicly.
So, I ask, rhetorically, what issue of social injustice is so pervasive yet so readily overlooked that we need to shed more light on it in 2019?
Since the FBI began collecting hate crime statistics in 1992, “With the exception of three months after 9/11 in 2001, the American Jewry. . . by far are the number one target of religion-based hate in the United States,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Business Journal. SWC is headquartered in Los Angeles. Named after the famous Nazi hunter, it is dedicated to holocaust education and combating bigotry. It operates two Museums of Tolerance – one in L.A. and one in Jerusalem.
“The latest relevant statistics would be in New York. New York is the largest Jewish community in the world anywhere – bigger than Jerusalem,” Cooper said. The NYPD’s recent hate crimes analysis revealed that the number of attacks against Jews was double that against all other groups, including LGBTQ individuals, refugees and racial minorities, he noted. “That is raising huge alarm bells in that community.”
Cooper used the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter to exemplify how social media has become the number one tool to spread hate – and why it should be adopted as the number one tool to combat it. “Here you have someone who didn’t need the Internet to become a racist bigot, a hater of blacks, and an anti-Semite. He was already in the 20th century deep into that camp,” Cooper said. “And yet, at the age of 46, [he was] very much involved in social media. You might want to say this characterizes a lone wolf, but a lone wolf also looking for encouragement, for validation that they are acting for a greater cause. And that’s what the Internet provides.”
Cooper continued, “Social media today is the front line in the marketplace of ideas, and it is the most powerful marketing tool ever conceived. I think what we are seeing in the United States and on the other side of the Atlantic is some of the people who are . . . learning lessons provided by nothing less than ISIS. ISIS may have lost its territory in Syria and Iraq, but they won the Internet wars because nobody else showed up. . . .They used effectively sometimes hundreds of thousands of tweets a day in multiple languages in order to target their enemies, raise money, recruit, et cetera, and I think that’s what we see more and more – the Internet playing such a crucial role.”
A corresponding problem Cooper sees for the Millennial generation is that studies have shown them to be undereducated about the Holocaust and issues of antisemitism.
Last year, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, an organization that is dedicated to seeking reparations for victims of the Holocaust, released the results of a survey that found 22% of Millennials were “unaware of or not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.” About 41% of Millennials believed two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust, when the figure is actually six million. Nearly half of Millennials could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto, of which there were 40,000 in World War II, and 66% of Millennials did not know what Auschwitz was.
With younger generations so plugged into social media, which also happens to be a hotbed of misinformation, it is critical that we ensure they are educated, lest they be drawn in by propaganda. Millennials are already adults, so education in the classroom for us isn’t much of an option. What we can do, however, is come together to call out injustices, untruths and hate speech when we see them, and to form an equally loud rallying cry against them as we did with #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.
As Cooper put it, “If you know how to communicate with other Millennials through social media, you are going to find likeminded people, you are going to find a constituency and you are probably going to come up with some new strategies that no other generation had before. To do that, you have to be engaged.”
As Millennials have children, we can educate them in ways we perhaps were not. “Adults in the room make a huge mistake if they think that their values are transferred by osmosis. It just doesn’t work that way,” Cooper said. “You have to invest the time to educate people, to talk about values.”
Cooper continued, “We are not only losing the last of the Holocaust survivors to old age, we are losing . . . America’s greatest generation, who defeated the Nazis. For 50 years in this country, if you showed a swastika you weren’t only insulting Jews whose loved ones were murdered by people carrying that banner, but you were insulting millions of Americans who fought to defeat Nazism.”
We are now in a new, removed reality from that time. To keep memory alive, Cooper suggests visiting the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, speaking with Holocaust survivors who are still alive, and, if you can’t do that, researching history.
“Millennials need to muscle up in terms of a little bit of history, a little perspective, finding out about values. The data is all available online,” Cooper said. “But the human face of what they really need to absorb, there is no shortcut to that.”