It's 2020 and anti-Semitism is once more an election tactic
In 2019, 2,107 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in the US – a record year tracked by the Anti-Defamation League and nearly double that of 2016. The resurgence of anti-Semitism is partly due to mainstreaming QAnon, a spike hate speech in the broader sense and the radicalization of many political spaces on the Internet. A recent study found that 9% of public Facebook posts relating to Jewish Americans contained derogatory language. Most Jewish voters say they feel less secure than they did four years ago, and over 80% of Jewish voters believe the rise of anti-Semitism and white nationalism is one of the top issues in the 2020 election.
Jewish Americans make up a little over 2% of the US population, but they make up up to 4% of the electorate, with the key populations in swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania. Jewish voters as a whole tend to vote for Democrats, but Orthodox Jews lean to the right, and Jews as a whole contribute disproportionately to both political parties.
Most of the time, however, there is more talk about Jewish voters than about them in these elections. The political talks leading up to the elections were rich in disinformation and division. In online campaigns, Jewish Americans often compete against other groups of voters, particularly other racial and ethnic minorities. Anti-Semitic narratives have become a core strategy for some groups.
On June 12th, when the country was in the middle of the biggest protest movement in history, a new channel called "Black Lives Matter Global" appeared on Telegram, the encrypted messaging platform. The channel filled with black power and BLM imagery full of anti-Semitic rhetoric to portray BLM and Jewish Americans as opposites. The channel was shared in many white supremacist groups on Telegram, and some of the images found their way onto Facebook. The posts were just one example of divisive and misleading content intended to create a rift between black and Jewish communities this summer.
The Jewish is also used as a wedge in other underrepresented communities, often in more formal communication channels. Florida, a major swing state, was inundated with disinformation in this election, especially for Hispanic voters. Much of the disinformation is tainted with anti-black and anti-Semitic narratives that often suggest false relationships between the two groups. The Miami Herald's Spanish newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, published an advertising insert in September questioning Jewish support for the Black Lives Matter movement and "Antifa" in order to equate the two groups with Nazis. And Miami-based Spanish broadcaster Radio Caracol ran a 16-minute segment, suggesting that a Joe Biden victory would lead to a dictatorship run by "Jews and blacks." The attack prompted Florida Congressman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to ask the FBI to investigate the anti-Semitic and racist political disinformation in the state.
Meanwhile, the QAnon conspiracy theory has accelerated the spread of anti-Semitic tropes on the internet. An ADL review of anti-Semitism on Twitter in 2017 warned that "the level of anti-Semitism in QAnon-related content is currently very low" but that "it has the potential to multiply particularly rapidly given the viral nature of the subculture" . It turned out to be an accurate warning: QAnon has swallowed up many other conspiratorial narratives, including thinly veiled versions of pre-existing anti-Jewish tropes such as "Blood Slander," and has grown used to the audience of white supremacists and evangelicals.
"QAnon is so disturbing because it shows that many people are susceptible to bizarre conspiracy theories," said David Bernstein, president of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, a coalition of Jewish groups. “If people can believe this nonsense, then they can believe crazy conspiracy theories about Jews, and some do. It emphasizes that one form of conspiracy or bigotry can easily transform into another. "
Twenty-four Congressional candidates in the 2020 election have made comments related to QAnon, and at least one of those candidates is expected to win. And President Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn it, allowing the virtual cult to nestle under the ideological umbrella of the Republican Party.
On October 15, Michael Bloomberg announced a donation of $ 250,000 to the Jewish Democratic Council of America to increase support for Joe Biden among the Jewish electorate in Florida. The following week, the Highlands County's Republican Party began running ads on Facebook accusing Bloomberg and George Soros of attempting to buy Florida votes and destroy primary elections. (There's a lot of misinformation going on on the party's Facebook page.)
Online advertising calling Jewish personalities like Bloomberg, Soros and Bernie Sanders often comes close to anti-Semitism. On October 26, the last day new political ads were submitted to Facebook before the site put a ban, American Action News, a conservative nonprofit with over 1 million followers on Facebook, ran an ad with a picture of George Soros and the subtitle "Burn It Down: Soros plans nationwide chaos if Trump wins. “It was aimed at a group of 10,000 to 50,000 Facebook users in Virginia. It ran from October 26th to November 1st, despite Facebook's anti-fire policy.
Defamation of Jewish political figures contributes to the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in politics. Bernstein says he was actually "pleasantly surprised" that it didn't play a major role in the presidential campaigns, although there were alarming cases of anti-Semitism in smaller campaigns.
Jewish voters have also been targeted by online campaigns, reflecting the fact that they are not a politically unified group. Jewish support for Donald Trump has risen 5 percentage points since 2016, although Jewish support for Joe Biden is high in national polls. However, the division within the Jewish community has been exacerbated by online disinformation.
In one such example, JewsChoose4MoreYears, a political action committee, funded a series of advertisements in Jewish newspapers in swing states. One of them, titled "This Doesn't End Well for Jews," contained a fake Holocaust support statement attributed to Democratic Congressman Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim woman. Many Jewish newspapers refused to advertise.
Such material is confusing and alarming, in part because its source is not clear. When asked about this type of advertising, Bernstein said, "I've seen all kinds of disinformation specifically aimed at Jewish voters. It could come from fringe Jewish groups, and it could come from private individuals or supporters of the campaigns."
The JCPA released a joint statement last week signed by 90 Jewish organizations working for free, fair and accessible elections. You have set up a crisis team to monitor the elections and respond if necessary. "We know it will be a challenge," says Bernstein.