Statements & Press Releases

Statements & Press Releases

Statements Press Release

Antisemitism is Trending, But Celebrities Can Play a Role in Reversing this Trend

October 18, 2023

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 18: (L-R) Greg Berlanti, Joshua Malina, Editor-in-Chief at Tablet Magazine Alana Newhouse, David Kohan and Founder of New Mandate Films Matti Leshem speak onstage during Variety Hollywood & Antisemitism Summit Presented by The Margaret & Daniel Loeb Foundation and Shine A Light Foundation at 1 Hotel West Hollywood on October 18, 2023 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Araya Doheny/Variety via Getty Images)

Photo Credit: Variety via Getty Images

It is no secret that social media can wield untold power. Influencers and celebrities have spent the past two decades carefully cultivating a social media presence and identity in hopes of drawing in their audience.

Simultaneously, with millions clinging to their every word at a time when hate is skyrocketing online, there can also be a substantial downside associated with public figures’ deep influence.

This is particularly true when it comes to antisemitism, which rose to a record-high level in the U.S. during 2022, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In addition to the 3,700 incidents of antisemitic assault, vandalism and harassment recorded that year, marking a 36% increase from 2021, antisemitism is also surging in the realm of public opinion and perception. The ADL reported that 20% of Americans believe in six or more antisemitic tropes, significantly more than the 11% figured that the organization documented in 2019.

On an annual basis, the FBI finds that more than half of all religious bias crimes target Jews, despite the fact that Jews comprise a mere 2% of the total U.S. population. It is time to acknowledge, and to counter, the role that online platforms and the celebrities that leverage them play in this scourge.

The rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) is arguably the most notorious example of this trend in recent memory, through his posting of pro-Hitler rants online and thousands of social media users subsequently agreeing with him in the comments section. Although he has lost millions in revenue from now-canceled endorsement deals, a prominent figure like Ye still maintains the ability to shape attitudes for his tens of millions of followers online.

Online antisemitism must not be dismissed as a phenomenon with an intangible impact. According to a Ruderman Family Foundation study conducted in conjunction with the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), antisemitism online and turmoil on the ground are inexorably linked. For example, the study found peak levels of antisemitic tropes online between January 2021 and June 2022, including those associated with COVID-19 conspiracies, the Jan, 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and more real-world events. The research also discovered a surge of over 500% from the baseline number of antisemitic tropes per day at such key moments.

Further, the study demonstrated how anti-Israel sentiment frequently crosses the line into antisemitism, as antisemitic and anti-Zionist tropes share virtually identical themes such as bloodlust, dominance, covert control and replacement. This similarity highlights the connection between the two types of tropes and their impact on public perception and discourse.

What can be done to push back against this groundswell of hate? Rather than using their influence for destructive purposes, celebrities have the power to wield it for the greater good. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Hilary Duff, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dolly Parton all promoted safety regulations. Celebrities can also help set the public agenda, such as when George Clooney visited Sudan in 2012 and subsequently testified before Congress, met with President Obama and protested at the Sudanese embassy. The media immediately took notice.

Meanwhile, Idina Menzel, Ilana Glazer, Rachel Bloom and other celebrities have taken part in a YouTube special called a “Recipe for Change: Standing Up to Antisemitism.” They participated in a Shabbat-style dinner where they enjoyed popular Jewish and Middle Eastern foods and discussed questions like “Have you ever experienced antisemitism?” and “Could the Holocaust happen again?” These kinds of illuminating and heartfelt conversations are exactly what the Jewish community needs to inspire empathy in potential allies.

Similarly, Jewish organizations, especially those that work in education, are a resource to curb hate and incitement by engaging with the entertainment industry and other spheres of influence through campaigns that spread factual information and raise awareness about antisemitism. For instance, most large corporations conduct sensitivity training when bringing on new hires; the entertainment industry should be no exception, and Jewish organizations can play a role in offering and shaping these educational resources.

While the conspiracies will not disappear overnight, such efforts would take the crucial first step of educating influencers about the deep responsibility that is associated with their public comments. Social media and those who use it have the ability to change attitudes and ignite global conversations. That kind of power needs to be honed strategically and, ideally, utilized in a positive way.

Further, it is incumbent upon us to remember that whatever starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews. Antisemitism has historically been the canary in the coal mine. Any society which has actively embraced Jew-hatred has also demonstrated acceptance for discrimination and prejudice that far extends beyond Jews. Today, the general public must understand that antisemitism presents a clear and present danger which affects us all — and influencers who shape public opinion have not only the capability but also the responsibility to raise awareness around this stark reality.

Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

This article is part of Variety’s Antisemitism and Hollywood package and was written before October.

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