Recently there have been a number of high-profile cases of people getting in trouble for making what have been labeled anti-Semitic social media posts. Are they really, though? Or are they just wingnut crazy? Or totally innocent? Let’s take a look.
Marjorie Taylor Greene
In a rambling 2018 Facebook post Taylor Greene mused aloud/online over whether wildfires in California had been caused by a laser beam directed from space. It’s hard to tell from her post who she thought actually directed this laser, but the utility company Pacific Gas & Electric seems to be the main culprit. Since a later investigation held that PG&E powerlines had led to the wildfires this wasn’t too far off the mark, at least as far as culpability goes. However, Taylor Greene went on to draw attention to what she found to be the suspicious connection between PG&E and the investment firm Rothschild, Inc. (she names a man who was on the board of both corporations).
The media jumped all over this and Taylor Greene’s rant would go on to be universally referred to as the “Jewish space laser” post. This is because the Rothschilds have often been linked to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. That said, Taylor Greene herself never called the laser a Jewish space laser and reading her post I’m not sure what role she thought the Rothschilds were playing in all of this. Is “Rothschild” a dog whistle? I’m sure it is. And was the post crazy? Absolutely. But the anti-Semitism, while legible, seems kind of tangential to her (insane) theories.
Former MMA fighter and actress Gina Carano was fired from the TV show The Mandalorian after posting the following on her Instagram account:
Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors . . . even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views.
What Carano is doing here (it might not be obvious) is comparing the plight of conservatives in the U.S. today to that of Jews in Nazi Germany. Crazy? I think we have to again say yes, though what Carano is saying isn’t quite as bonkers as the space laser. Anti-Semitic? That’s a harder one. Lucasfilm stated that Carano’s “social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.” I don’t see where she’s doing this. She’s really stretching to claim victim status but is identifying, at least to some extent, with Jews. You could say that her post was insensitive, but I don’t think it’s all that anti-Semitic.
Nathan J. Robinson
Robinson is, or was, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper and found himself in trouble when objections were made to a pair of linked tweets he’d posted about the miserliness of COVID relief in the U.S. budget as compared to the amount of money being given to Israel to buy missiles. In his tweets he said the following:
(1) “Did you know that the US Congress is not actually allowed to authorize any new spending unless a portion of it is directed toward buying weapons for Israel? It’s the law.” (2) “or if not actually the written law then so ingrained in political custom as to functionally be indistinguishable from law.”
Despite the fact that the part of the post where he says “It’s the law” was clearly meant as sarcastic, and immediately flagged as such, his bosses took objection to what they saw as the spreading of “fake news” and fired him for singling out Israel for criticism.
The response to Robinson’s post is typical of the way criticism of Israel is often targeted as being anti-Semitic. Is what he said anti-Semitic though? Or even anti-Israel? It mainly seems to be a criticism of American budgetary priorities. I don’t see where he’s blaming Israel for taking the money. But I guess if you were so inclined you could see it as critical of Israel too, in so far as it implies that the U.S. should be spending its money on other things. On the anti-Semitism charge though I just don’t see it.
So . . . the person who posted the craziest and probably the only legitimately anti-Semitic comments on social media faced no consequences or blowback (at least from her own party), and is still a sitting member of Congress, while the other two individuals were fired from their jobs. Is there a lesson in that? If so, it may be one representative of the Trump era: If you’re going to say something really dumb, you should always go big. Social media doesn’t handle nuance well, and rarely seeks to engage us in close reading. It’s there to trigger instant likes and dislikes, retweets and knee-jerk reactions. The medium might not be the message, but both are getting toxic in mutually reinforcing ways.