TikTok has been all over the news recently, but an important issue that is hiding within the app is being ignored. Many people use TikTok to share their cultures and religions openly, but for me, as a Jewish teen, this is something I do not feel 100% comfortable with. Antisemitism runs rampant on the app and is rarely criticized. Merriam Webster defines antisemitism as hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group. It comes in many forms, from jokes about Jewish people being greedy, to making fun events like the Holocaust, on the extreme side. Before I got TikTok I was well aware of antisemitism, but had never seen it on such a large scale on any other social media platforms.
The algorithm for TikTok works in the way of your interests. Let’s say I like one video by a Jewish teen about celebrating Hanukkah, the algorithm processes this, and next thing I know, my feed is full of Jewish creators talking about their experiences and traditions. I love seeing videos by other Jewish teens and comparing them to my own experiences. Jews make up a miniscule 0.2% of the global population, making “Jewish TikTok” feel like a giant group chat of all the world’s Jewish teens. The videos make many Jewish teens feel more connected to the identity, but the comments on them are often sickening, hateful or rude. This is what holds me back from posting about my traditions. I do not want to be told that my family should have died in gas chambers.
When I interviewed Isabella Bamnnolker, a fellow Jewish student at CHS, she talked about how commenting “free Palestine” on Jewish American teens’ posts stood out as wrong to her.
“I can’t call up Bibi and be like, hey, can you switch around a couple things for me,” Bamnnolker said, referencing Israel’s prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. “I guess all those comments are trying to show that the atrocious and horrible things that the Israeli government has done to Palestine, is associated with Jews.”
Assuming that a Jewish person making a video about going to synagogue, wants to talk about Israel, or supports the actions of the Israeli government is wrong. Especially because many of the people who receive these comments live halfway across the world from the middle east. To many Jewish people, Israel is a very important part of the religion and culture, as many historical religious sites are there and it is also a safe haven for us. This does not mean we support the cruel injustices the Palestinian people face.
Bamnolker and I also talked about a trend on TikTok in which people say they would have survived different horrific historical events because they are “built different”. One we had both seen and heard about was regarding surviving the gas chambers in concentration camps. Looking through the comments of these posts, we both noticed that people were calling it dark humor and saying that there was no need to be offended. However, as someone who has family who perished in camps, it isn’t dark humor nor funny to me.
People are like, ‘Chill it’s dark humour’. Like six million Jews dying is funny? I feel like a lot of antisemitism comes from people saying it’s a joke, it’s so largely normalized,”
— Isabella Bamnolker
“People are like, ‘Chill it’s dark humor’. Like six million Jews dying is funny? I feel like a lot of antisemitism comes from people saying it’s a joke, it’s so largely normalized,” Bamnolker said in regards to those videos. Antisemitism on TikTok is also so normalized because many people think the Holocaust is where it began and ended, when in reality it existed long before then and is still everywhere today. The videos are often egged on in the comments too, with even more jokes, and seeing it being called out is rare.
When antisemitism is called out, non Jewish people frequently get offended by the repercussions they face. Recently, an account by the username of “itsnate” was suspended on TikTok. The owner of the account, Nathan Freihofer, a US Army soldier, made a disturbing joke regarding the Holocaust and is now being investigated by the Army. Many people responded to this with anger, saying his remarks weren’t a big deal and people needed to get over it. Telling the Jewish people to get over a joke made about a trauma that still runs deep through the community is appalling.
While it is appalling to excuse these remarks, I think the people defending antisemetic comments are not educated on why it is wrong. When I interviewed Rabbi Karen Bogard from Central Reform Congregation, a synagogue in St. Louis, she talked about how calling people out in the comments of videos isn’t always the right way to educate people.
“Getting to know someone and reaching out to them instead of calling them out has been in my experience a way to move past antisemitism.” Bogard said. Rabbi Bogard also went on to say that calling people out in the comments isn’t the best way to go. “People who aren’t Jewish need to understand why it’s offensive, and why it’s so hurtful, so I always try to start a conversation with them to talk about it, and bring it to light and explain why it is offensive.”
Rabbi Bogard’s perspective on educating people in conversation, rather than commenting is because people typically don’t understand why the joke they are perpetuating or laughing at is offensive, until it is politely explained to them. And oftentimes, if they are treated with respect, they are more likely to accept that they did something wrong.
When Bamnolker was asked what CHS students can do if they want to help combat antisemitism and support Jewish students, she said “Just educate yourself and check up on your Jewish friends respectfully,”. Sadly when it comes to strangers on the internet there is not much we can do aside from educate them on their mistakes. Bamnolker also had more detailed advice on how students can inform one another and themselves. “Read books on being an ally, and try to read and share the colorful Instagram infographics to start your research,” Bamnolker said.
The spread of antisemitism on TikTok and other social media platforms is something that can be stopped. I believe that the most important thing to do when it comes to ceasing its spread, is to be aware. If you keep your eye out for it, you may be able to play an important role in stopping the continuation of anti-Semitic comments and videos online.
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