By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
You were shocked to find out Zakia Belkhiri, the “selfie-stick” girl who “poked fun at racism” turned out to be an anti-semite? The media was certainly shocked, commentators like Rokhl Kafrissen write how they shared Balkhiri’s cute selfie, only to learn later of the nefarious anti-semitism. It turns out that Belkhiri had written in 2012 “Hitler didn’t kill all the Jews, he left some. So we know why he was killing them.”
She’s not the only one whose “shocking” anti-semitism has been outed recently. National Union of Students Malia Bouattia has been accused of it also. Now it was revealed that Bouattia was even the subject of an “internal investigation” in which she was “informally warned” that comments she made might have been construed as anti-semitic. That was a year before people were outraged that she had condemned a university with a large Jewish population as being a “Zionist outpost.”
Revelations that Oberlin academic Joy Karega was anti-semitic was also supposedly shocking. She had been sharing memes and theories about how the Rothschilds created AIDs since 2014.
In all these stories were treated to a simple narrative. So-and-so becomes slightly more well known than they were before. So-and-so is elected to a position or attends some sort of rally. Then “incriminating social media” is “dug up.” Then everyone is “shocked” that so-and-so once praised Hitler. Then so-and-so says they didn’t mean to be anti-semitic, they didn’t really understand what it meant, they were just anti-Zionist. The person apologizes. The person is shamed. Ok, let’s move on. If anything the person becomes an anecdote, an example of how “anti-semitism” is thriving at universities or on campus. In general though stories about people like Balkhiri become their own news cycle, without a lesson.
Remember the Egyptian woman Samira Ibrahim chosen to receive a “Women in Courage” award in 2013 only to have it abruptly withdrawn when it turned out she had made numerous anti-semitic tweets. She had called the Saudis “dirtier than Jews” and praised the 9/11 attacks. She also praised the deaths of Israeli civilians in a bombing in Bulgaria. Her story came and went. No lessons drawn. Nothing to learn.
The question no one asks
The reason we refuse to learn from these incidents is because the most scary question has nothing to do with these individuals. Each of these women, and in the cases cited above they all happen to be women, have hundreds or thousands of followers. Many of them are influential. They are student leaders, academics, activists. They don’t exist on a desert island. They are part of a community, and leaders in that community.
When they write to their thousands of followers, openly on social media, that “Hitler didn’t kill enough Jews”, no one tells them they are wrong. No one is offended. We know that no one is offended or tells them how shocking that statement is, because years later the tweets are found, unchanged. That means out of an entire circle of friends, almost no one stands up to them. That means, most of their circle agrees with them.
When an academic at a prestigious university is agreeing with and sharing an article claiming the Rothschilds caused AIDs, and no one is offended, it’s not really about that one academic, it’s an indictment of the entire circle and the circle around that circle. If a budding academic had written “the KKK was right, they didn’t kill enough,” we can imagine the blowback they would receive immediately and the career implications it would have. Like the reaction to the racist commercial in China, people would be outraged.
Yet what we see, and the question no one is asking, is what kind of milieu exists in which “Hitler was right” is acceptable? It isn’t a neo-Nazi milieu in the example above, it’s actually among a relatively liberal group of youth in Europe, especially among Arab and African second or third generation immigrants. That’s a scary thought, that if a person was to have followers among all the members of a large student organization in the EU today and tweeted “Hitler was right”, there would be a large minority that would not be offended. It’s a scary thought that many other MA and PhD students who knew the Oberlin academic didn’t find it odd to share memes and blogs about the Rothschilds controlling the world.
The question no one wants to ask is why it is that among intellectuals in Egypt, to students on campus in Oberlin or Oxford, to the social media middle classes of Belgium, that “Hitler was right” or “the Zionists control the media” or “Rothschilds caused AIDs” or “Saudis are dittier than Jews” is not challenged, is not offensive, but in the opposite, it probably re-tweeted and approved of.
We’re just kidding ourselves when we pretend that many people find “Hitler was right” offensive. People pay lip service to apologies. In fact the very act of apologizing to many of them and their supporters becomes yet another evidence of the “Zionist control”. And they go back and promise “no longer will I Tweet ‘Hitler was right’, but I’ll go right on thinking it.” And at cocktail parties, among the “close group” of knowing friends, who feel the same way “Hitler was right” and “Rothschilds caused AIDs” and “Jews run the media” will be acceptable.
If Zakia Belkhiri had tweeted that she liked the Chinese commercial, she would have been roundly denounced on her twitter feed. That’s the real question people need to ask. It’s not about “catching” out a few anti-semites or “digging through” old tweets and social media. It’s that society has not done its due diligence. One shouldn’t have to “dig” to find anti-semitism. Because it should have been condemned when it happened.
People need to ask, how many budding PhD students could share a meme of the Rothschilds controlling the world and have it go unchallenged. How many could tweet “Hitler was right” and have it go unchallenged.
The lone anti-semites or the examples of anti-semitism trotted out are not the real example. The apologies are mostly useless. Because THE REAL APOLOGY should come from the circle of followers, colleagues and friends who LET IT HAPPEN. That’s who should be apologizing. Zakia Belkhiri is not the problem. Her friends are the problem. Joy Karega is not the problem, it’s all the people on Facebook who didn’t say “no” who are the problem. They were let down by large numbers of people who are not only inured to anti-semitism but who are also Jew-haters. Whether it is Egypt, Belgium, the UK or US, it is among many in the intellectual and upper middle class who hold hateful anti-Jewish views. When it is normal in a society among the intellectuals to say “dirtier than a Jew”, the whole of society is to blame, not the individual.
Holocaust denial doesn’t succeed in the US, not because of laws that make it illegal to deny, but because those who spout such ridiculous views are derided as crackpots and idiots. But when it becomes vogue and in fashion to deny the Holocaust, as one suspects it is becoming in parts of Europe, then the problem is not the lone crackpot, but the group around them. When it’s normal to say “the Zionists worked with Hitler” and “Hitler was a Zionist” and when everywhere the word “Jew” is switched with “Zionist” in order to malign Jews, it’s part of a larger phenomenon. “Hitler didn’t kill enough Zionists”, will soon be the accepted wink-wink, way to get out of being called anti-semitic.
The question people have to ask has nothing to do with a few lone people “outed” for their actions, but about the group around them. In the same way hate crimes against gays, black people or other minorities, is not about the single crime, but the culture in general, one has to ask about the society that produces, coddles, tolerates and collaborates with it.
We know that these examples were never confronted on their views. That is the real problem.
*** Update ***
A British Labour party member who claimed Jews were behind the slave trade was re-admitted to the party after an internal query. It raises further questions about the milieu but also about the apparently high number of women, especially women from minority backgrounds who hold anti-semitic views. Is hatred of Jews one of the things that is considered “ok”, a group considered “acceptable to blame for everything” and stereotype among women and minorities, who usually would be sensitive to racism?