Jared Kushner may be in a unique position of power as the son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, who also appointed Kushner to head the White House Office of American Innovation and conveyed his hope even before his inauguration that Kushner could help broker peace in the Middle East. But as a prominent Jewish figure in the current administration, he’s not immune to online harassment and hatred of the kind that has been lobbed at Jews on social media in recent months.
The Anti-Defamation League has analyzed what it calls an “explosive growth of hateful memes and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against Jared Kushner.” The nonprofit, whose mission is to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of hate, put out a press release as well as a blog post Monday identifying an online campaign that began this past Wednesday and by Sunday had escalated to more than 300,000 mentions of hashtags such as #firekushner, #kushneratwar and #kushnerswar, some of which included anti-Semitic language.
“What started as a few isolated anti-Semitic tweets suggesting that Jared Kushner should be ‘fired’ because of his ‘Jewish supremacist views’ has quickly metastasized into a full-blown onslaught of anti-Semitic hate speech,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the organization’s CEO, said in a statement. “It shows how quickly hate speech can multiply and come to light on social media platforms, and reminds us of how much work we need to do to combat hate.”
According to the ADL, the calls to “fire Kushner” and the “full-bore assault perpetrated primarily by white supremacists and anti-Semites of various stripes” began against the backdrop of Stephen Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council, reports of tension between Bannon and Kushner and the cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base ordered by Trump last week in response to a chemical weapons attack. The campaign, the ADL writes, “has all the hallmarks of classic Jewish conspiracy theories.”
A brief timeline the ADL released begins with an April 5 tweet from the user @Eilliot_Kelsh (which at the time of this writing does not come up in Twitter’s search results), who reportedly used the hashtag #firekushner to describe a betrayal by the administration. The next day, the user @AltGrey1 began sending out a slew of tweets, making comments such as, “ America first #fireKushner,” “ no more cucks in the white house #fireKushner,” “ no more jewish wars #fireKushner #Syriahoax ” and “ Listen up @realDonaldTrump I know it's hard to hear but your son in law is a globalist cuck #fireKushner #syriahoax no WW3. ”
The campaign gained traction the following day, as well-known figures like Richard B. Spencer and David Duke chimed in. Spencer—a white nationalist and president of the National Policy Institute who led a room full of like-minded folks in cheers of “Hail Trump!” and Nazi salutes at a conference the week after the election—wrote in a tweet that garnered thousands of interactions: “#FireKushner No one voted for Kushner. Indeed, many of us voted against people like Kushner having power.”
Duke, another white nationalist leader, tweeted a series of comments including a claim that “We are being brought down from within. ZIO Supremacists are the true enemy of the American people…not Assad, not Putin. #FireKushner.” He sent out another #FireKushner tweet with a meme equating Israel with cancer and another that insisted that “Ivanka needs to be removed from the White House, along with her bloodthirsty, Zionist husband!” The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Duke as “the most recognizable figure of the American radical right, a neo-Nazi, longtime Klan leader and now international spokesman for Holocaust denial who has nevertheless won election to Louisiana's House of Representatives and once was nearly elected governor.”
The hundreds of thousands of mentions of the hashtags the ADL identifies as affiliated with the campaign do not all contain explicit anti-Semitic invective or even anti-Semitic undertones. The hashtags have also been adopted by those who would like to see Trump and his entire entourage out of the White House. One wrote, “#FireKushner and Conway and Bannon and Priebus and DeVos and Gorsuch and Pence and Sessions and Tillerson and Ivanka and Miller AND TRUMP,” and another tweeted, “I can't believe people are debating #FireKushner or #FireBannon. They're both unqualified hired by someone who's unqualified. Fire them all.” But there was an unequivocal anti-Semitic bent to some of the tweets, including those from Spencer and Duke.
In the past, Kushner has spoken out to defend his father-in-law against accusations of anti-Semitism. In July, for example, Trump tweeted a photo of Hillary Clinton against a pile of $100 bills and a six-pointed star reading, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” garnering criticism for its blatant anti-Semitic imagery. Dana Schwartz wrote an open letter to Kushner “from one of your Jewish employees” in The Observer, a paper owned by Kushner’s publishing company (he announced in January that he would step down from his official role as publisher to take on his advisory role in the White House).
“My father-in-law is not an anti-Semite. It’s that simple, really. Donald Trump is not anti-Semitic and he’s not a racist,” Kushner wrote in his response. “Despite the best efforts of his political opponents and a large swath of the media to hold Donald Trump accountable for the utterances of even the most fringe of his supporters,” he added. “This is not idle philosophy to me. I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors.” Months later, it seems some of those “fringe” supporters have turned their anti-Semitic attention toward Kushner himself.
The campaign against him is just one recent example of anti-Semitism on social media platforms. In late March, the World Jewish Congress shared the initial results of a survey that found that more than 382,000 anti-Semitic posts were published on social media in 2016, indicating an average of 43.6 posts per hour or one post every 83 seconds. More than half of the instances it found came from Twitter, while others came from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, blogs and other sources.
Last October, a report from the ADL’s Task Force on Harassment and Journalism found a rise in anti-Semitic targeting of journalists tied to the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election. Before narrowing down the numbers to focus on missives directed at journalists, it found a total of 2.6 million tweets “containing language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech” posted on Twitter between August 2015 and July 2016.
“The spike in hate we’ve seen online this election cycle is extremely troubling and unlike anything we have seen in modern politics. A half century ago, the KKK burned crosses. Today, extremists are burning up Twitter,” Greenblatt said in a statement in October.
“The various manifestations of anti-Semitism in 2016 served as a stark and sobering reminder that hatred of Jews is not history, it is a current event,” Greenblatt added in a statement that accompanied the ADL’s December roundup of the top 10 manifestations of anti-Semitism in 2016. The list included the threatening and harassment of Jewish journalists, the use of the echoes symbol to target Jews on Twitter, the rise of anti-Semitic incidents post-election and the rise of the so-called alt-right. “The reality of the threat to Jewish communities around the world and to the state of Israel was reinforced time and again by rhetoric, incidents and violent assaults,” Greenblatt said.
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