Old Hate, Renewed Response: Resources to curb antisemitism in school, in person, and online

Driven by conspiracy theories and memes, contemporary antisemitism is spurring new strategies to inform youth, empower allies, and hold social sites to account.

MANHATTAN, NY - JANUARY 05: A marcher walking across the Brooklyn Bridge carrying a sign of
Jewish Solidarity March, Brooklyn Bridge, NY, January 1, 2020.
Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Swastikas on bathroom walls. Holocaust jokes. Students as young as elementary age giving the Hitler salute before Jewish classmates and teachers. That’s what Danielle Frandina of Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO) is hearing from the field.

While the Boston-based education nonprofit has long provided middle and high school teachers with curriculum and resources about the Holocaust and the history of anti-Jewish hate, the sharp uptick in antisemitism calls for a different tack.

Antisemitism today “most often comes at us in the form of conspiracy theory,” says Frandina, who  designs materials and lessons for the “Contemporary Antisemitism” program, which FHAO produced last year. Conspiracy theories and tropes—widely disseminated stereotypes—feed much of what we’re seeing in the culture, including, it seems, in schools.

FHAO aims to equip teachers and students to identify conspiracy theories and understand their origins. “Where did these come from? This idea that Jews are secretly dominating world finances and government?” asks Frandina, offering one example to deconstruct through education.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has yet to denounce Nick Fuentes, white nationalist and Holocaust denier, and Ye, the former Kanye West, who has praised Hitler, most recently to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in an interview. Trump’s hosting of the two at his Florida home in November 2022 drew condemnation from some of the former President’s supporters, but not all.

“It's so coded”

Left unchecked, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and related memes spread all too readily online. On Twitter, antisemitism has risen sharply since Elon Musk purchased the platform in October.

Ye sparking headlines would seem to be a teachable moment. But the majority of teachers don’t address antisemitism outside the context of the Holocaust, from what Frandina has seen. Moreover, they may feel unsure or even unsupported in tackling the subject.

“It’s so coded,” Frandina says of contemporary antisemitism. The tropes, deeply entrenched in the global culture, and the insidious subtext of memes are particular to antisemitism, “and that’s a challenge for us,” she says. “But it’s not impossible.”

Strategies are also available to address the personal experience of hate. Nonprofit Right to Be offers bystander intervention training to counter antisemitic harassment, created in partnership with T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

“We believe that, for the most part, we are hardwired to want to help,” says Jackie Miller, Right to Be trainer. In the main, she says, take care of the person who experienced the hurt. “Effective bystander intervention is not, even though we wish it was, being a superhero and saving the day, it’s not about putting the hurtful person in their place,” she says. Taking any action across a spectrum of possibilities as a ­by- or upstander “is modeling for everyone. That it’s not tolerated. That’s powerful.”

Miller and others would like to see greater regulation of social media. As ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) notes in its annual survey, online harassment has not declined since 2020, despite pledges by social platforms to curb extremism. ADL proscribes actionables for tech companies alongside its Backspace Hate campaign to criminalize online hate and harassment.

 

Resources

From Facing History & Ourselves:


From Right to Be:

HeartMob
An initiative of Right to Be, HeartMob is a platform for combatting online hate and supporting people experiencing it, says Miller. There's a Digital Safety Kit and tips for those who witness harassment online, among other resources. The community can advise you in documenting and reporting online abuse and provide support from others who have been there.

I've Got Your Back: The Indispensable Guide to Stopping Harassment When You See It (Abrams, 2022)
Written by Jorge Arteaga and Emily May, I've Got Your Back covers Right to Be's 5Ds of bystander intervention: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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