Facing antisemites and beating them at their own game

Liora Rez uses the power of social media to hold Jew-haters accountable

 LIORA REZ, executive director of StopAntisemitism (photo credit: STOPANTISEMITISM.ORG)
LIORA REZ, executive director of StopAntisemitism
(photo credit: STOPANTISEMITISM.ORG)

‘I receive a lot of threats,” says Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, matter-of-factly. “The antisemites try to intimidate me, but I’m not going anywhere.” Though she dismisses the threats with a chuckle, antisemitism in the United States, says Rez, is no laughing matter.

StopAntisemitism is a watchdog organization dedicated to calling out antisemites and antisemitic behavior across the United States. Rez co-founded the organization as a response to the antisemitism she had encountered in her professional life and the frustration she felt in dealing with the phenomenon. “I have been working in the digital space since 2012,” she says. “My social media handle that I was using identified me as Jewish, and I received atrocious comments – everything from ‘baby killers’ to ‘you’re like Nazi Germany – you guys are doing to the

Palestinians what was done to you,’ to ‘Hitler should have finished the job.’”Rez says she also felt frustrated that expressions of antisemitism from the extreme Right seemed to attract more attention than comments made by members of the extreme Left. “It was very frustrating to have those that espouse hatred toward Jews get a pass,” she says.

STOPANTISEMITISM’S TWITTER efforts helped in bringing federal hate crime charges against Saadah Masoud, who assaulted a Jewish man holding an Israeli flag. (Credit: TWITTER)STOPANTISEMITISM’S TWITTER efforts helped in bringing federal hate crime charges against Saadah Masoud, who assaulted a Jewish man holding an Israeli flag. (Credit: TWITTER)

Antisemitic behavior is occurring everywhere in the United States today, says Rez, adding, “This is what makes it extremely frustrating and extremely frightening.” To prove her point, Rez cites events that have occurred over the past few years, from the neo-Nazi white supremacist movement that resulted in the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 and the shooting in Poway, California, in 2019 to the taking of hostages by a radical Muslim in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, in January 2022.

“We see explosions of antisemitism and violence on college campuses from the Free Palestine movement,” adds Rez. “We see Louis Farrakhan and his crew spewing their hatred. Antisemitism is erupting all around us, and this is why our work is so vital – we spotlight every single one of them. We don’t cherry-pick based on ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.”

StopAntisemitism’s efforts also extend to the political realm. The organization recently accused Colorado Democratic congressional candidate Elisabeth Epps of posting a series of antisemitic tweets. “Antisemitism comes from the Right and the Left,” says Rez. “This woman was on the Left. Our job is to call out these candidates as well.“Everyone is online – whether it is Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram or Reddit. The majority of people do not turn on their TV to get their news. Most people are scrolling through their phones.” Antisemitism on social media has become so normalized that people don’t think there are consequences. “This is where we come in, and we say this is racism and bigotry,” she declares.

Antisemitism today, reports Rez, may be clothed in a modern social media format, but it follows the age-old formula of casting blame for society’s ills on the Jews. “The Jews are vilified as the cause of society’s evil. Whatever happens is the Jews’ fault, whether it’s COVID, communism, capitalism, or the war in Ukraine,” she says.To counter antisemitic behavior, StopAntisemitism started to use the very same social media tools used by antisemites. “Social media is a powerful force, and we use it to expose antisemites, and create consequences for them, whether it would be to let their employers know of their hate or if their university or fellow classmates were unaware that they were sitting next to a Jew-hater.”

People who encounter or experience antisemitism can report the incident to the StopAntisemitism website (stopantisemitism.org), send a direct message on social media, or anonymously call the organization’s hotline. Once the incident is reported and verified, StopAntisemitism will act by contacting the media, liaising with law enforcement or partnering with other organizations that have a similar mission. More than 1,700 antisemitic incidents were reported to the organization in 2021, a 55% increase from the previous year.

Rez recounts how the organization replied to a doctor’s antisemitic social media activity in the US. “In 2021,” she recalls, “we were alerted to a pediatric radiologist in Arizona – Dr. Fidaa Wishah – who was espousing troubling antisemitic rhetoric openly and publicly on her Facebook page. She referred to Israelis as cannibals and went on horrific antisemitic rants. We took a peek at her social media platforms and were extremely alarmed someone with such hatred and bigotry was allowed to interact with children who might be Jewish.” StopAntisemitism alerted the hospital, and the doctor was dismissed within weeks.

StopAntisemitism also highlights an “Antisemite of the Week,” a weekly feature of people who have conducted notable antisemitic activity or espoused antisemitic points of view in the public eye. One of the cases that the organization recently spotlighted was that of Saadah Masoud, an activist with the radical pro-Palestinian group Within Our Lifetime. Back in April, a victim contacted StopAntisemitism alleging Masoud assaulted him. Once the attacker was identified as Masoud, StopAntisemitism featured him as its Antisemite of the Week and included a call to action for concerned citizens to call the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force to demand an arrest. The organization’s outreach and partnership with police resulted in federal hate crime charges levied against Masoud last month.

In the case of Masoud and others, StopAntisemitism garners “results” when antisemites face the consequences for their actions. In April, GEICO invited Linda Sarsour to speak at the insurance company’s internal diversity event celebrating Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month. Sarsour, an Arab-American Palestinian activist, has a history of making antisemitic and derogatory comments against Jews and Israel, such as stating in 2019 that Israel “is built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else.” StopAntisemitism received word of Sarsour’s scheduled appearance and took no time in calling GEICO out on Twitter, ultimately leading to them disinviting Sarsour and canceling the event. “Our goal is always to obtain a tangible result,” says Rez.

More than 1,700 antisemitic incidents were reported to the organization in 2021 – a 55% increase from 2020

Rez says that while antisemitic activity keeps skyrocketing, more organizations and employers are becoming receptive to the fact that Jews are a minority that deserves the same treatment as other minorities. “But,” she adds, “there is still so much work to do to level the playing field when it comes to this.” Rez explains that while most schools, corporations and universities in the US have diversity, equity and inclusion departments, they do not properly address issues of discrimination against Jews.

Society views the Jews, she explains, as what she terms a “model class minority.” Despite the fact that two-thirds of Europe’s Jews perished in the Holocaust, the general public sees the Jews as having rebounded quickly and thrived “to a point of vilification where we are all (falsely) perceived as white, rich and educated.” Though the Jews comprise less than 2% of the total US adult population, almost 60% of all religious hate crimes in the US are committed against Jewish people.

The organization has a small but dedicated team of workers that has managed to build a significant social media and real-world presence: in 2021, there were millions of visitors across all social media platforms, with 145,000 people visiting the organization’s website each month. “I am proud to be leading this organization, and for the safety and preservation of my people and heritage. I pray for the day we are no longer needed.”

This article was written in cooperation with Stop Antisemitism.