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The Social Media Pogrom

Twitter will not free Palestine, but it will certainly make the world a more antisemitic place

by
Eve Barlow
May 25, 2021
Tablet Magazine; original photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Tablet Magazine; original photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Tablet Magazine; original photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Tablet Magazine; original photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

I don’t know who crafted the first tweet that simply said “Eve Fartlow,” but whoever it was—bot or human—started a fire. Over the past two weeks, Twitter has been littered with the words “Eve Fartlow.” Every time I tweet, this title is the response I attract, and it is pelted at me irrespective of what I write. Hundreds of trolls, some with blue ticks and some without, just start responding to me “Eve Fartlow” (some people have recently switched it to “Eve Shartlow” but “Eve Fartlow” seems to be the one that sticks). If we donated a JNF tree to Israel for every time someone tweeted “Eve Fartlow,” there’d be no Negev left.

Tensions in the Middle East erupted this past month, so you may be thinking, “Why’s this dumb Zionist liar playing the victim? She should ‘cope’ (still not sure what this means). She’s complaining to me from her Los Angeles apartment about people spelling her name in a dumb way online. She’s not wading through rubble. She’s not running from rocket fire. She’s not surrounded by senseless violence. Let’s ratio her!”

You’re right. I have not been living in a bomb shelter. I have not had my house cave in. So I have asked myself the same thing, because neither have all the people (or bots?) tweeting my name incorrectly, doing everything they can to discredit the messaging I’m trying to relay to my followers to challenge the way this conflict has been narrated by mainstream media and social media influencers. I challenge it because the truth matters. The truth protects lives.

Due to the juvenile nature of this “Eve Fartlow” attack, which sounds like it was invented by a 3-year-old high on Pop-Tarts, I wondered if the bombardment of “Eve Fartlow” tweets was engineered to drive me insane. Perhaps it was a form of digital waterboarding aimed at forcing me to surrender, delete all my accounts, log out of all my devices, and commit digital suicide. “Eve Fartlow” is not my name, regardless of how many thousands of times it’s echoed back at me by trolls online. But unfortunately for the troll army, Eve Barlow isn’t really my name either. Barlow has been my family’s name for three generations, but before that our name was Berelovitch. We changed it when my family fled czarist Russia during the Eastern European pogroms in the late 19th century. And before Barlow was Berelovitch it was Dov Ber. That name is my connection to the Levant. That name is my indigenous link to Israel. You want to talk about ethnic cleansing? Ask your Jewish friends the stories of their surnames.

“Eve Fartlow” is an intimidation tactic; a playground jibe meant to drown out my voice online. My words must be silenced as quickly as possible by the hammer-and-sickle emoji comrades who love humanity so much, they want anyone who threatens their concept of utopia to kill themselves. It’s all peace, love, and openness until someone wants to have a conversation.

Two weeks ago, as Westerners began educating themselves about Sheikh Jarrah and the Iron Dome through stick figures with biased speech bubbles on the Diet Prada and Refinery29 Instagram feeds, something else started happening on social media. I coined it the world’s first social media pogrom. The activity that Jews—Zionist Jews in particular—experienced all over the web was bizarre at best and invalidating, abusive, and dehumanizing at worst. Zionist Jews weren’t just being unfollowed for advocating for themselves and their brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine, we were also losing access to direct message and comment abilities, having posts removed for violating community guidelines (while blatant antisemitism online almost never receives the same treatment), and having our accounts threatened with temporary suspension or closure.

The cherry on top, of course, was that we were simultaneously fighting off a barrage of thousands upon thousands of troll comments and hateful direct messages, which frequently included homophobic, misogynistic, and extremely violent language. Some people even generously took the time to record voice messages. I received a few of those, including one from a woman with a British accent calling for my family to burn in hell. She sang it. Or she tried to.

In the streets of major cities around the world, Jews have been targeted with fireworks, with fists, and with human spit. Who knew this could happen? Well, we did, and we tried to make noise about it.

The seeds of this pogrom have been sown for a while. Online, there are different degrees of erasure and exclusion. First comes the unfollow, which hurts, especially from those we consider friends, those we love and cherish, whose memories are still fresh. Sometimes an unfollow is the result of pressure from other online users who dox people they disagree with. Sometimes an unfollow is a decision taken with complete autonomy, someone deciding to simply delete a person from their timeline rather than ask for clarification or, God forbid, pursue a fair-minded discussion.

If you’re a Zionist, you are not deemed worthy of dialogue. Most people who think this couldn’t give you a working definition of Zionism. They just know which labels are accepted by the intersectional world, and which labels are not. Anti-Zionism good. Zionism bad. Except Zionism is a globally recognized concept, whereas anti-Zionism doesn’t seem to have an agreed-upon definition. It exists only as a knee-jerk rejection of a belief in the State of Israel and anyone’s justification of its existence, regardless of how reasoned, empathetic, or fair-minded that justification might be.

I’m a music journalist, and I understand that artists can be sensitive, conflict-avoidant, and prone to anxiety triggers. But I noticed that whenever I tweeted about the Jewish right to self-determine in Israel, I’d lose followers, and sometimes it would be because other Jews who hate Zionists and claim that we’re the bane of their existence because we’re preventing them from assimilating and being like everyone else would pile on the blue checks and tell them they can’t possibly follow me. I’m a monster. Clearly I keep vials of Palestinian baby blood in my freezer. So people unfollowed me. People I know. People I’ve worked with. People with whom I got along very well. Editors unfollowed me in droves, as did the publications I worked for, as did PRs, as did college graduates whom I’ve personally mentored because I believe in paying it forward.

I assume this came from a concern for optics. The mainstream media is skewed entirely against Israel and is disgusted by anyone who asks for sober criticism instead of a consequence-free festival of Israel hatred. I understand how their bias persists. The oldest hatred in the world was resurrected by a new ideology and the coolest cast of woke anti-Zionist pilgrims. Poor Gal Gadot is not one such pilgrim, and instead became an example of what reaction you get if you veer from the intersectional script. Gadot had the audacity to be an Israeli and a former IDF soldier who publicly advocated for peace between her homeland and her neighbors. And she was annihilated online for it. How dare she try to talk about her own “lived experience?” How dare she be an Israeli offering an olive branch?

Meanwhile, when you have Mark Ruffalo, Susan Sarandon, Dua Lipa, the Hadids, AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Halsey, Snoop Dogg, Manchester United, and the BLM movement, among many other influencers, including Jews like Sarah Silverman and Natalie Portman, throwing their full support behind a reductive, inflammatory, and dangerous case against Israel, it’s very appealing to join in. Considering that Halsey alone has more followers than there are Jews alive, the combined strength of their platforms is an excellent way to drown out the online voice of Zionists with the chutzpah to defend themselves and survive in this conflict, both in Israel and in the diaspora.

The Tower of Babel that is Twitter is a place where disparate conversations cannot coexist, where oppositions cannot find common ground, and where dissenters must be monitored and policed by potentially millions of watchful users. When I tweeted a list of influencers sharing such disinformation, Linda Sarsour—notable Palestinian American activist, former chair of the Women’s March, and prolific antisemite who has quote-tweeted me a few times this year to encourage her followers to attack—did so again, this time adding a thank you note for keeping a list of “humanitarians on the right side of history.”

When I swiftly blocked her for my own protection, she posted a picture of her block by me and tweeted that she was “honored.” Her intentions here are obvious: She was sending a bat signal out to go beat this Jew; permission for an online lynching. And if such joyous pile-ons can happen over keyboards, it’s not hard to imagine it happening offscreen.

Lo and behold, it turns out that vehement online anti-Zionism inspires people to engage in antisemitic violence offline, endangering Jews as a result. In the streets of major cities around the world, Jews have been targeted with fireworks, with fists, and with human spit. Who knew this could happen? Well, we did, and we tried to make noise about it.

Explosives were thrown into a crowd of Jews in New York’s Diamond District. Jews were attacked outside a bagel store in midtown Manhattan. Jews in a New York restaurant had bottles thrown at them. A Jewish man was hospitalized after he was beaten on the street in New York. Jews were brutally assaulted in Toronto. An Orthodox man fled from a car trying to mow him down in an LA parking lot. Down the street, Jews were beaten up outside a sushi restaurant by a mob who asked if they were Jews. In London, cars drove through Jewish neighborhoods as their drivers screamed “Fuck the Jews! Rape their daughters!” Jewish synagogues in Skokie, Tucson, and Salt Lake City were vandalized. Delis have been destroyed. A demonstration in Vienna featuring people shouting “Shove your Holocaust up your ass” was met with resounding applause. In the U.K., there have been 116 reported incidents of antisemitism in 10 days—a 600% increase.

But online, the more I tweeted during the 11 days of violence in the Middle East, the louder the dissent grew, and the crazier the opposition. The counterargument essentially amounted to “This Jew is LYING.” Which makes sense, given how effective the mainstream media is at presenting only one side of a story, and given the patterns of history in which the Jews have always been framed as arbiters of lies! Even upon posting a note about an uplifting conversation I had in an Uber with an Armenian driver who advocated for the truth above all else and respect for fellow humans regardless of opinion, the note was dragged across the web as a lie. Why would I lie about an interaction with a stranger? Meanwhile, while I was being dragged as a fraudster, one tweeter used an app called TweetGen to fabricate a fake tweet by me. Apparently, in 2015, I quoted lyrics of a rap song I’ve never heard before, which included the “N-word.” This tweet didn’t sound like me, wasn’t written by me, and never existed in the first place. It was created as further “proof” that I’m a “racist.”

This shitstorm certainly impacted my personal life (as it has for many others.) I lost work. I was supposed to write two pieces on the theme of Jewish American Heritage Month for a major music publication, but both were pulled because having my byline on an essay about Barbra Streisand right now was apparently a bad look. More and more people I used to write for unfollowed my feed. I felt the twinge of intergenerational trauma when I found myself disinvited from a dinner party (a Friday night dinner party, no less) because another guest didn’t feel comfortable in the company of a “Jewish supremacist.” I woke up the morning after the disinvite to physical threats in my inbox from hateful strangers. I considered how excluding me from dinner was somehow a meaningful form of righteous activism. I contemplated how hating me was justified. I saw the screeds of abominable venom bombarding me from every angle, and I sensed the walls closing in.

Days later, I got a text from a friend whose little brother was being attacked outside the aforementioned sushi restaurant on La Cienega, and as I was texting her trying to determine whether they were safe, whether we could share the videos, and what on earth was happening, I was simultaneously being dragged in the comments section of my Instagram posts by a friend who professed to “love” me but thought I hadn’t said enough about the Palestinian lives lost. I have always expressed the tragedy of any and every life lost, and I have always advocated for Palestinian self-determination. For peace. What more can I say? So while speaking to the victims of an antisemitic attack in WeHo thousands of miles from the conflict, and while on the phone to my father who was distressed for my safety, a non-Jewish Bernie bro was more interested in engaging me with intellectual football. At that point in time, any reasonable person would consider “How are you?” a more important question. The disconnect is worrying.

This, by the way, isn’t only worrisome for Jews. It’s worrying for everyone. There’s a scene at the beginning of Independence Day—the Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith alien movie from the mid-’90s. In it, the New Age punks of New York City are terribly excited about the aliens arriving on their mothership despite concerned warnings from the powers that be. The punks make welcoming signs, go up to the top of the Empire State Building, and welcome the aliens with open arms. The mothership hovers over, opens up a portal, and shoots a laser beam directly onto the roof of the building, taking its first victims, and then hurtling down to wipe out half of NYC. The Jews are not the powers that be, but we are trying to communicate, urgently, that Hamas is a terrorist death cult that wants to murder every Jew on earth, not a humanitarian organization, and it benefits more from calls for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea” than the Palestinian people, the Israelis, Jews in the diaspora, and certainly anyone who believes in civil liberties, freedoms, and protection for all human life. To the Jewish artists and people with platforms who have yet to speak out against this, do so now while you still have a following and some modicum of voice. Consider it an investment in yourself, if nothing else.

In the meantime, Instagram will not free Palestine. Twitter will not free Palestine. Driving cars around Jewish neighborhoods at night and shouting “come out Jews” from megaphones will not free Palestine. Attacking Orthodox Jews on the streets will not free Palestine. Asking diners at restaurants if they’re Jewish and then beating them will not free Palestine. The resolution for war in the Middle East will not be found online. All that lives there is name-calling, cancellations, doxxings, trolling hashtags, catalysts for violence, hatred, and Eve Fartlow. My family didn’t survive generations of exile and hold their heads high for this nauseating, inciting, degrading cesspit of Twitter buffoonery. Neither did yours. I’m changing my Twitter handle for the day to tell the world my name. Maybe you’ll join me. Be safe.

Eve Dov Ber.

Eve Dov Ber is an LA-based, Scottish freelance music journalist, and former Deputy Editor of the NME. She currently contributes to New York Magazine, The Guardian, the LA Times, Pitchfork, and GQ, among other publications.

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