Opinion | Social media’s latest target: The Holocaust - World Jewish Congress

Opinion | Social media’s latest target: The Holocaust

Taylor Levy
Taylor Levy
Journalist, Jewish on Campus.
Opinion | Social media’s latest target: The Holocaust

For Holocaust survivors and their descendants, the Shoah is not only a tremendously dark time in their past filled with unimaginable suffering, but also affects their daily life, even seemingly mundane actions like going to sleep. With that in mind, you’d assume that everyone would approach the topic with the utmost sensitivity and sympathy.

Yet on social media, some users are attempting to use the Holocaust as a cudgel against Jewish people by comparing Israeli policy towards Palestinians to Nazi “policy” towards European Jews, even going so far as to claim that the Israelis are committing genocide against the Palestinians. Unfortunately, this tactic has become increasingly common, and there is a wave of content portraying Jews as modern-day Nazis and comparing the Gaza strip to Jewish ghettos during the Holocaust.

This comparison isn’t only absurd, but also constitutes a modern-day form of antisemitism, according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which is internationally recognized as the gold standard definition of antisemitism. It trivializes the suffering of survivors, minimizes the Holocaust by turning it into a cheap rhetorical device, and is often used to undermine the legitimacy of the only Jewish state.

In the comments section of my organization, Jewish on Campus, social media users responded to a post raising awareness of the lack of Holocaust knowledge by questioning “How many people/Jews can’t name other atrocious genocides?” or asked rhetorically “So what?” One user even claimed that the Holocaust “didn’t happen.”

Lily Elbert, who survived Auschwitz, posted a TikTok video in May 2021 wishing her followers a good Shabbat. But after the Sabbath, when Ms. Elbert looked at her TikTok account, she wasn’t greeted with well wishes but with questions about whether “she thinks the treatment of Palestinians reminds her [of] the treatment she got in the camp” and even one message wishing her a “Happy Holocaust.” 

Most recently, social media users even tried to "cancel" Nobel prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, with one Twitter user calling him an “oppression-loving hypocrite” who favored “massacres and open-air prisons.” Wiesel's “crime” was being a supporter of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland after his own experiences reinforced for him this necessity.

While we often think of Holocaust denial and distortion as emanating from the far-right, the perpetrators in the respective cases of Ms. Elbert and Mr. Wiesel were from both ends of the political spectrum.

In this way, social media users aided in propagating the belief that the Holocaust can be used to describe any horrific or troubling event, even particularly complicated ones like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In so doing, they universalize the Holocaust by erasing the unique nature of the tragedy.

The tendency to use the Shoah as a political club is representative of a greater problem: People, especially millennials, don’t know about the Holocaust. According to a 2020 Claims Conference survey, 31% of Americans believe that two million or fewer Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. In another study, nearly half of the participants had witnessed Holocaust denial online. Such ignorance makes it easier for malign forces to portray the Holocaust as a phenomenon that is no longer relevant, one which Jews should just get over.

The Holocaust is one of the most recent attempts to wipe the Jewish people off the world map completely. It is not a marker in the fight for good versus evil, nor should it be used as a comparison in discussions about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Social media assists in the dissemination of these dangerous narratives and more must be done to prevent them from appearing online. We owe at least that much to the survivors.

In October 2021, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Jewish on Campus (JOC) announced a joint partnership to amplify the voices and strengthen the actions of college students who identify antisemitic occurrences at their schools. The two organizations will provide support to Jewish student communities internationally, which expands the Jewish on Campus network as well as WJC’s relationships with Jewish student communities.