Letter from a Gen-Z Jew: I see the rise in antisemitism | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Letter from a Gen-Z Jew: I see the rise in antisemitism

In late March, I joined my boyfriend on a cross-country road trip as he decided where to attend graduate school. We paid attention to the usual criteria — best academics, employment outcomes, and cost of living — to narrow down which school would be the best fit. But, at the top of my mind this year, as young Jews planning to move from our home in Milwaukee to a new community: Which schools feel safe and welcoming amid rising antisemitism in my generation?  

As a member of Gen Z, my peers and I grew up alongside the rise of social media. In the last few years, however, I’ve observed a shift in how users treat online platforms. What used to be a friendly space to share cute puppy and vacation photos has evolved into an outlet for spreading awareness of social justice causes.  

In particular, the response to the Israel-Hamas war has overwhelmed my social media feeds. The region remains a constant conversation, with grossly misreported claims thrown around by my peers with abandon. 

Nameless users post comments with watermelon emojis — a symbol of solidarity with pro-Palestinian themes — on any and all videos, calling on creators to make a statement about the conflict. Influencers call on their followers to boycott Starbucks, claiming their products directly support the Israeli government. Young Americans encourage others to check “uncommitted” on a presidential election primary ballot, to send a message to the Biden administration to stop aid to Israel.  

I mentally prepare to feel disheartened by these messages every time I go online. I could be looking at an Instagram story of a person I barely know and see a benign picture of their lunch. With one more click, I see they also re-posted a graphic praising Hamas and calling for Israel to end the suffering in Gaza. I sigh in disappointment and sever our online relationship. So long, girl from my college English class.  

Unlike many in my generation, I don’t feel compelled to broadcast my opinions on social media or pretend to be an expert on geopolitical conflicts. Seeing so many people my age embrace extreme and oftentimes antisemitic rhetoric surrounding this conflict is especially disheartening.  

During our graduate school visits, I felt shocked to see the same rhetoric that peppers my online feeds out on full display, everywhere I turn.  

Inside and outside campus buildings in Ithaca, N.Y., I saw posters calling for trustees to divest university funds from Israeli-owned businesses, with a QR code linking to a 30-page manifesto. While claims made against Israel are prominent throughout, Hamas is mentioned once in the entire document. The authors then excuse and justify Hamas’ actions in the following sentence.  

While wandering the town, we found a stately old synagogue, only to see “Free Palestine” graffiti on the wall directly across the street. The suffering of Palestinian civilians can’t be denied — yet I find it hard to understand the justification of harmful statements that seem to not support peace in the region, but an apparent end to the Jewish right to statehood. 

I wonder to what degree the rise in these kinds of antisemitic and anti-Zionist actions in the real world can be attributed to biased social media narratives. I also wonder, where’s the desire to be informed, or to avoid the groupthink that clouds judgment, especially as protests take place on college campuses?   

Like many, I’m devastated by the pain and suffering in Israel after Oct. 7. I’m devastated by the destruction and death of innocents in Gaza. My hope for others in my generation is to let that compassion guide them toward seeking journalism from credible voices, not the Instagram story graphic from the random girl you knew from English class. If people use critical thinking skills to notice what details each post and article includes, and intentionally excludes, perhaps the world can begin to feel a little safer for Jews in my generation.