How antisemitic tropes are being used to target the LGBTQ community
Language that vilifies Jewish, LGBTQ people raises red flag for anti-hate groups
Over the past year, a new front for hate has opened up across Canada and the United States, with drag performances and gender-affirming care providers becoming targets of harassment and threats. But the vitriol has an all-too-familiar tone — one that a well-known anti-hate organization says is a cause for concern.
The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is warning about a "convergence" of antisemitism and anti-LGBTQ hate.
"Extremists and antisemitic conspiracy theorists have capitalized on the spread of dangerous and offensive falsehoods about LGBTQ+ people," read a Jan. 24 post from the ADL's Center on Extremism. Simultaneously, the organization wrote, anti-LGBTQ "fearmongering" is serving to boost anti-Jewish prejudices and conspiracy theories.
The increase in language that vilifies Jewish and/or LGBTQ people raises a red flag for organizations that work to fight discrimination out of concern that hateful rhetoric could lead to violence.
"Demonizing people is the first step in committing violence," Sheba Birhanu, associate director of partnerships at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), based in Toronto, said in an interview.
"When so many different communities are affected by the same forms of hate wearing different hats, the worst thing we can do is turn our backs."
Same hate, different targets
It's no surprise to S. Bear Bergman, an American author and consultant on equity and inclusion who's living in Regina, that people who espouse transphobic and homophobic views would use antisemitism to further their cause. Prejudice, he explained, is never limited to just one group.
"Scratch a transphobe, you'll see a racist, right? Scratch an antisemite, you're going to see a sexist, a misogynist," he told CBC News.
The crossover of antisemitism and hate directed at the LGBTQ community shows up in different forms — from tropes, slogans and imagery to conspiracies about wealthy Jews financing transition surgeries for minors.
Last summer, the Boston Children's Hospital became the target of antisemitic conspiracy theories, harassment and violent threats over its gender-affirming care program and false claims that the facility was performing gender reassignment surgery on minors. The smear campaign included a video posted online titled "Jewish Hospital Removes Uteruses of Young Girls."
In Telegram channels dedicated to spreading anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ messages, there are antisemitic cartoon stickers of a Jewish man holding a Pride flag on top of Earth — one of several found in a collection of stickers titled "Jew."
In Pflugerville, Texas, last September, a group of neo-Nazis turned up outside a bar hosting a drag brunch, with some protesters holding Nazi flags and signs with both transphobic and white supremacist messages, according to a local news outlet.
And, as the ADL noted, such terms as "grooming" and "indoctrination" are common at protests against drag performances and organizations supporting gender-affirming care for transgender people, or when targeting school curriculum that focuses on diversity and inclusion. Such tropes have long been used against LGBTQ people and Jews.
'A convenient target'
Any hate directed at a person or group because of their beliefs, race, sexual orientation or gender identity is concerning, said Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, the senior rabbi at Vancouver's Temple Shalom and the former chair of the Reform Rabbis of Canada.
But, he explained, Jews "make a convenient target" for what one may see as "society's ills."
For centuries, Jews have been maligned and used as a scapegoat for societal problems ranging from economic crises and political turmoil to the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages and even the COVID-19 pandemic.
But one of the long standing antisemitic tropes favoured by white supremacists, nationalists and other groups espousing transphobia and anti-LGBTQ hate is that children are being preyed upon.
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Moskovitz said it has roots in blood libel, a nearly thousand-year-old conspiracy theory that Jews carried out ritual sacrifices and used the blood of Christian children to make matzah, an unleavened flatbread.
Though various anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and stereotypes have persisted through the ages, he said, the danger now is that the tools of spreading hateful rhetoric, disinformation and propaganda are more powerful than ever before.
"They have [many] more weapons of mass destruction," Moskovitz said. "You can do it from your cellphone."
Preying on fears
The use of terms such as "indoctrination" and "grooming," as well as the perception of promoting an "agenda," have also become commonplace in the discourse surrounding LGBTQ rights, support for gender-affirming care and gender diversity. Drag performances, including drag storytimes for families, for example, have been the target of protests and threats across Canada and the U.S.
According to a study from the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, the "framing of children being put at risk" also stems from antisemitic tropes.
"Much of this anxiety surrounds children being 'turned' homosexual or trans by exposure at schools or through the media, institutions seen to be controlled by Jewish people," the study found.
"We're very excited to blame whoever we hate on the idea that they're bad for children in some way," said Bergman, who is a Jewish father of three children who identifies as a queer and transgender man.
He dismissed the perception that exposure to LGBTQ and gender diversity issues is an effort to convert children — no more than exposure to Judaism will lead non-Jewish children to switch religions.
Instead, Bergman said he believes it's an attempt to avoid discussing equality and addressing discrimination.
"Every time I hear a parent say this kid is too young to learn about racism or antisemitism or homophobia or ableism, all I hear is, 'My family isn't directly affected by that prejudice,'" he said.
Bergman said waiting to have conversations about hate is not a privilege afforded to families like his.
"Do you think I get to decide when it's time to explain to my children what homophobia is or what transphobia is?" he asked. "Do you think Black children get to wait to learn about racism until their parents feel like they're ready? Do you think that Jewish children get to wait to learn about antisemitism?"
Education and allies
The CIJA's Birhanu said that "combating hate makes people uncomfortable" and that there is often "backlash whenever anything is deemed to be progressive or not in the purview of the school."
But she said she knows first-hand how hate can thrive in schools and the need for education to address it.
Birhanu described being in a Jewish culture club in middle school and how other children walked by and gestured in the style of a Nazi salute.
Incidents like that continue to happen in schools: Last March, for example, there were at least six antisemitic incidents in the Toronto District School Board — Canada's largest school district — in a single month.
Education is one tool to combat prejudice, but both Birhanu and Moskovitz emphasized the importance of allyship and others speaking out against all forms of hate.
"Jews are not going to stop antisemitism," Moskovitz said, "It's going to be non-Jews who come to stand by our side in the same way that Asians won't stop anti-Asian hate and LGBTQ people won't stop anti-LGBTQ hate."