Why would Jews be attracted to an antisemitic conspiracy theory?
That's the perplexing question arising out of the inroads made by the Trump-venerating, revamped blood libel into U.S. Orthodox Jewish communities and now, in Hebrew-language channels, inside Israel as well.
The question becomes even more acute based on the the increasingly propensity of hardcore QAnon ‘believers’ to engage in violence, as described in a recent warning by the FBI, which has already called QAnon a potential domestic terror threat. A mid-June bulletin noted that some QAnon adherents are likely to move from being "digital soldiers" towards "real world violence" against Democrats and "other political opposition."
We’ve already seen how willing the QAnon crowd has been to turn to violence, when crowds of insurrectionists breached the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Among members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys gang and the Three Percenters militia (one protestor wore a T-shirt with the slogan, "Camp Auschwitz: Work Brings Freedom") many were waving QAnon flags, and shouting their slogans: "Q Sent Me," "Trust the Plan," "Save the Children."
QAnon has already made inroads into the Jewish community. There are individual stories, but also the infiltration of QAnon tropes into specific communities, such as convinced pro-Trump Jews (the "stolen election") and the ultra-Orthodox community (the anti-vaxxer belief). The assertion of a secret child abduction/pedophilia cabal is a key entry point for Israel’s QAnon scene.
A number of American Jews were identified breaching the Capitol during that QAnon-inspired insurrection:As conspiracy expert Arieh Kovler noted, "There were Jews wearing kippot in the Capitol riots." Aaron Mostofsky, an Orthodox Jew and son of a rabbi, whose image circulated widely on social media and was later arrested; the editor of the right-wing Orthodox newspaper, the Jewish Press, caught on video breaching the Capitol; he defended the insurrection in writing, claiming QAnon-style that the "storming of the Capitol came in reaction to a stolen election." He was later dismissed from his job.
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Just months later, Aaron's brother Nachman, who heads an Orthodox Republican group, gave a tour of a yeshiva, matza bakery and a kosher pizzeria in Brooklyn and the "Five Towns" to Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, known colloquially as the "Representative for QAnon," and declared they "share what is commonly called Judeo-Christian values." He went on: "She has been nothing but a friend and ally for our community."
To understand how jarring these crossovers between the Orthodox community and QAnon, it's worth delving into just how antisemitic QAnon is.
Much of the QAnon ideology, which has been called a "rebranded Nazi conspiracy theory," is compiled from rehashed antisemitic tropes drawing heavily from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and blood libels against Jewish communities that originated in the Middle Ages.
According to a June poll by Morning Consult nearly 50 percent of QAnon supporters also agree with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion - that "the rise of liberalism has enabled Jewish people to destroy institutions and take over the world."
A core premise is the contention that a secret cabal of satanic pedophiles control the government, trafficking in and sacrificing children for their blood.
The murder of children for the ritualistic use of their blood is a plain, unvarnished version of the blood libel.
When you type in the word "Jews" to QResear.ch, a search engine which trawls everything on QAnon posted on 8chan and 8kun, its former and current hosting platforms, culled from 14.5 million QAnon data sources, there are more than 86,000 retrievable posts.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, the leading QAnon conspiracy theorist in the House of Representatives (followed closely by Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Mo Brooks of Alabama) blamed the 2018 California wildfires on Rothschild (Jewish) space lasers, talks incessantly about a global cabal controlling the banks and the media and accuses Democrats of wanting to "crucify" her. She was removed from House committee work because of her antisemitic, Islamophobic, and generally seditious rhetoric.
In public, Greene has tried to walk back some of her more blatant QAnon-style antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism, such as her claim that face masks as protection against spreading COVID were just like the yellow stars that the Nazis forced Jews to wear. Her uncomfortable act of pseudo-contrition – visiting the U.S. Holocaust Museum – was a transparent attempt to launder her reputation, not least because of the backlash from Jewish Republicans.
Notably, even there and then, she refused to renounce her comparison of the Democratic Party with the Nazi party, refused to denounce President Trump’s "both sides" comment on Charlottesville, and refused to clearly reject the Holocaust denial of some QAnon believers.
The day after, Greene retweeted the groundless accusation that the “Deep State” and FBI operatives were "involved in organizing and carrying out the Jan 6th Capitol riot," a claim made first on a white nationalist-adjacent website and amplified by Tucker Carlson, among others.
So why would Orthodox Jews be drawn to QAnon?
First of all, some context. It is not Jews but Christian Evangelicals who constitute by far the largest percentage of QAnon followers by religion in America. According to a recent poll, as many as 1 in 3 Evangelicals are believers. Evangelicals find common ground with QAnon because, among other factors, the conspiracy leverages some of the same religious language and imagery as their own faith, not least the dualistic war between good and evil.
However, an increasing number of Orthodox Jews are also falling down the rabbit hole.
According to a May 2021 PRRI survey, Jews are the least likely religious identity in America to formally identify as full-on QAnon believers. But the survey still showed that 8 percent of U.S. Jews supported the key QAnon tenet: that "the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation."
Some of the support can be explained by the elevated status QAnon confers upon Donald Trump. Roughly 75 percent of U.S. Jews voted for Biden in 2020, but in the minority Orthodox community, an overwhelming majority voted Trump, including a significant bloc of particularly enthusiastic supporters.
Other synergies between the Orthodox community and QAnon tropes include established anti-vaxxer activism, and the conflation of the QAnon glorification of Trump with his "pro-Israel" policies, which particularly resonates with his Orthodox supporters.
But the most significant campaign that pulled in Orthodox Jews was QAnon’s "Save the Children" campaign, initiated in May 2020.
QAnon conspiracy theorists hijacked the hashtag #savethechildren (and the related #saveourchildren) from the well-known eponymous charity and pushed followers to tip off law enforcement agencies with gratuitous accusations of child trafficking and state-backed pedophilia rings. QAnon fans organized rallies around the world to accuse anti-trafficking and human rights organizations of "ignoring" the blood-drinking cabal problem, and even of aiding and abetting it.
This engineered panic over pedophilia is how QAnon appealed to Orthodox women particularly, and metastasized throughout the Orthodox community in Israel.
When Facebook and Instagram de-platformed many QAnon groups a year ago, many supporters migrated to the semi encrypted application, Telegram. Thus was born "Save the Children Israel," a Hebrew-language Telegram channel, which now boasts close to 1,000 followers. The channel uses Save the Children’s logo but is actually a QAnon propaganda platform.
It reproduces many of the English language QAnon claims, not least that eight million children a year go missing, kidnapped and trafficked by an evil global cabal.
The QAnon Hebrew channel promotes the fallacy that doctors and child protective services are ripping children away from their mothers. In some posts, the contention is that this is done to sell the children to wealthy American couples or use the children’s blood for other purposes. It claims that pedophiles convicted in the U.S. use Israel’s "law of return" to immigrate to Israel, evading justice.
The"kidnapping children" trope falls on particularly suggestive ground in Israel, because it is opening old wounds. In the 1950s, immigrant families from Yemen claimed there a systematic state-run scheme to abduct their babies and children, to be given up for adoption by childless Ashkenazi families.
It is now clear from research and the government's own admission that medical authorities did take away 1000 Yemenite children, most with contagious diseases, and failed to inform their families of their fate. Some were hospitalized – and adopted without their families being notified.
The tardiness of the authorties to investigate their own behaviour meant for decades, immigrant families from North Africa and Yemen developed a deep distrust of Israeli authorities, and a suspicion of child trafficking and the unexplained deaths of seemingly healthy children.
The videos on the Israel ‘Save the Children’ channel localizes the QAnon conspiracy, by picking up on the ‘disappeared children’ controversy, embedding Israeli celebrities as protagonists in the child-trafficking cabal and corroborating a strong vein of suspicion within the wider Orthodox community that state social services seek to rehome children from Orthodox families on the pretext that are in danger at home.
That feeds into the fears of the Orthodox community that the secular government wants to secularize their children by force – again, a throw back to real government policies in the 1950s in regard to Mizrahi and Yemenite immigrants, but also part of the established ultra-Orthodox narrative that the government and secular culture in general has no right to impinge on their autonomy or way of life, but is engaged in a constant struggle to do just that.
There is plenty of material from the QAnon mothership venerating Donald Trump, repeating the QAnon fiction that he "saved more children from sexual slavery than any other President in U.S. history." It blames the usual boogeymen: George Soros, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, with a shout-out to Joe Biden, too.
Some of the 'Save the Children' cartoons and memes QAnon Israel posts look like could have been published by Der Stürmer 80 years ago: graphic images of the elites capturing, enslaving and eating children.
And QAnon Israel uniformly backs former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reiterates his more conspiratorial statements about social media companies colluding with his enemies to bring him down.
'Save the Children Israel' has only a few hundred subscribers for now. The Hebrew-language 'QAnonJewish17' channel has nearly 5000. Some American QAnon groups (such as "Ghost Ezra") have hundreds of thousands. But new Hebrew-language channels are emerging up every week, and may well be reinforced by the close familial and cultural connections with the U.S. Orthodox community.
QAnon has already had a demonstrably corrosive effect on U.S. democracy, and as it continues to metastasize, it could pose even more of a violent threat. The conspiracy theory’s stamina and adaptability within discrete U.S. communities and outside the U.S. have already been proven, embedding itself in countries from Canada to Germany to the UK.
This localization, playing on and repackaging pre-existing fears and suspicions, could help QAnon in Israel overcome the ‘antisemitism barrier’ to wider adoption, not least as Israeli politics on the right since Netanyahu’s ouster descend ever further into conspiratorial, QAnon-friendly tropes that are ripe to be weaponized, not least the language of an elite-led deep state undermining the popular will.
Netanyahu, who insists on still referring to himself as "prime minister" and is eagerly enouraging his followers to join him on Telegram, claims to be the victim of the "biggest election fraud in the history of the country, in my opinion in the history of democracy."
His social media troll son Yair, who has a history of pandering to the hard right around the world, calls the new government illegitimate. Netanyahu himself has serially referred to the "deep state" controlling the country.
It’s time to take Jews in QAnon seriously – and for politicians and community leaders, particularly within the Orthodox community, to disavow it before it spreads any further.
Yulie Maimon is a Sophomore at Northsprings High School, Atlanta