Opinion

Mix Together anti-Semitism and Misogyny. For Jewish Women in Public Life, the Results Are Terrifying

A new study shows Jewish women in public life are magnets for doubled down hate from far left and right. We must ensure their protection from fear and intimidation – and to free all women from the threat of violence

Labour MP Luciana Berger, whose been targeted by vicious and misogynistic anti-Semitism fro far left and far right, at the annual Labour Party Conference, accompanied by police protection. Liverpool, September 23, 2018
\ HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman with political power must be in want of a nasty, misogynistic social media pile-on.

And according to research released in the UK last weekend, this fate is even more likely when you are  a Jewish woman.   

The study released ahead of a conference this week in the UK Parliament on misogyny and anti-Semitism found that Jewish women MPs are 15% more likely to be the targets of bile on far-right website Stormfront than their male peers.

The venom they receive is particularly noxious, too, given that it combines the hatreds of women and Jews. The likes of Dame Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, and Ruth Smeeth – all prominent Labour parliamentarians - are not just c**ts, they are Jewish c**ts, as their online detractors might put it. 

If Jews are the canary in the coalmine for society, a sign that all is not quite right in the world and that minorities, refugees, and immigrants need to be on their guard, women are the canary for the canary.

One of the ongoing stories of Labour’s years-long anti-Semitism crisis has been the preponderance of hate and violent rhetoric directed at the party’s Jewish women MP’s in particular.

Earlier this month, the UK police launched an investigation into violent anti-Semitic threats made against Berger, who had to attend Labour’s Party Conference this year flanked by armed police guards after receiving credible threats to her life on social media.

Parliamentary Speaker John Bercow told the Sara Conference that his own experience of anti-Semitism, "Dwindles into complete insignificance and nothingness in comparison with what female Jews have experienced and do experience."

At a general parliamentary debate on anti-Semitism in April, Smeeth got a standing ovation after reading out her hate mail "greatest hits". These included choice specimens like: "First job for Jeremy Corbyn tomorrow expel the Zionist Bicom smearhag bitch from the party," and "The gallows would be a fine fitting place for this dyke piece of yid shit to swing from."

For Jews who wish to participate in political life in the UK, abuse is "par for the course," Smeeth said.

During the same debate, Berger described how the hate came from both far-right and far-left.

Four people from the far right have been convicted for abuse against her; after one of those convictions, Berger noted, "a far-right website in the United States initiated the #filthyjewbitch campaign, which the police said resulted in me receiving over 2,500 violent, pornographic and extreme anti-Semitic messages in just one day alone."

She went on to point out that, "in 2018, anti-Semitism is now more commonplace, more conspicuous and more corrosive within the Labour party," and the abuse she's received from the left includes accusations "of having two masters. They have said that I am Tel Aviv’s servant, and called me a paid-up Israeli operative...suggesting that I am a traitor to our country. They have called me Judas, a Zionazi and an absolute parasite, and they have told me to get out of this country and go back to Israel."

According to the research, members of Stormfront not only hate Jewish women in power, they also see feminism as a Jewish plot, adding to the litany of anti-Semitic tropes that sees the Jewish people pulling invisible levers behind a curtain and controlling the world.

This, along with the other findings, highlights the fact, often taken for granted, that women are on the front lines when it comes to society’s expressions of violence. Only in 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist. Her killer shot and stabbed her in the street in broad daylight.  

Anecdotally at least, we already know what this research shows: that women who stick their heads above the parapet are on the receiving end of a horrific cocktail of abuse. This abuse interweaves their identity and perceived weakness with a hatred of women.

We saw it in the vitriol aimed at Hillary Clinton when she ran for president. We saw it in the barrage of hate U.S. Jewish journalist Julia Ioffe received after she profiled Melania Trump in 2016.

Journalist Julia Ioffe was targeted in anti-semitic tweets after writing a profile of Donald Trump's wife Melania.
Screenshot/Twitter

Here in the UK, we have seen it in the abuse suffered by Jewish women in Parliament and in the combination of racism and sexism aimed at women of color and minorities. Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, the first black woman to become an MP in the UK, received more abuse in the run-up to the general election in June last year than any other woman parliamentarian, according to Amnesty International.

Ensuring women who participate in the national conversation do not fear for their lives because they are women should be a matter of urgency, not just for those who self-identify as feminists. And when it comes to those who do, feminists – men and women - need to unite around the need to guarantee women freedom from violence, not divide themselves along lines of identity. 

Figures released by the UN on Sunday, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, remind us that violence faced by the fairer sex is "a persistent and devastating human rights violation," as the UN stated. These latest figures, showing 58 per cent of women murdered in 2017 were killed by partners or family members, prompted headlines that home is "the most dangerous place for women."  

Of course, there is a difference between anti-Semitic and (or) misogynistic trolling and physical abuse, but both are part of the same spectrum of violence. The Pittsburgh shooting only this month and Jo Cox’s murder are just two pieces of evidence, if anyone actually needed it, that violent rhetoric can and does end in bloodshed. 

As Labour MP Yvette Cooper said at Monday’s conference, "All of us have to do more to challenge the coming together of those two ancient hatreds."

Until we deal with the pervasive hatred of women that rears its ugly head so regularly on social media, and which, for Jewish women, combines unpleasantly with that other ancient hatred, anti-Semitism, emanating from both side of the political spectrum, women trying to shape our society, women taking part in the national debate, will continue to be in the firing line. 

Alona Ferber is a writer and editor based in London. Twitter: @paperdispatch