Expert: Anti-Semitism in Trump campaign a factor in hateful tweets

An image tweeted by Donald Trump that some called anti-Semitic.  Photo from Twitter
An image tweeted by Donald Trump that some called anti-Semitic.
Photo from Twitter

When the Anti-Defamation League released its report last week saying Donald Trump supporters were “disproportionally responsible” for a rash of anti-Semitic tweets targeting journalists during the presidential campaign, it stopped short of accusing Trump’s campaign of anti-Semitism.

But Danielle Citron, a member of the ADL’s task force for the study and a law professor at the University of Maryland, described in an interview a handful of incidents in which she believes the Trump campaign has engaged in anti-Semitism.

She pointed to an image Trump tweeted of a six-pointed star surrounded by cash, the times Trump has retweeted neo-Nazis and his rhetoric around a conspiracy of international of bankers.

“Trump is normalizing bigotry in a way that’s having a trickle-down effect on society,” she said.

The Trump campaign has vigorously denied accusations of anti-Semitism. Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, told The New York Times last week, “We have no knowledge of this activity and strongly condemn any commentary that is anti-Semitic.” She added, “We totally disavow hateful rhetoric online or otherwise.”

Nevertheless, the study found that among the 1,600 accounts that sent the majority of anti-Semitic tweets to journalists, the most common words in the users’ biographies were “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative” and “white.”

The study found a significant increase in anti-Semitic tweets from January to July as the presidential campaign heated up.

Citron said there is “nothing veiled” about Trump’s appeal to racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and sexism and that he’s tapping into the country’s worst tendencies.

“There’s nothing particularly deep about what’s going on,” she said. “We’re seeing recurring patterns in our own history. Forget about Germany.”

Of the 19,253 anti-Semitic tweets the study found directed at journalists, the report found that 83 percent of those tweets targeted just 10 journalists.

The journalists who received the most anti-Semitic tweets were Ben Shapiro of the National Review, Yair Rosenberg of Tablet and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.

The report states that Trump “may have contributed to an environment in which reporters were targeted,” citing how Trump called journalists “absolute scum” and “disgusting people.”

Ben Shapiro Photo from Twitter

“The spike in hate we’ve seen online this election cycle is extremely troubling and unlike anything we have seen in modern politics,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, said in a statement. “A half-century ago, the KKK burned crosses. Today, extremists are burning up Twitter. We are concerned about the impact of this hate on the ability of journalists to do their job and on free speech, which is why we established this task force.”

According to the ADL’s analysis, Twitter deactivated 21 percent of the accounts responsible for the anti-Semitic tweets aimed at journalists. The report identified two neo-Nazis responsible for some of the attacks, but the vast majority of tweets come from anonymous users.

Citron explained that anti-Semitic Twitter users sometimes use coded language and images like Pepe the Frog in order to create the sense of being part of an in-group.

“There’s a lingo,” she said. “[The veiled language] is like high-fiving among bigots.”

Citron emphasized how the response to this rise in anti-Semitism shouldn’t be to only censor tweets or other offensive posts; instead, Citron said responsible citizens should engage in what she called “counter speech.”

“It can be really hard to rebut [hate speech], but it can be done,” she said. “As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis would say, our duty as citizens is to engage in the public sphere and counter this hate speech.”

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