Opinion | Stop antisemitic gaslighting, online and everywhere else

Taryn Herlich
Taryn Herlich (Courtesy of Herlich)

By Taryn Herlich

When we hear the term gaslighting, we often think of an abusive or unhealthy relationship. Typically the goal of the perpetrator is to make their partner lose touch with reality. However, gaslighting can come in a variety of forms.

It is also commonly connected to antisemitism.

Hear me out: Gaslighting follows numerous tactics and techniques. One is trivializing, the invalidation, belittlement, denial and diverting of one’s experiences. This is happening to Jewish people who speak out about their experiences with antisemitism.

In recent weeks, antisemitism has skyrocketed. I know that I and other Jewish people are struck with the disturbing reality that our friends, followers and favorite celebrities have been expressing underlying or overt antisemitism online. I have seen posts saying that the Holocaust never happened, or that the Nazis should have finished the job. Meanwhile, Jewish people are being brutally attacked in the streets, their homes targeted.

Many Jewish people have decided to use their platforms to speak out about the disturbing increase in antisemitism. However, I have noticed that their experiences are frequently invalidated, which is exactly what gaslighting is. I’ve seen many non-Jewish individuals making their own incorrect definitions of antisemitism. When called out, they get defensive and choose to ignore their harmful comments.

When we are told what is and isn’t antisemitic by non-Jewish people, it silences our voices. It’s not up to a non-Jewish person to decide if their comments are antisemitic. The same rule applies to all minorities. Leaving Jewish people out of this conversation dismisses our credibility, a gaslighting tactic.

On the other hand, I have seen comments on Instagram telling Jewish content creators that they’re playing the victim and being too sensitive. When I shared an Instagram post addressing an antisemitic attack, I received messages stating that I was being tone deaf considering what’s taking place in Palestine. When we talk about gaslighting, these are all tactics used to confuse and belittle the individual. It makes us think, “Are we overreacting?” and creates more fear to speak up against Jewish hatred.

I believe both Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and spreading awareness on antisemitism is never intended to minimize the pain and trauma of Palestinians. These issues should be treated separately.

What has been the most hurtful is the actual silence from those who claim to believe in equal rights for everyone but leave Jewish people out of this.

The silence on antisemitism is telling and isolating, sending a message that Jewish issues are not essential or large enough to be addressed. This is also demonstrated when major publications refuse to speak out on antisemitism. It shows an unsaid denial of Jewish issues and that they don’t believe that what we are experiencing is significant or valid enough to be given attention. Equality shouldn’t just stop for one group of people.

Antisemitic gaslighting occurs when people downplay the Holocaust and compare it to other world events (i.e., the pandemic). It’s when we are called dramatic for still being upset over it. Holocaust survivors are still alive; it wasn’t that long ago. Antisemitic gaslighting denies that antisemitism is present and chooses to ignore the persecution and abuse Jewish people have experienced for over 2,000 years. It’s when we are shamed for trying to spread awareness on antisemitism and dismissed through phrases that indicate we’re lying or taking attention away from other causes.

Jewish people, please don’t let this get you down or feel ashamed and scared of your identity. Being Jewish is special and something that should bring you pride. If you need to, take a step back from social media. Take as much time as you need to navigate what’s going on, and know that you are not overreacting or being dramatic in your feelings. We will get through this together.

Taryn Herlich is a Toronto-based writer.

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