By Deborah Danan
“No one wants me to exist,” said Hen Mazzig, a staunchly Zionist, gay, progressive, Black Lives Matter supporter and self-declared Jewish person of color. “People on the left hate that I’m pro-Israel and that I’m fighting anti-Zionists, and people on the right that say that I’m divisive” for raising awareness about racism within the Jewish community. But he’s unapologetic, stating, “I learned that I can’t compromise any part of my identity.”
Mazzig, a writer, Journal contributor and senior fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute, which combats hate online, began advocating for Israel and the Jewish people when he served in the Israel Defense Forces (from 2008-12) as a liaison officer for international organizations to the United Nations. The son of an Iraqi mother and Tunisian father, Mazzig has become an envoy for the Mizrahi cause, telling the world the story of 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands. His activism emerged after hearing harrowing accounts from his parents and grandparents including his maternal grandmother witnessing her best friend’s rape and mutilation during the 1941 Farhud in Baghdad.
Last week, Mazzig discovered #JewishPrivilege had become the top trending hashtag on Twitter. It was being used to endorse the notion of Jews as a privileged group who, as well as controlling the world, are responsible for all of its ills, including police brutality. So Mazzig decided to do what he calls a “social media flip.” He called on his 30,000 followers to appropriate the anti-Semitic hashtag by recounting their own experiences of being a Jew. Overnight, #JewishPrivilege started trending again, but this time for the right reasons, as celebrities including Sarah Silverman shared their encounters with anti-Semitism. The episode generated a lot of attention, with large news outlets including NBC reaching out to Mazzig for comment.
WE’RE WITNESSING A MAINSTREAMING OF ANTI-SEMITISM AND IT’S MORE THAN TROUBLING — IT’S SICKENING.
#JewishPrivilege as well as other trending hashtags including #Hebrews #Jews and #Semites, are reflective of a disturbing development in the world’s oldest hatred, Mazzig said. “We’re witnessing a mainstreaming of anti-Semitism and it’s more than troubling — it’s sickening,” he said. “When you hear artists of high caliber saying those things, it’s terrifying.”
According to Mazzig, strange bedfellows have emerged from this foreboding new landscape, with far-right anti-Semites usurping anti-racist slogans, including the Black Lives Matter hashtag, in order to attack Jews. “White supremacists are basically on the same side as the Louis Farrakhans,” he said, referencing the Nation of Islam leader. “Are you really erasing 400 years of slavery in America just to blame the Jews?”
“It’s shocking for a lot of people but that’s because we have a very short memory,” he said, noting how German Jews in the 1920s were safe in their belief that democracy was flourishing. “Jews in America today also feel safe. [But] we should remember that this is happening in every generation. The biggest difference this time is that we have Israel.”
That is why he said, it’s imperative that all Jews and all enlightened people support Israel. “As a progressive, I find it bizarre that progressives around the world will not support Israel.” He described Jewish groups such as IfNotNow as “useful idiots” but says that more and more young Jews are stepping out of the shadows and fighting back.