For Black British Jews, a walkout doesn’t solve Twitter’s anti-Semitism problem
Following a 48-hour anti-Semitic tirade from the UK musical artist Wiley, many British Jews are now participating in a two-day online walkout from Twitter under the hashtag #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate. But for some Black British Jews, caught in the middle, the boycott falls short and points to larger challenges.
“Wiley has more followers than there are Jews in England,” said Jodeci Joseph, a 22-year-old motivational speaker. “Our voice is so small and we need allies.”
Wiley has since been suspended from Twitter and Instagram with many of his offensive posts removed. He emerged in the early 2000s and is regarded as a pioneer of grime music, a popular genre of electronic music in the UK. He has nearly 500,000 followers on Twitter, but isn’t verified on the platform. Wiley, whose real name is Richard Kylea Cowie Jr., has made a spectacle of himself before, recently challenging a much younger artist in a rap battle and refuting allegations of sex with a minor. But anti-Semitism is something new from the artist. Wiley’s manager, John Woolf, who is Jewish, dropped him as a client after the marathon of Jewish conspiracy theories, which invoked Nation of Islam talking points about Black people being the “real Jews” and conflated Jews with the Ku Klux Klan.
Joseph discovered Wiley’s rant after this weekend’s Shabbat. Like many, he was “shocked” that Twitter hadn’t yet removed the tweets, but believes that British Jews, who number around 290,000, abstaining from the platform won’t make enough noise to address the issue at hand.
Joseph proposed, as an alternative, a model like the Black Lives Matter movement, where major brands become involved and a diverse community rallies to support Jews and advance education about anti-Semitism and Jewish culture. He’s distressed at the silence from his non-Jewish friends and others outside of the Jewish community.
“I think part of the reason they’re not piping up and they’re not saying anything is because they don’t have a lot of contact with Jewish people,” Jacobs said. “They don’t know what Jews are.”
That ignorance of Jewish identity was seen on Wiley’s feed when Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, a journalist, responded to his allegation that Jews don’t care about Black people by replying him to say that she was both Black and Jewish. In response, Wiley tweeted that Batchelor-Hunt wasn’t Black. Then, others piled on.
“I received anti-Semitic abuse, I also received anti-Black abuse on the platform, and I have done since Friday, and today I’ve had people randomly calling me an anti-Semite for calling out Wiley’s stuff,” Batchelor-Hunt told BBC radio on July 27. “It’s exhausting and the platform needs to be regulated.”
One person who witnessed Batchelor-Hunt’s ordeal on Twitter was Lara Monroe, a writer in her 40s.
“It’s gone from defending that the tweets are anti-Semitic to then going to have to defend ourselves against people who in the Jewish community don’t believe that we are defending Jewish people enough to their standards,” Monroe said of the situation many Black Jews have found themselves in. “Part of that, I feel, comes from a very bigoted position, particularly in terms of how Black Jews are perceived within the actual community itself.”
Monroe doesn’t feel that mainstream Jewish institutions have been doing enough to defend Black Jews from this kind of abuse, but was also troubled to see what prompted the boycott.
“It has made me feel uncomfortable that it’s taken the words or the behavior of a young Black man for people to respond and say ‘Right, that’s it. We want Twitter to take action,’” Monroe said. While Wiley’s rant was somewhat singular for its two-day duration, Monroe doesn’t think that makes it uniquely deserving of a response. “Whether it’s 48 hours or an hour does that matter? At the end of the day the level of abuse is still abuse.”
Wiley, Monroe told me, is not the superstar many of his critics have made him out to be, and has already been “cancelled” multiple times within the grime scene.
Monroe, who is around the same age as Wiley and also from East London, said she was familiar with the culture that produced his goading tactics and was unsurprised when he attacked Batchelor-Hunt by questioning her Blackness. At the same time, Monroe said white Jews missed some things in the exchanges, notably, mistaking Wiley’s tweet that Jews deserved to “hold some corn” (meaning take criticism) as slang for taking a bullet.
“I’m coming from a place where I understand what’s happening in the Black community and I understand what’s happening in the Jewish community,” Monroe said. “However both those communities don’t understand what’s happening in either. It gives you that unique lens but it also means that you’re also fighting to put out fires that have been ignited by people on either side.”
Joseph said he doesn’t feel safe in the light of Wiley’s anti-Semitic tweets and believes that his removal isn’t enough to stop anti-Semitism, proposing education or broader outreach to get to the main issue of ignorance and even offering to sit down with Wiley for a dialogue.
“If we didn’t see those tweets he would have been thinking it anyway, and that’s what’s scary,” Joseph said.
The moment is a particularly fraught one for Black British Jews. The British Labour party, long plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism, has a new leader, Keir Starmer, determined to root it out of the party. At the same time, a report into Labour anti-Semitism, leaked in April, claimed a trend of anti-Black racism.
That dichotomy, of fending off both racism and anti-Semitism is not unfamiliar to Black Jews and Monroe. Many others who chose to remain online throughout the boycott claim that not enough is being done to address other forms of bigotry on the platform, including white supremacy.
“I want it to be looked at in its entirety,” Monroe said of regulating Twitter. “We need to be upset right across the board, including when it comes down to protecting our own as well as protecting the community as a whole.”
Monroe, Batchelor-Hunt and Forward columnist Tema Smith, who is Canadian, are participating in a Limmud event August 2 on Black-Jewish solidarity, which will address Wiley’s comments. But Monroe believes Black British Jews are vulnerable when they raise their voices. The three panelists have encountered abuse from within the Jewish community online. Monroe thinks they deserve some protection when they put themselves out there and, so often, encounter abuse from their fellow Black people as well as fellow Jews.
“The impact on us is huge,” Monroe said, adding that a statement from Jewish institutions calling out racism from within might be useful. “Clearly there’s a lot more work that has to be done, but to not say anything when you can see what is happening to us, that’s a hurtful thing that I cannot get my head around.”