The image was shocking — anti-Semitic graffiti saying, “Kill the Jews,” spray-painted on the Beverly Hills sign in California and attributed to “Antifa.” It went viral via social media.
The only problem was that it was fake. There was graffiti, but it was Photoshopped to turn the message anti-Semitic.
“We want to make sure that we’re able to understand the nature of threats quickly, whether they’re real or faked, and get that information out to the Jewish community so they can feel safe,” says Shawn Brokos, director of Jewish community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “Fortunately, we have a rapid reaction force to help Jewish communities where misinformation about anti-Semitism may surface, quickly enough for them to do damage control.”
The Jewish Federation — which has been on high alert since the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue building — is working closely with Jewish Federations around the U.S. and Canada to address the expanding volume of misinformation spreading in advance of the election in November. Brokos works with Jewish Federations of North America’s national group called the Secure Community Network, that specializes in this work.
“It’s critical now more than ever to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake. During a time when lots of misinformation exists on social media across the political spectrum, it’s even more important not to jump to conclusions when we see reports of anti-Semitism in Pittsburgh or around our region.”David Sufrin, chair of the Jewish Federation’s board of directors
“The unfortunate truth is that sometimes these incidents are real,” says Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. “That’s why we have an excellent relationship with law enforcement and the ability to share information rapidly across the Jewish community to keep Jewish agencies and synagogues secure.”
This isn’t an isolated incident. Recently, Antifa was blamed for putting up barriers in front of a synagogue, Chabad of Sherman Oaks; another report called the security barriers “weapons placed by Antifa and professional anarchists.” Chabad of Sherman Oaks had actually installed the barriers themselves.
“We know that there is fake information being promulgated by people on the right and the left, not to mention fake information put out by foreign governments trying to intervene in the United States’ election. We know from the recent, bipartisan U.S. Senate report that China and Russia are actively using social media to try to interfere. As horrible as it is for them to use something like anti-Semitism to do that, it’s not outside the realm of possibility,” said Brokos.
There are simple things that the Jewish community members can do to help.
“It can be as simple as getting the message out to their Jewish community that there is fake information about anti-Semitism circulating,” says Brokos. “If you see something, say something, for certain. But you should also not just assume right away that it’s real.”
People can report potentially anti-Semitic information or incidents at jewishpgh.org/security, or by contacting the Jewish Federation by phone at 412-681-8000. If anyone feels threatened, they should call 911. The City of Pittsburgh also recently upgraded 311, a non-emergency phone number for problems such as graffiti. Non-Pittsburgh residents can reach “311” operators by calling 412-255-2621.
“We don’t want people to ignore reports of anti-Semitic incidents,” says Adam Hertzman, director of communications for the Jewish Federation. “On the contrary, it’s important to report things like this. But it’s also important for the Jewish community to know that, especially at a time of political turmoil, they shouldn’t believe everything they see on social media.”
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, notes Hertzman.
“There aren’t a lot of divisions in the United States when it comes to racism, bigotry and hatred,” says Hertzman. “After the Oct. 27 attacks on the three synagogues in Pittsburgh, we all saw how the city of Pittsburgh, and the U.S., and the world came together to condemn this act. Where it becomes divisive is where it’s attributed to someone with one particular political ideology.”
The law enforcement community works very closely with Jewish security efforts.
“This is about keeping the Jewish community secure and making people feel safe,” says Brokos. “The reason someone would create a fake image or fake story or fake video is to instill fear, doubt, and unrest. Staying vigilant, mindful and accurately informed is the way to combat that.”