Anti-Jewish hate has become a lucrative industry, with money rolling in from antisemitic merchandising and video ad revenue. Is enough being done to combat this phenomenon?
To great fanfare, Netflix in January released what it billed as a “witty” and “romantic” movie, based on the opposites attract trope. You People, starring Jonah Hill and Lauren London, tells the story of a Jewish man and a Black Muslim woman falling in love then falling out over their respective families’ inability to deal with their cultural differences.
The film’s critics maintain it contains multiple egregious stereotypes of Jews, including Hill’s character praising Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has claimed that Jews were responsible for slavery, control the American political system and worship in “the synagogue of Satan.” It also includes a barely unchallenged allegation that Jews who fled antisemitism in Europe arrived in the United States with inherited wealth accrued from the slave trade.
“It’s a ‘Jews Don’t Count’ fest,” wrote British Jewish author David Baddiel about the movie, referring to his own 2021 book about modern antisemitism.
“The Jewish family are positioned as white, privileged and racist. The Black family just have a stern dad. At the end there’s much Jewish apologizing for racism. None for antisemitism. That word never appears,” he said.
The film was also enormously successful, debuting in the top spot for Netflix movies and reportedly racking up more than 55 million hours of viewing in its first three days.
In other words, a movie espousing blatantly antisemitic tropes was a real money spinner for Netflix, which did not respond to questions from The Media Line on the issue.
So, is antisemitism big business in today’s world? Rabbi Abraham Cooper, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center human rights organization, believes so.
“We have the signs of the monetizing of hate,” he tells The Media Line. “Even by big behemoths like Amazon [which is] selling swastika necklaces and then offering face masks that are used by neo-Nazis as another item people might be interested in buying.”
Dr. Dave Rich, head of policy at the British antisemitism watchdog Community Security Trust and author of the book “Everyday Hate: How antisemitism is built into our world – and how you can change it,” also says that money is being made online by targeting Jews.
“There’s a whole ecosystem here,” he tells The Media Line. “You have the people selling and creating the content, you have the sites where it’s sold and you have the companies that handle the payments.”
Rich highlights the profits made by 4Chan, a website of largely unregulated message boards where anonymous users can post almost anything they choose unimpeded. “Of all the hate sites, that’s the worst place,” he says. “That’s literally where terrorism is inculcated.”
He explains that 4Chan, which claims to have 22 million unique visitors per month, has its own merchandise store “where you can buy Nazi swastika mugs and Nazi hoodies.” Ironically, he says that “last time we checked, the payments to that online store were handled by Wix, an Israeli company.”
In a 2020 report, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British non-profit organization with offices in London and Washington, DC, found that “Facebook and Instagram [were] hosting dozens of accounts that sell neo-Nazi merchandise to fund far-right extremism.” Both social media behemoths are owned by Meta Platforms and the organization accused “tech giants” of providing purveyors of hate with “a platform to reach mainstream audiences and generate funding.”
Similarly, Cooper warned in December 2022 that “the monetizing of antisemitism” was one of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s greatest concerns regarding the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment.
“We have to fight very hard to make sure [monetization] doesn’t become mainstream, so that someone’s going to get on a United Airlines flight wearing the swastika and say what’s wrong with that?” he said at the time.
“The sale of goods with antisemitic messaging and Nazi memorabilia is an issue of deep concern for Jewish communities,” European Jewish Congress Executive Vice-President & CEO Raya Kalenova tells The Media Line, calling it a “rising and lucrative phenomenon” with uneven responses that need to be regulated more tightly across countries and retail organizations.
“In some EU member states like Germany, Austria and France, it is illegal to sell Nazi ‘collectibles’,” she says. “In some other countries, there is a gray area to the advantage of large online retailers. Therefore, we must call for a systematic legal framework banning the sale of National Socialist symbols or other objects with clear antisemitic messages across Europe.
“Famous auction houses like Christie’s or Sotheby’s refuse to sell Nazi memorabilia; eBay also has an ‘offensive materials policy.’ It is important that giants like Amazon or smaller online retailers enforce clear guidelines regarding the sale of these forbidden items, using efficient AI searches and trained employees to remove them swiftly. At a time where hate speech and hate crimes are on the rise, it is up to the online marketplaces to ensure that their platform is not used to promote racism and antisemitism,” according to Kalenova.
Rich says that most of the mainstream payment services such as PayPal have done “a lot of work” to make sure that their services are not used by such sellers, but concedes that some will have “slipped through the net because it’s just such a big ecosphere.”
Cooper also argues that the internet has enabled antisemites to monetize their hate. “Whenever there’s a new tweak in internet technologies, you can be sure the antisemites will be there,” he says.
According to Rich, it is not just through merchandising that antisemitism and hate make money in the darker recesses of the internet, but also through ad revenue created by clicks on videos and other online media.
He gives the example of British extremist Tommy Robinson, founder of the xenophobic and Islamophobic English Defense League, whom he says has made a “pretty enormous income stream” from online videos.
“These people are content creators,” Rich says, “and they’re following the same economic model as all content creators who make money that way, but that content is hate.”
Kalenova also accuses the media of benefiting from antisemitic expressions through “sensationalist” reporting that draws readers in. This increases traffic on their websites – and potentially ad revenue as well.
“Some news outlets serve as a daily clickbait platform for recognized antisemites to share their opinions and thoughts in an unrestricted way,” Kalenova tells The Media Line.
“The internet is a breeding ground for the spread of antisemitic rhetoric and certain media outlets take advantage of this dynamic to share all kinds of sensationalist articles,” she says. “Just recently, a lawsuit has been brought against French newspaper Le Monde for spreading a negative image of Sephardic Jews.”
Cooper argues that the only way to combat the current rise in antisemitism, including its monetization, is for Jews to stand firm and stand together and “find creative ways to hold internet companies accountable.”
“As long as there’s no price to pay, this is just going to expand and expand and expand,” he said.