A Grain Of Saul: Why I Felt Lucky When Trump Supporters Called Me A 'Vile Jewish Rat'

Online anti-Semitism is on the rise, but it could be worse.

I have a folder on my desktop labeled "anti-Semitism." 

Some days, it's surprising to me that the folder exists at all. Other days, it seems relevant to everything that is happening in our country. 

But more often than not, the folder reminds me of how lucky I am.

For months I've been collecting screenshots of anti-Semitic things people have said to me on Twitter. I started doing this when, earlier this year, anti-Semitism that used to come once in a blue moon became almost a daily occurrence. Unfortunately, I have good reason to believe that the increase in anti-Semitism correlated directly with the rise of Donald Trump's candidacy. 

You see, the anti-semitic comments only really started when I began responding to Donald Trump's tweets. On a typical day in the last year, Trump was good for at least one completely misleading fact or an outright lie on his Twitter account. After becoming infuriated with the way he purposefully misled his followers, I activated push notifications on my Twitter account and began responding to him as quickly as possible with either snark, a call out, or a fact check. Or just a joke.

What I got in return wasn't exactly pretty. 

That "echo" the first Twitter user references is another new, frightening trend on the Internet. Nationalist bigots like this Twitter troll have been putting their names in parentheticals to symbolize the "echo chamber" of a "Jewish-run media," basically insinuating that Jews just repeat the same things to each other throughout institutions we work in until they become true, living in our own blind tunnel of self-assurance. 

They put the parentheses around anyone or anything they believe to be repeating some kind of Jewish myth or talking point, and even Jewish authors and journalists have taken to the parentheses as an act of defiance. 

The trope that Jews run the media is nothing new. Just like the old stereotype that Jews are cheap, or good at haggling — one Trump gleefully repeated during a speech to Jewish republicans in which he was asking for support. But the anti-Semitism that has reverberated through the Internet is something new, something revitalized, something many Jewish Americans thought and hoped was a relic of the past.

Even conservative journalist Ben Shapiro, who has been open about his criticisms of Trump and yet would never support Hillary Clinton, has faced virulent and disgusting attacks from alt-right Trump supporters online. 

Here's what he was greeted with after his new son was born:

Ben and I aren't alone. Twitter personality Bethany Mandel wrote in The Forward that she bought a gun after anti-semitic Trump supporters threatened her and her children and began disseminating her address and phone number when she made negative comments about Trump publicly. 

Another Jewish reporter, Julia Ioffe, retweeted several of the attacks she received after publishing a lengthy profile of Melania Trump for GQ.

Here's one example:

And while it's true that Trump hasn't necessarily promoted or endorsed these comments, it's also true that he is making matters worse. He hasn't publicly condemned attacks like the ones against Julia Ioffe, which in turn has convinced many neo-Nazi supporters he's secretly on their side. In the case of Ioffe (above), Trump was given an opportunity to condemn the anti-semitic attacks against her on National TV, but didn't. Breitbart News, which essentially serves as Trump's mouthpiece using "anonymous" sources inside his campaign, published an article calling Bill Kristol a "renegade Jew" for opposing Trump. 

Trump himself tweeted out the now infamous meme of Hillary Clinton next to a star of David, which originated from 8chan's "Politically Incorrect" message board, a breeding ground for anti-Semitism populated by neo-Nazis and other bigots hell-bent on proving the Jews are ruining America. 

Trump deleted the tweet afterwards, then vehemently denied that it was anti-semitic, going as far as to tweet it out again with a clumsily photoshopped circle in place of the star. But the question remained: why were Trump or his staffers on that message board? Or who sent it to them? Why did they use it? To whom are they appealing? And are we supposed to ignore this pattern?

And what about the fact that Trump's own daughter converted to Judaism after getting married? Do all those anti-Semitic Trump supporters not realize this?

More than anything, what all this online animosity made me realize is that being trolled for being a Jew, or being sent gross cartoons over Twitter, is probably the easiest kind of bigotry to deal with.

Despite how infuriated and sad it makes me feel about my country and the possibility of a Trump presidency, it made me feel a far stronger sense of empathy toward my Muslim, African-American, LGBT, and Hispanic neighbors, who face that bigotry in person, in real life, and get it not for expressing their views as I did but simply for how they look or what God they follow or who they love.

Being told I was a "vile Jewish rat" made my blood boil. Being told I was part of the Jewish conspiracy that controls the media was incredibly offensive. Seeing a Jewish reporter — even one I vehemently disagree with — have his son's birth greeted with calls to the gas chamber made me sick. 

But none of that compares to having laws passed to stop you from protecting yourself against discrimination because you are gay or transgender. Or being labeled a terrorist in the wake of an attack simply because you are Muslim. Twitter abuse is nothing like being shot during a routine traffic stop for what you look like, or being investigated by the FBI because you go to a mosque, or getting a harsher jail sentence because you are a person of color. Those things, those issues of real, institutional and public racism, are far worse. 

And so in the wake of feeling frustration and anger and pain, I felt lucky.

I felt lucky that I'm not persecuted or stereotyped on a daily basis. I felt lucky that so many of "my people" have found success in media, not shame. I feel lucky that as a white man or a Jew I am more represented than some people in our country. I feel lucky that my Jewness can't be seen during a traffic stop (though I did once have a cop look at my license and express his shock at how I had "one helluva Jewish name"), just in case I get stopped by some alt-right bigot like the ones on 8chan message boards.

And as a Jew, I'd like to express my sympathy and sadness toward all those people who are affected by racism or Islamophobia or sexism or homophobia or any kind of bigotry on a daily basis. Feeling it myself made me realize how fortunate I am to have only experienced it online — while making me painfully aware of how far we all have to go in accepting and loving the people around us. 

Isaac Saul is a reporter for A Plus and author of his weekly column "A Grain of Saul." You can follow him on Twitter