'Social media is driving antisemitism, TikTok is the worst'

Major US Jewish group backs bipartisan bill that could see TikTok banned

Jewish Federations of North America says it supports the proposed law due to concerns of antisemitism proliferating on the platform

Employees seen inside the TikTok Inc. building in Culver City, California, March 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Employees seen inside the TikTok Inc. building in Culver City, California, March 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

JTA — One of the most prominent Jewish groups in the country has thrown its support behind a fast-advancing bill that could lead to the massively popular video app TikTok being banned in the United States.

Politicians backing the bill, who include leaders from both parties, have centered their criticism of TikTok on national security concerns related to the app’s Chinese ownership and data collection practices.

“It is very important that it is targeted and specific to the national security threat,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington, said last week. “This is not related to content. This is about the threat because of the data that has been collected.”

Jewish Federations of North America, representing hundreds of organized Jewish communities, said its support for the bill is rooted in concerns about antisemitism on the platform. The Jewish Federations and the Anti-Defamation League have accused TikTok of allowing antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment to run rampant.

“The single most important issue to our Jewish communities today is the dramatic rise in antisemitism,” JFNA wrote in an official letter to Congress. “Our community understands that social media is a major driver of the drive in antisemitism and that TikTok is the worst offender by far.”

The JFNA letter also said the bill is carefully tailored to ensure it doesn’t run afoul of the First Amendment, reflecting concerns about government censorship of social media. (The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the bill on free speech grounds.)

“The sponsors of the bill have worked long and hard to develop an approach to this problem that appropriately balances free speech and individual rights with regulatory action,” the letter says.

If the bill becomes law, TikTok’s China-based parent company ByteDance would have to divest from the app within six months or face a ban from connecting to American mobile devices and desktops.

In a rare moment of bipartisan consensus in Washington, lawmakers on the Energy and Commerce Committee voted 50-0 last week to advance the TikTok bill to the full House of Representatives. Leaders of the House’s Republican majority endorsed the bill and vowed to fast-track it for a vote this week, which would send it to the Senate for consideration. President Joe Biden said he would sign the bill if it reached his desk.

The apparent consensus on the TikTok bill lasted less than a day, however, as former president Donald Trump came out in support of the app late Thursday. Trump, who had threatened to ban TikTok as president in 2020, explained his position with an attack on TikTok’s rival, Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew arrives to testify together with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on child safety, on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 31, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” Trump said, in reference to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He added without providing evidence that Meta “cheated in the last election. They are a true enemy of the people.”

Trump’s new moniker, which makes use of the Yiddish word “schmuck” to mock Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, drew condemnation from CNN anchor Dana Bash, who called it “outrageous” and “offensive.” A previous attempt by Republican politicians to brand Zuckerberg as “Zuckerbucks” was denounced by the Anti-Defamation League because the nickname evokes antisemitic tropes around Jews and money.

House Republican leadership reportedly intends to defy Trump and bring the TikTok bill to a vote Wednesday as originally planned.

Trump’s reversal on TikTok comes as some allied commentators and social media influencers have come to recognize the app’s appeal to young voters, and as Trump-related content regularly garners millions of views.

But the timing also appears related to the mending of ties between Trump and conservative megadonor Jeff Yass, whose investment firm, Susquehanna International Group, controls a multibillion-dollar stake in ByteDance. Yass has donated millions to campaigns of politicians who support TikTok.

Protesters demonstrating against the Kohelet Policy Forum carry placards criticizing Arthur Dantchik near Dantchik’s home in suburban Philadelphia on March 26, 2023. (Roy Boshi)

The reconciliation became public days before Trump’s flip-flop on TikTok at a retreat of the conservative group Club for Growth, which counts Yass as a benefactor. Trump thanked Yass for inviting him to speak and described him as “fantastic.”

Allegations of antisemitism on the app have put Yass and his partners at Susquehanna in a complicated position.

Yass is Jewish, as are his Susquehanna co-founders Arthur Danchik and Joel Greenberg, and the three billionaires help fund a variety of Israel-related and Jewish causes. Greenberg, who left Susquehanna seven years ago, runs a family foundation, Seed the Dream, that has given more than $3 million to JFNA and the ADL in recent years, according to tax records.

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