When Jewish Space Laser Jokes Help the Enemy

Last week, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I noticed all the chatter and jokes about a “Jewish space laser.” It was clear to me that people were responding to a headline. Initially I assumed based on context clues that it was some sort of joke coming from a Jewish leader, or perhaps out-of-context banter about an Israeli space program.

No one’s post directly identified a source, so I went searching to find out for myself. I was a bit surprised and disappointed to learn that it wasn’t “one of our own.” Rather, this absurd antisemitic conspiracy theory was from a November 2018 Facebook post written by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a recently-elected congresswoman and QAnon enthusiast, in which she speculated Rothschild-owned space lasers were the cause of the California wildfires. 

My long-time friend from Jewish summer camp, Tova Moore, reposted the following tweet from Sarah Darer Littman. She added, with her own clear commentary, “Especially with the holocaust remembrance falling last week….” Littman and Moore here do what I feel is deeply Jewish – adding their own necessary commentary, like how our ancestors did in the Talmud. I’m writing today to continue this vital tradition.

Upon reading both commentaries from these two Jewish women, I immediately realized just how much the jokes didn’t resonate with me–even while knowing that humor often plays a vital role when navigating trauma and healing. Seeing this tweet validated my reaction. In just one tweet, Sarah and Tova started to get at the humanity and the deeper layers of generational trauma that weren’t explicit in Jewish laser quips on social media. 

I get the impulse to joke about supposed “Jewish space lasers.” After all, it’s absolutely ridiculous! But the fact that someone who’s currently sitting in Congress seriously peddled this antisemitic conspiracy isn’t a joking matter to me–at least not on such a public forum where antisemitism from white people in power so often flies under the radar without enough coverage or pushback.

To be clear, my friends can process their upset however they wish. My hope is to offer a perspective about what we opt to share publicly to those who are receptive or in search of this message. 

It is my prayer that my Jewish people are safe and more and more can access opportunities for liberatory healing. So we can process internalized, deep-seated terror and other deep-seated forms of collective trauma from the horrific oppression we’ve historically endured and continue to navigate today.

In time, I recommend we find ways of healing that don’t involve free advertising of antisemitic hatred. It might be temporarily cathartic, but we can find better ways that don’t amplify and make light of our oppressors’ messaging. Making light of something dangerous in public can send a mixed message.

There’s a lot of people out there who believe this garbage. And many posts I saw ironically amplified it on what I hope are not public posts. And many of us potentially just amplified her point through social media. Do you think the folks who believe that type of statement, who wonder about other antisemitic musings, will catch the irony? Likely not. Our nuanced irony will be lost. Instead, potentially thousands of people could see some trolls’ collection of our jokes and interpret it as unequivocal confirmation.

Also, this isn’t about just one stupid claim. It’s a fractal issue, something that is easily reproduced and magnified with more substantial consequences as it gets reproduced on increasingly larger scales. I see my community regularly give free marketing to our detractors, rather than amplifying what might be our desired messages, in all of their diversity and nuance. Let’s shout the words of our trusted allies across lines of difference, and the vision of what we want to see more of in the world. This antisemitic rhetoric needs to be shut down unequivocally and/or not amplified.  

“Mitzvah goreret mitzvah. Averah goreret averah.” – A good deed leads to a good deed and sin leads to sin. Antisemitism leads to more antisemitism and justice/liberation leads to more justice/liberation. We deserve liberation, loving accountability when needed, immense compassion, and loving partnership.

I am here for my peoples’ healing and complete liberation. I’m not here for any antisemitic jokes about us. But I’m also willing to respect differences of opinion. As a people who have been repeatedly targeted for destruction, I choose each day to love my Jewish “extended family” unconditionally, even when it’s hard and even when we disagree.

April N. Baskin is the founding director of Joyous Justice and a former vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. To listen to her latest “Jews Talk Racial Justice” podcast episode that covers antisemitism and “Jewish space lasers”, you can listen here.