What is JewBelong, the pro-Israel group aimed at Gen Z?
As Israel continues to its relentless and brutal war on the Gaza Strip, its supporters have attempted to sway public opinion, despite the shocking reports of mass killing and destruction that have flooded news feeds.
Non-profit organisations, political commentators and influencers have taken to social media in an effort to justify Israel's military onslaught on Gaza.
Among them is JewBelong, a US-based tax-exempt non-profit which describes itself as providing "easy-at-home Jewish resources" aimed at "combatting antisemitism".
The account, which has close to 100,000 followers on Instagram, posts short "provocative" pro-Israel messages on a hot-pink background.
"Keep calling me a Zionist. Nothing makes me prouder," reads one post from the account.
Using social-media friendly vernacular and puns in its captions, with words such as "kinda" and "jk" (just kidding), the page appears to target younger social media users – people who recent polling has shown to be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than previous generations.
Some of the posts can be interpreted as opinion-driven rather than fact-based, due to the amount of misinformation, such as "BTW, there was a ceasefire on 10/6/23", implying that Israel's war in Gaza only started on October 7.
Other posts attack pro-Palestinian sentiment among young people in the US and other Western countries. For example, one post reads: "When your parents said to 'find yourself' in college, they didn’t mean to find your inner terrorist", implying that students protesting against Israel’s military campaign and talking about Palestine issues are engaging in terrorism.
Such posts echo rhetoric by pro-Israel activists and commentators, who have intentionally conflated anti-Zionist stances with antisemitism.
JewBelong came under fire last week after it created a post saying "Trust me, if Israel wanted to commit genocide in Gaza, it would."
The post was understood by many pro-Palestinian activists as downplaying the ongoing massacres in the Gaza Strip, where at least 22,185 people have been killed by Israeli bombing, most of them women and children.
Additionally, thousands more are feared trapped under rubble, while rights groups have warned that the spread of disease and hunger could exacerbate suffering and increase the death toll.
Israel’s atrocities in the territory have been labelled as a genocide by several politicians, including Spanish former social rights minister and Podemos’ leader Ione Bellara.
Activists called the now-deleted post "psychotic" and labelled JewBelong as a "hate group".
The Jewish Voices for Peace NGO responded: "Zionist orgs like JewBelong & others that support the Israeli government’s propaganda work to dehumanize Palestinians and justify the Israel’s government’s attacks on Palestinians."
"We know the truth, and we know that the ongoing genocide of Palestinians can never be justified".
US-based civil rights lawyer Zahra Billoo accused JewBelong of "gaslighting a genocide under the guise of fighting antisemitism. 20,000+ dead Palestinians would beg to differ."
JewBelong deleted this absolutely psychotic post, but it’s worth remembering the people who run that account are openly genocidal towards Palestinians in Gaza specifically pic.twitter.com/qlt8ngKKDl— Rebecca Pierce (@aptly_engineerd) December 28, 2023
Other social media users added that Jew Belong's posts were "unsurprising" given founder Archie Gottesman's previous comments on Gaza. In 2018, she tweeted: "Gaza is full of monsters. Time to burn the whole place. Won’t matter. The UN will just give another meaningless sanction."
Gottesman founded the non-profit in 2016 "on a mission to rebrand Judaism that is it easy to get to the good parts, no Hebrew required."
The organisation has gone on to display billboards across the US, one of which read: "Let’s be clear: Hamas is your problem too" which has been seen in the states of Ohio and Massachusetts in recent weeks.
It was also revealed that Gottesman is on the board of the Democratic Majority for Israel group, a Democratic party organisation working to strengthen Israel-US ties, and to usher in more Democrat support for Israel.
Pro-Palestinian activists have voiced anger that an individual "advocating for genocide" can be associated with the political party, and urged action.
This is not the first time JewBelong has been subjected to criticism. In 2021, many Jewish activists slammed the non-profit for shifting to pro-Israel stances rather than focusing on antisemitism, and even using antisemitic tropes to draw attention to the cause. One social media user described their content as "Jewish cringe".
JewBelong's provocative content hasn't been exclusive to the 2023 war in Gaza. Similar posts were made in reference to Israel's war in Gaza in May 2021, and the non-profit infamously took a jibe in 2022 at Jewish US Senator Bernie Sanders, comparing him with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky with the caption: "What type of Jew are you?"
Pro-Israel propaganda justifying war and occupation of Palestinian territories has existed for decades, and has gone into overdrive in recent months.
However, with the age of social media, less and less people are convinced, with atrocities being documented on the likes of X, Instagram, TikTok and other social media platforms and organisations like JewBelong coming under scrutiny and failing to gain credibility.