The Twitter activist behind the far-right “Libs of TikTok” is an Orthodox Jew. Is it important?

(JTA) – Chaya Raichik says she’s in charge of getting teachers to talk gay and transgender issues in the classroom, which she calls “evil”, fired. She helped pioneer the term “grooming” to describe the teaching of sexuality. Her Twitter account has hundreds of thousands of followers and she has influential fans, including Florida Governor spokeswoman Ron DeSantis and podcaster Joe Rogan.

She is also an Orthodox Jew, according to a Washington Post exposé on Tuesday that revealed Raichik was behind the massively popular Libs of TikTok Twitter feed.

This information was at one point in Raichik’s Twitter bio, where users often share elements of their identity, The Washington Post reported. The newspaper reported nothing else about Raichik’s Jewish identity, but it did say she had recently moved from New York to Los Angeles.

Raichik is an important name associated with Orthodox Jews in Southern California, where Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik was an early emissary of the Chabad movement and where his son Shimon was one of the main leaders. until his death last year.

Who Chaya Raichik is, and if and how she might be related to this dynasty, sparked speculation among many Jews on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Post’s revelation of Raichik’s name and religious affiliation sparked outrage among conservatives, who accused the paper of anti-Semitism and of “doxing” her, or revealing her identity in order to make her difficulty.

It also renews the conversation about the depth of entrenchment of some members of the Orthodox community in the American far right. Raichik, in his previous Twitter incarnations, embraced former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election results. She claimed to be present during the January 6, 2021, uprising at the United States Capitol organized by Trump supporters.

As the 2020 election approached, Trump’s Orthodox supporters rallied in the streets for him in Brooklyn and demonstrated against the pandemic restrictions he mocked; the son of a prominent Brooklyn judge who led a national group of Orthodox synagogues was among the rioterswhile some Orthodox publications blamed leftists for the siege or downplayed the seriousness of the Capitol mob’s actions.

The reluctance of many in the Orthodox community to engage in online culture wars has faded over the past decade as Orthodox Jews have come to realize just how influential they can be on social media, a said David Bashevkin, an Orthodox educator who writes about the community. involvement in the lay world.

“The Orthodox community is a reflection of a larger population. They have values ​​that they are committed to, if you want to see those values ​​reflected, one of the arenas of debate has become social media,” he said in an interview.

He compared Orthodox engagement on social media to the community’s longstanding activism in government lobbying.

“There is a bigger tug of war for the hearts and minds of the public and like most communities with beliefs, the Orthodox community is participating,” he said.

Elchanan Poupko, a Modern Orthodox rabbi who posts frequently on Twitter, said there remains a degree of stigma associated with social media posting among Haredi Orthodox Jews, who have historically been discouraged by their leaders from using social media. social networks and even smartphones. It’s fine to engage, but it’s better if it’s done anonymously, he said, which may be one of the reasons Raichik and his supporters lambasted the Washington Post. for revealing his identity.

Jews supporting Trump gather outside the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue as part of a protest to end anti-Semitism, October 15, 2020. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“It’s fine to admit that you use it, but not with your name,” Poupko said, comparing it to the joke on Netflix that he says is circulating among Haredi Orthodox: “It’s fine to Admit you watch Netflix, but God forbid you have a TV in your house.

As politics increasingly plays out on social media, Poupko said, it becomes harder to avoid the arena if you want to stand up for your values.

He pointed to an analysis last year in an Israeli newspaper, Yisrael Hayom: Experts on Orthodox haredi reportedly say the community’s desire to influence heated Israeli debates over coronavirus prevention prompted community leaders to ease restrictions.

It opened the floodgates. “Anyone who starts surfing won’t easily stop or back off,” Gilad Malach, an expert on Orthodox haredi at the Israel Democracy Institute, told the newspaper.

Others pointed out that, among Orthodox Jews, Chabad has carved out a unique space for itself in its embrace of new media to spread its movement’s message.

Within haredi communities and the Chabad movement, women are increasingly engaging on social media, sometimes developing influential figures under their own names on topics as diverse as religious observancefashion, parenthood and Against racism.

Poupko explained that any restrictions placed on women on social media are less severe than for men, due to the belief that women are better equipped than men to resist temptation. “It’s more acceptable for a woman to see shamelessness” on social media, he said.

Shulim Leifer, a Hasidic Jew who is active on Twitter and identifies with the left — a rarity in his community — said in an interview that Raichik’s mastery of Twitter should come as no surprise. Orthodox Jews have for years mastered the art of pithy, withering exchange in closed groups on apps like WhatsApp. The transition to a public space was no problem, and now there are Orthodox influencers who frequently go “live” on Instagram.

“Think of Zelenko and the wide reach he had in the Five Towns crowd,” he said. Vladimir Zelenko is a haredi orthodox doctor whose questionable coronavirus treatments were popular among some Orthodox communities at the start of the pandemic, and whose supporters used WhatsApp to spread his message of skepticism about the virus.

Trump’s embrace among the Orthodox on social media should surprise no one, Leifer said.

“Anyone shocked that a frum person might be a right-wing lopsided maniac obviously hasn’t checked WhatsApp statuses in the last 6 years,” he said on Twitter.

Yossi Gestetner, an Orthodox haredi political activist who has posted on social media for years, lambasted the Post for identifying Raichik as Orthodox, saying it was irrelevant.

“Opposing the destruction of basic norms for what is said to young children is a popular opinion that is not necessarily based on Orthodox Jews, so why did the newspaper mention it?” he said in an interview. “The article talks about the influence of the packaged account in a negative context. How is this related to Orthodoxy? »

Bashevkin agreed that Raichik’s beliefs were irrelevant. Raichik’s tone, he said, was typical of social media. “Dunking” – that is, goad her opponents – “is more a feature of how the platform works,” he said, and was not typical of any religion or belief system.

It was Raichik, however, who in previous incarnations on Twitter used his name and tagged for a time in his bio (although under one of his aliases, President Houseplant – a mockery of President Joe Biden) as “Orthodox Jew”.

Raichik has peddled and adopted many tropes popular with the pro-Trump right, including the former president’s campaign lies.

His fiercest target, however, has been the LGBTQ community. The Libs of TikTok account seeks and solicits from its followers videos in which adults – often teachers – share their thoughts on explaining sexuality to children. (Such videos often proliferate on TikTok.)

Tweets are often amplified in the right-wing media ecosystem, including on Fox News, and the account reports when teachers are fired as a result. “Any teacher who utters the words ‘I’m out with my students’ should be fired immediately,” said a now-deleted tweet in December.

In March, TikTok’s Libs posted a video of a teacher explaining how to teach masturbation to her young students as a way to raise awareness and protect against predators.

One of the Twitter feed’s most dedicated followers, Christina Pushaw, spokeswoman for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, responded with a “You’re going to jail” meme, and Raichik replied, “If only.”

Media Affairs, a liberal media watchdog, reviewed dozens of online engagements between Pushaw and TikTok’s Libs, and concluded that it was the Twitter feed that prompted Pushaw to describe a new state law banning discussions of sexuality in K-3 classrooms as targeting “caregivers” – comparing opponents of the law to sexual predators. Pushaw’s use of the term became common among conservatives.

Raichik did not respond to interview requests for his Libs of TikTok identity, and a woman who goes by the name Chaya Raichik and lives in Los Angeles did not respond to a WhatsApp message.

In a recent talk on the conservative podcast Ruthless, Raichik said she sometimes fleetingly regrets chasing her targets from the workplace.

“It’s not easy to be responsible for this, for someone who loses their job, on the other hand, I mean these people, some of them are literally bad, and they prepare children” , she said. “They shouldn’t be in schools, they shouldn’t be teachers and it’s really good that they don’t teach anymore. Being responsible for this is a bit difficult for me, but I think it has to be done.

She mocked the terminology used by the community, calling it “LGBTQIABCD” and laughed. “A lot of it is based on narcissism,” she said. “Society must give in to its delusions.”

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