In a heated video meeting on Wednesday, a group of prominent Jewish influencers and celebrities blasted TikTok executives over the proliferation of antisemitic content on the platform, demanding they do more to combat it.
Among them was “Borat” creator Sacha Baron Cohen, who told the executives “Shame on you.” He described the situation on TikTok as “the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis,” the New York Times reported Friday.
The meeting included approximately 30 people, according to the Times. In addition to Cohen, actresses Debra Messing and Amy Schumer, as well as TikTok creator Miriam Ezagui, were among the participants. The meeting was organized by the company’s head of operations, Adam Presser, and by Seth Melnick, head of user operations, both of whom are Jewish.
Participants shared stories of being inundated with antisemitic messages. According to the Times, Cohen told the executives, “If you think back to Oct. 7, the reason why Hamas were able to behead young people and rape women was they were fed images from when they were small kids that led them to hate,” drawing a connection to modern-day antisemitic content on TikTok.
The platform’s Presser, the Times reports, told the group “we can do better.” But in one notable moment, he disagreed with the assertion that the phrase “from the river to the sea” is inherently antisemitic.
The Times reports that Presser told the group, “Where it is clear exactly what they mean — ‘kill the Jews, eradicate the state of Israel’ — that content is violative and we take it down. Our approach up until Oct. 7, continuing to today, has been that for instances where people use the phrase where it’s not clear, where someone is just using it casually, then that has been considered acceptable speech.”
According to the paper, the use of the term “casually” spawned objections from the participants.
That slogan has historically been an anodyne description of the goal for a Palestinian homeland, regarded by many as inoffensive, but it has been adopted by terrorist groups such as Hamas as an unmistakable euphemism for eradicating Israel entirely. In recent decades, that intended meaning has become increasingly common.
The meeting was conducted on the same day it became international news that a 2002 open letter written by Osama bin Laden, posted at the time by the Guardian, went viral after being shared by multiple TikTok accounts.
In the letter, a rambling justification by the Al Qaeda leader for the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden in part said they were in retaliation for America’s support of Israel, along with a lengthy criticism of the country. Those details were almost the entire focus of many of those sharing the letter.
But while bin Laden’s letter included paeans to human rights and Palestinian freedom, it also contained bin Laden’s usual invective against homosexuals, sex and both religious and political freedom. Of course, he also demanded that his enemies convert to Islam or be destroyed — points conveniently left out by those favorably sharing the letter.
But while the meeting coincided with that particular controversy, it was arranged earlier in response to an open letter signed by the participants, published online a week ago. That letter told TikTok, “Your platform is not safe for Jewish users.”