Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
Tree of Life Synagogue in PittsburghReuters

The Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) have released a first-ever report demonstrating how online incitement against Jews and Jewish targets directly correlates with actual physical attacks.

In recent months there has been a surge in the use of anti-Semitic terms like, “Synagogue of Satan,” contained in tweets which often accompany calls for direct action against Jewish houses of worship from notable influencers across Twitter. The term has been used and adopted by extremist groups from across the political and ideological spectrum, including QAnon influencers, Christian nationalists, White nationalists, Black Hebrew Israelites, and Nation of Islam supporters, whose accounts all amplify the term and its associated anti-Semitic narratives.

The study examined the spatial signature of tweets containing the term, “Synagogue of Satan,” in the U.S. on the county level to determine whether these tweets might correlate to real-world synagogue attacks. Spatial regressions, often used in climate modeling and forecasting, are a statistical tool commonly used to analyze relationships between variables. In this case, the spatial regressions show that the term significantly correlates with synagogue incidents, an effect that remains robust even when controlling for population.

The use of these terms has increased especially when adopted and spread by well-known figures like Kanye West, Kyrie Irving, and former U.S. National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Recent work by the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) has demonstrated sharp increases in recent months in attacks against synagogues. The study found 33 monitored anti-Semitic incidents in which Jewish institutions were targeted globally during the first two months of 2023 – 12 of which were U.S. synagogues. This marked a 71.4% increase from the seven such incidents involving U.S. synagogues during the corresponding time period the previous year.

Given the acceleration of these attacks, NCRI and CAM performed an online analysis to examine whether cyber social signals, mentions of synagogues, or negative sentiment expressed in comments about synagogues might be on the rise as well. It is important to contextualize these hostilities, because they can be predictive of real-world vandalism or attacks. They also delineate and better characterize chatter and grievances associated with hostile ideologies more broadly.

“This dangerous ‘Synagogue of Satan’ narrative has transcended traditional ideological boundaries, serving as a unifying theme among diverse extremist groups,” said NCRI Director and Chief Science Officer Joel Finkelstein. “While a causal link between this online rhetoric and real-world violence, vandalism, or threats cannot be conclusively established, the correlation between the two is concerning and the potential impact of such a toxic narrative should not be underestimated. As society becomes increasingly aware of the spread of antisemitism in all its contemporary forms, it is crucial that efforts are made to counteract these narratives and protect the safety and well-being of Jewish communities.”

"In identifying the significant correlation that exists between hostile rhetoric on Twitter about Jewish houses of worship, and real-world incidents targeting synagogues across the United States, important steps must be taken by both policymakers and social media platforms to enhance the safety of the Jewish community.” said CEO of CAM Sacha Roytman Dratwa.

“A key call to action in the report is directed at social media platforms such as Twitter, and their need to ensure that application programming interfaces (API) remain accessible to research institutions, monitoring organizations, and law enforcement agencies. Doing so, the report highlights, would allow for further research on the relationship between online antisemitic rhetoric and real-world incidents. Lawmakers should require greater levels of transparency from social media platforms to prevent the proliferation of antisemitism and violent acts of hate.”

The correlation between incitement and violence against synagogues.
The correlation between incitement and violence against synagogues.NCRI/CAM