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Confronting Antisemitism in the Gaming Industry

Antisemitism is not new to video games. Reflecting on my high school years as a passionate Call of Duty player, I recall the amount of time spent reporting offensive player-created emblems featuring swastikas, which were branded adjacent to player names or on their in-game equipment and flashed on the screen when an enemy player eliminated you. As a teenager, I never thought too deeply of this - it was just a regular part of the game and came with the territory of being a gamer - dealing with online trolls. Yet, as an adult looking back at the experience, I understand how disturbing it was for a young mind to have ant-semitism normalized in his favorite pastime. Unfortunately, while the games may have changed over the years, the problems have not. Today's young gamers (and their parents) must still be on the lookout for antisemitism in games.

Image: A user-created level in the popular videogame, Roblox. The game draws in 7 million players a day, 45% of which are children.

Fursan al-Aqsa: The Knights of the Al-Aqsa Mosque was initially released on the popular online video game store, Steam, on April 18th, 2022 and currently has a 9/10 player rating. The game has you play as Hamas terrorists and kill Jews inside of Jerusalem and the comments are flooded with players calling for the death of all Jews. The game continues to be made available for download on Steam.

In addition to overt forms of antisemitism, a more insidious version emerges through widely shared anti-Zionism and anti-Israel rhetoric in the gaming space. In my recent blog post, I reflected on navigating the video game industry as a proud Jew in the face of increasing anti-Israel and ant-semitic sentiments within my professional networks. Speaking out has led to accusations that are, in many ways, bewildering and something I never imagined having to address or defend. These allegations brand me as a "colonist," a "racist," and pro-genocide due to my steadfast belief in Israel's right to exist and defend itself. Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated experience and is shared by Jews across the globe. However, possibly unique to the gaming world is that there is a void of influential voices standing up to denounce hate messages or stand up in support of Israel and Jews.

I feel compelled to be that voice against antisemitism. Let me share why these unfounded accusations are deeply hurtful, not only to me, but to all Jews and society at large.

One prevalent accusation circulating in the gaming community, news outlets, and popular podcasts is that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. While I've encountered this accusation before, the trauma is heightened when heard in the aftermath of the October 7th massacre perpetrated by Hamas, a U.S.-recognized terrorist organization whose official charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. To be accused of genocide, after just undergoing such a traumatic and horrific brutality by the hands of Hamas, has been so disorienting that I find myself unable to make sense of what my place is as a gamer, as a professional in the games industry, or even as a citizen of the world.

The accusation in the gaming world stems, in part, from the "Future Class open letter", of which I previously reflected upon, and is perpetuated by various gaming media outlets and influencers, leading to an unjust leap from criticisms of Israel to an unfounded accusation of genocide. There is a wide gap between criticizing Israel's policies or military approach, in which innocent civilians in Gaza have tragically been killed, to describing them as committing genocide. This is not only a tactic to distract from the true narrative of the war, but to do something far more dangerous - to erase, all together, the story of October 7th, the story of Israel, and the story of the Jewish people.

The irony here should not be lost on any moral person. When you are accused of genocide, you are a Nazi. When you are accused of genocide, you are the worst of the world. When you are accused of genocide, you are unredeemable. When you are accused of genocide, your right to exist is removed. This, whether they realize it or not, is what the members of the world call for when they call-out Israel for committing a genocide. They are delegitimizing the country and calling for Israel to be erased. This is what was so troubling to me about the "Future Class open letter" and much of the subsequent commentary on it - whether intentional or not, it is another attack to erase the events of the genocidal attack by Hamas on October 7th, to delegitimize Israel's right to exist and to call for its destruction. It's playing right into Hamas's playbook.

And let me be clear, anti-zionism is undoubtedly a form of ant-semitism. Zionism is the recognition of Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people and the right to have a Jewish state. While criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country is fair and valid, being "anti-zionist" is no longer a criticism of policy, but rather a call for the end of the Jewish state and therefore, antisemitism. On a personal note, I can tell you that my deep connection to Israel is so tightly intertwined with my spiritual upbringing and value system as a Jew. There is simply no separating one from the other.

However, does this imply that everyone in the gaming community, such as the individual (also a Future Class member) who "humorously" declared on one of the most popular gaming podcasts that he's boycotting Starbucks because the coffee chain is "pro-Israel," harbors antisemitic beliefs? I don't believe so. It's plausible to inadvertently express antisemitic sentiments without a full understanding of the implications. Interestingly, this same individual jokingly acknowledged a lack of nuance in his perspective, admitting he doesn't fully grasp the intricacies of the situation but that it does not have any bearing on his fixed negative view of Israel. Nevertheless, this lack of awareness doesn't diminish the harm caused to individuals or society.

What we observe, particularly magnified in the gaming industry and communities, is a deeper issue, one that transcends mere animosity towards Israel. In response to my outspoken zionism, I have been called a "racist" and a "colonist" within my professional groups in the gaming space. Initially, these attacks completely perplexed me. On reflection, however, I believe this speech is derived from the same energy present in the mass phenomenon, common in college campuses and city streets, of tearing down the posters of kidnapped Israelis. Why would someone do this - to tear down posters of kidnapped children? It suggests that acknowledging the humanity of Israel opens up the possibility that justice may not solely align with the Pro-Palestinian perspective. It introduces a shade of grey to a fixed belief held by individuals who so desperately need to see the world in black and white, in good versus evil, the hero versus the villain. It is ironic for this to occur so heavily in video games. As an industry we commend games that deliver compelling, complex narratives. The Last of Us Part II is one such critically acclaimed game that challenges the very notion of right and wrong, hero and villain. By no coincidence, the game was created by Neil Druckman, an Israeli-American game developer who has been one of the sole voices in the gaming industry using their platform to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people. When Druckman took the stage last week at The Game Awards, he was met with harassing attacks online, including by members of The Game Awards Future Class, criticizing the institution for giving stage time to a zionist.

Tearing down images of kidnapped babies, chanting slogans like "from the river to the sea," which itself is a genocidal slogan, calling someone who is pro-Israel a colonist or a racist, or describing the war on Hamas as a genocide against Palestinions all require erasing the humanity of the other side. It challenges the narrative that has been constructed, highlighting the complexity of the situation and the need for a more nuanced understanding to foster genuine dialogue and coexistence.

The "Future Class open letter" and its coverage, whether intentional or not, play into a destructive narrative that undermines Israel's legitimacy and echoes the goals of terrorist organizations. It's crucial to recognize the nuances of these issues and foster a gaming community that promotes understanding rather than perpetuating harmful stereotypes and narratives.

So gamers and game industry professionals alike, this is my message to you: Stand up to antisemitism. Stand up against terror. Call it out. Be the voice that the gaming industry so desperately needs. Hate of any kind has no role in my favorite pastime.

Amiad Fredman, MD



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