A rabbi who ‘talks to Christians’ condemned them on Twitter. It made him lose his job

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JTA — Over a decade, Rabbi Michael Harvey built a reputation for himself as a Jewish spiritual leader who spoke freely and openly to Christians.

In addition to his day job as a pastor at Indiana University Health, the Hebrew Union College graduate produces a YouTube series called “Teach Me Judaism,” delivers lectures on Judaism throughout the Midwest, and hosts podcasts and a series of shows with a local episcopal pastor called “A Priest. and a Rabbi Walks to the Bar.”

In a previous congregational role in the US Virgin Islands, he founded the Caribbean Interreligious Council, and he even has a book published — “Let’s Talk: A Rabbi Speaks to Christians.”

All of them made a series of posts from Harvey’s Twitter account last week, soon after the leak of a draft Supreme Court ruling that would overturn the Roe v. Wade, what a surprise.

“Time for war,” wrote one post. “To our mothers, sisters and daughters. We will not stand by and let a group of white Christians turn America into the Dark Ages again. Not this time.”

Another was sent the same night, which Harvey says he didn’t write about, was even more explicit.

“F–k Christians and their never-ending imperialistic, nationalistic, fascist patriarchy that puts people’s lives at risk [sic] and don’t give out what people or science say,” it reads, in unedited profanity. “Shame on everyone holding the cross. Your 2,000 years of genocide continues tonight.”

What followed was a case study on Twitter 2022, filled with political activism, trolls, and the constant possibility that one wrong move could have grave consequences.

Several of Harvey’s liberal supporters, both Jewish and Christian, expressed support for his message. But the post has also sparked outrage, including from antisemitic angles on the Internet circulating it as evidence that Harvey fits into their hateful conspiracy theory about Jews conspiring to attack Christians.

Over the next few days, Harvey apologized for my “furious tweet,” saying it was “inappropriate,” while also letting his followers know he had been hacked. He later retweeted a series of violent threats made against him.

Eventually she deactivated her Twitter account, which has 6,000 followers, and left her job at IU Health.

“Well, it’s a mess,” Harvey told JTA.

The whole story may seem foreign to people who don’t spend much time on Twitter, where enemies are occasionally made and careers ruined over one inflammatory post. But hacking of prominent Twitter accounts is a relatively common scourge. Sometimes hackers will masquerade as their targets to deceive their followers, as was the case in 2020 where many of the world’s largest Twitter accounts, including Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Kanye West, and Bill Gates, were hacked to try to deceive followers. them to send Bitcoins to violators.

Twitter app on digital devices, April 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Lower-profile figures have also had their Twitter accounts hacked and imitated, including British writer Radhika Sanghani and The Atlantic editor Jacob Stern.

According to Harvey’s account, that’s exactly what happened last week. He said he sent out one badly-worded tweet around the same time he was targeted by an online Christian extremist group, which has angered him over what he says is an “accumulation” of past Twitter threads pointing to a historic example of antisemitism. Christian. The combination, he said, created the perfect storm.

Harvey was responsible for one of the tweets: the one that started, “Time for war.” He had sent it on the evening of May 2, the night the draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked.

It was a moment, he said, of “righteous outrage” at a legal opinion he said was heavily influenced by “this small group of white Christians, evangelical Christians.” The tweet, he argues, makes more sense in the context of his usual rhetoric, which includes Twitter threads about Christian support for the Holocaust and other difficult historical topics.

“That is appreciated by my followers, because they understand me as a person,” says Harvey. “When I say, ‘Let’s go to war,’ I mean[t] organizing, marching, legislating, advocating — all legal channels through which we can fight for social justice.”

After posting the tweet, Harvey said, he went to bed—and woke up the next morning with a message from work asking him to explain a different, profane tweet. This one, he insists, he didn’t send himself.

Instead, he said, a group of white nationalists and so-called “traditional Catholics,” who promote an antisemitic ideology that labels Jews as the eternal enemy of Christianity, have organized popular websites with online trolls, including 4Chan, in an attempt to crush it. reputation. (Radical traditionalist Catholics are perhaps the largest antisemitic movement in the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups; their theology is rejected by the Catholic Church.)

They had used his first tweet as an opportunity to hack into his account later that same evening and posted a more insidious one, deliberately written to be as close to his usual style as possible while adding obscenities: the hackers had done their “research” into how I tweet ,” said Harvey.

Since Harvey deactivated his account, it was difficult to verify his timeline. 4Chan doesn’t keep an archive of its posts, and threads rarely stay active on the site for more than a few days. Additionally, various screenshots of the offending tweet have been circulating on social media, with different timestamps, some of which appear to indicate that his more profane tweet was sent before the one he took.

The inconsistencies suggest that some of the images have been falsified, and many screenshots were circulated by white nationalists and traditional Catholics who used the images to petition Harvey’s institutions, including his publishers, to disengage from them.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk arrive on the red carpet for the Axel Springer media awards even in Berlin on December 1, 2020. (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Many of Harvey’s supporters have also backed his defense, criticizing Twitter for failing to take tougher action against the so-called troll campaign and people sharing antisemitic material. Their criticism reflects longstanding criticism of the platform that has been increasingly at stake since the company announced last month that Elon Musk, the serial billionaire and world’s richest person, would be its owner.

Twitter insiders told Wired magazine that they feared the entry of bots and hate speech under Musk’s ownership. On Friday, Musk said he was delaying his acquisition pending an investigation into bots on the site.

Harvey said all the negative attention bothered his employer, and he volunteered to resign as pastor so IU Health wouldn’t get caught up in the controversy.

An IU Health spokesperson confirmed to JTA that Harvey is no longer working there but would not comment on the circumstances of his departure.

Harvey apologized for the wording of his “war” tweet, but not for the sentiment he expressed about conservative Christians being the main organizers behind Roe’s possible end. He noted that “progressive Christians” continue to support him and understand the true meaning of his message.

As someone who spends most of his time debunking Christian myths about Judaism that can play a role in antisemitic stereotypes, the rabbi regrets that the tweet he wrote was one of them.

“Unbeknownst to me, there seems to be antisemitic trope about the Jews starting a race war,” he said. The metaphor is often used by those affiliated with the Defense League of the Goyim, an increasingly visible and active white supremacist movement that organizes public protests and distributes antisemitic literature in Jewish areas.

Illustration: A sign bearing the slogan, ‘Honk if you know the Jews want a race war’ placed on an overpass on route I-405 in Los Angeles by Jon Minadeo Jr. of the Defense League of the Goyim. (Siamak Kordestani/Twitter via JTA)

Harvey’s supporters still believe that his teachings remain of great benefit to Jews and Christians, although some hope he chooses to state things differently.

“If I saw that tweet in a different context, and Mike and I were getting together, I would be like, ‘Mike, I hope you don’t put it that way,’” Bradley Pace, local Episcopal pastor. who co-hosted the “Rabbi and Priest” event with Harvey, told JTA.

Pace said he had not read the tweets himself but knew that Harvey had recently been targeted by white supremacists online and accepted his explanation that one of them was posted as the result of a hack.

However, he added, Harvey’s work on building interfaith relations should outweigh the ominous tweets he sent: “He has a record of work here in the community that I will stand against whatever he may say on Twitter.”

Harvey often takes the lead in interfaith issues that arise in their Indiana community, Pace said. He recalled how, when the two men were joint congregation leaders in West Lafayette, Harvey had organized a response to a spate of vandalism at a local Unitarian Universalist church.

Pace even wrote a description for Harvey’s upcoming book, saying that reading it had made him a better Christian. The book’s publisher, Fortress Press, backed Harvey and stuck to a July release date.

Harvey said he plans to return to Twitter in a few weeks, in part to help promote his book; he also said he had spoken to the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League about being targeted online.

There’s a silver lining: As a result of the controversy, pre-orders for the book skyrocketed. “Let’s Talk: A Rabbi Speaks to Christians” is currently Amazon’s #1 bestseller in the Christian Ecumenism category.

“Apparently,” said Harvey, “there was no bad press.”

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