Holding Antisemites Accountable.

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Former Clevelander’s Goal – StopAntisemitism

Liora Rez didn’t set out to become the first female founder of a watchdog organization devoted to exposing antisemitism.

As the founder and executive director of StopAntisemitism, she leads a watchdog organization devoted to exposing hatred of Jews through digital platforms in what she calls “an umbrella of unity.”

While her parents and grandparents experienced state-sponsored discrimination and antisemitism prior to her birth in the former Soviet Union, she had a childhood free from antisemitism in Greater Cleveland.

Rez was a new stay-at-home mother looking to expand her horizons, when she first discovered Instagram in 2012.

“Nobody knew what Instagram was,” Rez told the Cleveland Jewish News Jan. 13. “I found it completely by accident. And I started sharing just content about my daily life. And I started building up a small following. And then in 2014, when Operation Protective Edge happened with the Israeli Gaza conflict, my following on Instagram blew up.”

Her Instagram handle was Jewish Chick. She said the number of her followers grew from 500 to 5,000, and then ballooned to 15,000 and finally 25,000. Then the branding deals started flowing in as did partnerships with Jewish organizations.

“So this by-accident Instagram page, after a few years grew to a full-time business,” Rez said.

Starting in 2016, Rez began to notice a pattern. When her branding partners began reposting her work, “it would get bombarded with the most horrific antisemitic comments,” she said.

In 2017, she approached “a few of the legacy organizations regarding the horrific rate of antisemitism I was seeing.”

She said a few of those organizations told her things like, “social media isn’t real. It stays online.”

Fast forward to today.

“Besides social media being literally one of the main communication methods from everyone from 10 years old to 85 years old, we clearly see that online hatred very, very easily manifests into real life, physical violence,” Rez said.

Rez decided to expose the antisemitism she and others were experiencing online – in an online format.

“One of the biggest frustrations that I had was, whenever an antisemitic incident occurred – what happened – the victim was always publicized,” she said. “The attacker, the perpetrator’s name and face, were often hidden. The punishments were often hidden.”

Rez said she wanted to know about the motivation of the perpetrators as well as their punishment – if there was one.

“I wanted to take a more proactive and transparent approach,” she said.

She launched StopAntisemitism in October 2018.

It exposes those that espouse hatred and threats against the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

“And three weeks later the Tree of Life … synagogue shooting happened,” she said, referring to the Pittsburgh massacre. “And because we already had that social media stronghold, our growth just exploded. … So the timing of it is just so bittersweet because you have this tragedy, and it propelled us really into a spotlight that we never would have thought would have occurred that quickly.”

According to its website, “StopAntisemitism works to hold antisemites accountable and creates consequences for their bigoted actions by exposing the threat that they present to all Americans. Antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem but rather that of a civilized society because as history has shown us what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews.”

StopAntisemitism features antisemites of the week and of the year on its website and social media channels. It also creates reports, including a 2021 report highlighting antisemitism in corporate America.

It has launched petitions demanding the University of California terminate a professor, calling on the U.S. Department of Education and Georgia State University “to keep terror-affiliated Council on American-Islamic Relations off U.S. campuses,” and calling on then-U.S. Attorney William Barr to investigate CAIR’s ties to Congress.

Its 2020 annual report notes that Matthew Slatzer, who was photographed carrying a sign with a rat and a six-pointed star that said “The Real Plague” at a Columbus protest, had his YouTube channel removed and that “he continues to be monitored by the FBI.”

It also noted the firing of two Little Caesar’s employees in Cleveland, who placed pepperoni on a pizza in the shape of a swastika.

Since its founding in 2018, StopAntisemitism’s growth has been “exponential,” Rez said.

Its 2020 annual report said it was reaching millions of people on a monthly basis, including a 30-day average of 1.71 million on Instagram, 5.27 million on Twitter and 100,000 visits to its website. The report said it received 355,000 Facebook hits in a 28-day day and its Antisemite of the Week was going out to 50,000 subscribers every Sunday.

Rez was born in the former Soviet Union. To escape religious persecution and what she called “the horrors of socialism,” her family was sponsored by an uncle to come to Cleveland by way of Italy, where they lived for six months prior.

The train from Lithuania to Rome was guarded by soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces, because in 1973, the Palestine Liberation Organization hijacked a train full of Soviet Jews.

Aboard the Rez’s train, an IDF soldier gave her older brother a toy soldier.

“I just remember this one particular soldier trying to make my brother smile,” Rez said.

She said she remembers a feeling of unease about leaving her first home.

Rez credited Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland with helping her family settle in Greater Cleveland, including with job placement for her parents.

“They found an apartment for us,” she said. “They provided furniture for us. They provided our first car for us. And during that first year, while my father was a very established engineer, they assisted with as much as they could.”

In addition, she said Rabbi Zalman Kazen, spiritual leader of Zemech Zedech Congregation and Chabad in Cleveland, and his wife, Rebbetzin Shula Kazen, were also exceedingly helpful.

They approached her parents about enrolling Rez at Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights. She went to Unger’s Kosher Bakery and Food daily after school.

She has fond memories of her days at Hebrew Academy, calling it a “warm, loving environment.”

“They were just so welcoming and nonjudgmental about our lack of understanding of Torah and everything,” she said. “We were non-religious whatsoever. However, like nearly every single Soviet (Jewish) household, we were ardent Zionists. So it was a bit of a religious culture shock.”

She graduated from Laurel School in Shaker Heights. Afterward, she studied neuroscience at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and completed her MBA at Cleveland State University.

Rez settled in Greater Cleveland with her husband and family prior to settling outside of New York City in 2012.

“So with our amazingly dedicated social media audience, we slowly started becoming the go-to place to submit antisemitic episodes,” Rez said. “So on social media and utilizing the power of social media, we reach millions on a monthly basis, and often are fed original submissions of antisemitism.”

Rez said StopAntisemitism has received some false accusations. And it makes a point of vetting for accuracy and authenticity. However, in the two times when mistakes were made, StopAntisemitism issued immediate clarification.

As she looks to the future, Rez said she hopes to expand her team and to add a legal department, specifically to be able to pursue Title VI complaints under the Office for Civil Rights, dealing with antisemitism on campus.

COVID-19 has put a damper on traditional fundraising efforts through in-person events, so that expansion isn’t happening as fast as Rez would like.

“Antisemitism on college campuses is spreading like wildfire,” she said. “The law’s on our side. Jews are protected under various statutes.”

In the wake of rising antisemitism, Rez said her organization has a role to play.

“We investigate,” she said. “We contact press. We contact employers and schools of those committing antisemitism, and we make sure that there is accountability for those that perpetuate hate against the Jewish people.”