The Telegraph, BBC and Metro were among the many news outlets which published reports on a feel good story last week about a Muslim woman, Zakia Belkhiri, defiantly standing up to supporters of a racist political party in Belgium. Belkhiri took this now iconic selfie – which went viral on social media – in front of protesters who held signs reading “No headscarves,” “No mosques,” and “Stop Islam.”
The 22-year old told the BBC, in response to the attention she received because of the photo, that she just wanted “to share joy and peace” and “to show that things can be different…and that we can live together, not next to each other but with each other”.
A pro-peace, anti-racist response to right-wing extremists – what’s not to like?
However, evidence soon emerged definitively contradicting the media narrative. In 2012, it was revealed, Belkhiri tweeted the following:
“Hitler didn’t kill all the Jews, he left some,” read one. “So we [would] know why he was killing them.”
A 2014 Facebook post attributed to Belkhiri said:
“F—ing Jews, I hate them so much.”
Belkhiri responded with a bizarre explanation for the comments, suggesting that she was referring to “Zionists”, not Jews.
Since these antisemitic social media comments by Belkhiri and her subsequent reply were revealed, several news outlets based in the UK either updated their stories or published new reports noting what BBC Trending characterized as the “not so pleasant postscript”.
However, notable was the manner in which Vox – an online news site founded by liberal commentator Ezra Klein – updated its original story (written by Emily Crockett), titled ‘This young Muslim woman brilliantly countered an anti-Muslim woman with selfies’, with several new paragraphs:
Here’s the first paragraph of Crockett’s update:
But of course, with virality comes increased scrutiny. Within days, screenshots of an offensive tweet Belkhiri apparently sent in 2012 (reading “Hitler didn’t kill all the jews, he left some. So we [would] know why he was killing them”) began circulating, and getting coverage particularly from right-wing and anti-Muslim media sources.
However, as we noted in a tweet to the Vox reporter, news of the virulent antisemitic comments were reported by many mainstream and left-wing news outlets as well – including BBC and Haaretz. Moreover, why does the Vox reporter think that it’s important to note coverage to the revelations of Belkhiri’s antisemitism in the right-wing and anti-Muslim media? Instances of anti-Jewish racism would, by definition, certainly seem to represent topics of interest to left-wing, anti-racist and self-described ‘progressive’ media outlets.
Belkhiri, who had already been tweeting about wanting to be left alone by the media before her tweet resurfaced, briefly deactivated her Twitter account. Then she reactivated it to tweet an apology: “my opinion many years ago was meant on the zionist back then, that spread hate instead of love so to all the other jews peace be upon you!” Later, she tweeted an image in English and Dutch of a more detailed, multi-paragraph apology to the Jewish community, before deactivating her account again.
However, characterizing Belkhiri’s response – alleging she was expressing hatred towards ‘just’ Zionists, and not Jews – an “apology” (Crockett originally called it a “heartfelt” apology, before removing that term in a subsequent revision) strains credulity. Are we really to believe that when Belkhiri wrote “Hitler didn’t kill all the Jews, he left some…so we [would] know why he was killing them”, she really meant “Hitler didn’t kill all the Zionists, he left some…so we [would] know why he was killing them”? And, when she wrote “”F—ing Jews, I hate them so much”, she meant to write “F—ing Zionists, I hate them so much”?
Further, does Belkhiri – or anyone sympathetic to her “apology” – really believe that it’s somehow acceptable to ‘merely’ hate “Zionists” (rather than “Jews”) and to praise the mass murder of “Zionists” (rather than “Jews”)?
Note here how the Vox reporter actually seems more concerned with the potential “Islamophobic” impact of reports on Belkhiri’s comments, rather than the antisemitic impact of Belkhiri’s messages praising Hitler and expressing hatred towards Jews.
Crockett’s contextualization avoids reaching the natural conclusion that Belkhiri is clearly not an ‘anti-racist’ as such, and her “peace-selfie” was certainly not motivated by anything resembling truly progressive principles.
Revelations about Belkhiri’s extreme antisemitism shouldn’t merely represent a ‘postscript’ to original accounts of her ‘brave anti-racism activism’. They change the entire story.