I Love LeftTube. But Where Are The Jews?
In true Gen Z fashion, one of the most important events of my life happened online. It was deep COVID, so the Internet was my escape, and the same mysterious video kept popping up in my YouTube feed: Men, by some channel called Contrapoints. The thumbnail showed nothing but a woman in a big black hat gazing at the camera. Its mystery made it inevitable that I would watch it. That video - a thorough analysis of the modern state of masculinity from a feminist and anti-capitalist perspective, complete with costume changes and biting irony - was my gateway drug to LeftTube.
As you might guess from the name, LeftTube, this is an unofficial group of YouTubers who make left-wing content on everything from anarchist ecology to trans liberation to the animated series She-Ra. While LeftTube originally emerged to counteract online radicalization to the right, many channels now focus on bringing leftist ideas to a more liberal or centrist mainstream, or further developing leftist discourse online - all with the Internet's typical ironic, edgy, ambiguous sense of humor. The dominant format is the video essay: long-form, thoroughly researched discussions of a particular topic. LeftTube is also known as BreadTube, a somewhat self-mocking reference to the famous anarcho-communist Pyotr Kropotkin’s magnum opus The Conquest of Bread.
LeftTube was one of the key ingredients in developing my political outlook. It was a typical story of Internet radicalization, but to the left instead of the right. It introduced me to anarchism, communism, socialism, abolition, radical democracy, modern feminism, and much more. It set me on a committed path of activism and community organizing. It taught me to question everything I had been taught. I realized that many more of my friends and classmates were watching Contrapoints or ThoughtSlime or CJ the X than I thought, and we bonded over our shared beliefs. The critical thinking I gained from LeftTube also gave me a lens to look at the steady flow of antisemitism I was experiencing and articulate my Jewish identity not just as one that was cultural or religious, but also political. I felt like my mind was truly alive for the first time.
For all this I am grateful, and I still count myself as an active LeftTube watcher. Yet the perspectives I gained from LeftTube led me to formulate a major criticism of it: the palpable lack of any Jewish voices on LeftTube.
To be sure, LeftTube has been repeatedly criticized for its lack of diversity. Early creators were overwhelmingly white. However, over the past few years, new waves of creators have entered the space, and though there’s still a long way to go in many areas, LeftTube’s diversity along race, class, gender, and nationality lines has vastly improved. Yet I still can’t name a single explicitly Jewish LeftTuber.
Even aside from the lack of Jewish LeftTubers, Jewish issues aren’t often covered in LeftTube videos either. Most creators carefully sidestep any discussion of Israel and Palestine, and while they may dive into any and all contemporary social trends, I have yet to see any videos focusing on the rise of antisemitism, even through the low-hanging fruit of a pop culture issue, such as Kanye’s antisemitic comments last year. Abigail Thorn, who runs the well-established channel PhilosophyTube, posted a video in 2020 about antisemitism, and noted that she co-wrote it carefully with Jewish writers. The video is overall excellent, but I still found myself incredibly frustrated at points. It lacks the personal touch and self-deprecating humor that characterizes most LeftTube videos, since Thorn herself isn’t Jewish, and as the only video essay on LeftTube solely about antisemitism it has since developed a hegemonic authority that could have been balanced by a wider array of voices.
Diversity and representation are always important, but in this case I think Jewish representation on LeftTube is a particularly salient issue. If people - Jewish or not - want to have generative discussions about the dynamics of antisemitism on the left, they must be able to identify, understand, and combat this prejudice, especially as it relates to Israel and Palestine. Furthermore, Jews have an incredibly rich tradition of critical debate, storytelling, humor, political action, and solidarity with many movements for change, all characteristics which LeftTube and contemporary American leftist spaces could benefit from. We need the perspectives of Jewish people as we consider many issues of interest to LeftTube: the nature of whiteness and assimilation, the experience of religion under capitalism, reproductive justice, statism and diaspora, and so much more.
The question, of course, is why there isn’t more Jewish representation on LeftTube already. Jewish people are certainly not underrepresented on the left as a whole. In fact, the opposite is true. There certainly isn’t a lack of demand for Jewish videos either. Two video essays on Jewish topics by the gamer Jacob Geller collectively have 2.1 million views.
I believe it’s a multifaceted issue. First of all, online harassment can be brutal even for the most privileged - just ask several LeftTubers who have quit or had to go into psychological treatment due to the intense online harassment they received. This issue is even worse for those with a marginalized identity. In particular, it can be frankly terrifying to bring your full Jewishness online, where antisemitism often abounds. While much of this vitriol comes from the right, as I noted above, the left can be inhospitable to Jews, especially those who try to talk about their Jewishness. It’s notable too that the only Jew-ish LeftTubers I can think of are all men, even though LeftTube as a whole has a fairly even gender balance. Women are notoriously vulnerable to harassment online, and those who dare to speak out for leftist politics especially so: Anita Sarkeesian, Lindsay Ellis, and Natalie Wynn are all excellent examples of the incredibly damaging and dangerous effects of this. In combination with the widespread nature of antisemitism online, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be a female Jewish voice on LeftTube.
Yet the current situation is also harmful to Jews: either our concerns are completely ignored, or they are misrepresented and tokenized. It might sound silly to the uninitiated, but LeftTube is important for many people like me, for the way it acts as a focal point in current leftist discourse, and for the way it sets the standard for leftist culture among younger generations. And just as early LeftTubers fought right-wing talking points, Jewish LeftTubers can counteract conservative Jewish voices like Ben and Abby Shapiro. While the online environment needs to change, Jewish people also need to step up and bring Jewish perspectives to LeftTube. No one can do that except for us.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.