Two weeks into the horrific war between Israel and Hamas, the state of online discourse has descended from “generally bad and stupid” to “unfathomably dumb and borderline dangerous.” Case in point: recent allegations that environmental activist Greta Thunberg, after posting a “Stand with Gaza” sign and demanding a ceasefire, was actually posting a Nazi dogwhistle. Later, the official X account for the Israeli government piled on, too.
On Friday, Thunberg posted a photo on social media of her holding a “Stand with Gaza” sign accompanied by other activists holding similar pro-Palestinian messaging. The caption on her post on X read, “Today we strike in solidarity with Palestine and Gaza. The world needs to speak up and call for an immediate ceasefire, justice and freedom for Palestinians and all civilians affected.” In the original post, she was seen with a light-blue stuffed octopus on her shoulder.
Predictably, many criticized her post for failing to condemn the terrorist group Hamas’s Oct. 7 surprise on Israel, which left at least 1,400 people dead, many of whom were civilians. Perhaps less predictably, however, others focused on the octopus, interpreting it to be a kraken, a mythical, multi-tentacled sea beast that was occasionally used in Nazi iconography.
“What does the Kraken next to you on the couch mean @GretaThunberg?,” one account with more than 1,000 retweets wrote. “The Kraken was, and is, a well-known sign of the Nazis for the anti-semitic term international finance judaism.” The post included an image from a 1938 Nazi propaganda cartoon showing a person as an octopus whose tentacles are encircling the globe, with a Star of David over their head. (The image appears to be depicting Winston Churchill, who was not Jewish — but to be fair, the Mogen David over the octopus’s head doesn’t indicate the artist had warm and generous feelings toward Jews.)
In a follow-up tweet, Thunberg, who is autistic, clarified that the plush octopus on her shoulder was not a reference to a (frankly, somewhat historically obscure) anti-Semitic canard, but to a common toy used by neurodivergent people to express their feelings. “It has come to my knowledge that the stuffed animal shown in my earlier post can be interpreted as a symbol for antisemitism, which I was completely unaware of,” she wrote. “The toy in the picture is a tool often used by autistic people as a way to communicate feelings. We are of course against any type of discrimination, and condemn antisemitism in all forms and shapes. This is non-negotiable. That is why I deleted the last post.”
This explanation did not, however, prevent the state of Israel’s official Twitter account from calling out Thunberg for her post. “@GretaThunberg, Hamas doesn’t use sustainable materials for their rockets which have BUTCHERED innocent Israelis,” the post reads. “The victims of the Hamas massacre could have been your friends. Speak up.” The post contained images of missing Israelis such as Agam Berger, Nik Beizer, and Roni Eshel, who are all 19.
Of course, Thunberg was not making a point about whether Hamas’s munitions manufacturing practices are green-compliant; she was calling for a ceasefire to prevent more people from being killed, a position that is shared by many peace groups all over the world.