Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks have become a fast and furious battlefield during this Palestinian/Israeli war, writes Nikki Temkin.
You know how it is. You meet someone at a social or a work gathering, they seem interesting so you get home, look them up on Facebook and ‘friend’ them. They ‘like’ the photos of your children and you read their status updates, wishing them better when they’ve got the flu. Or you use it to keep in touch with a dear friend in another country. Next minute they’re espousing anti-Zionist sentiment on your wall, citing Israelis as barbarians and Jews as land-grabbing thieves who massacre without conscience.
Since joining Facebook in 2008, I have yet to witness the kind of vitriol on any issue since this latest Israel/Palestinian crisis. I don’t claim to be an expert in the history of the Middle East, but because I have a vested stake in it (I am Jewish, have Israeli relatives and I am inordinately fond of the place) I have followed the historical facts since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Unfortunately, it’s become plainly obvious, while trawling the debates, timelines and feeds, that everyone has suddenly become an armchair expert. Watching a couple of news broadcasts and scanning one-sided propaganda has propelled too many to think that they know what is going on in the Middle East with no context of the history or complexity of this ongoing, longstanding issue.
Friending someone on Facebook or following them on Twitter means that you may, in all probability, never encounter them in real life. You’re granted a certain amount of anonymity when posting comments — this seems to allow many to feel that hate speech is somehow acceptable on social media. That you can say what you like without any recourse. And there’s the awesome instant gratification of having someone immediately respond. Yeeha! I had an effect, an impact! Hurrah! Someone is listening to me! These types keep on passionately posting, craving the indiscriminate validation of having their insults rebutted so they can descend into more fire and brimstone self-righteousness. Jews too. It’s just an illusion of healthy debate that usually descends into angry name-calling, labeling and pointless argument.
And all too often, behind the face of so-called anti-Zionism, is just plain and simple anti-Semitism. I realise that this might be difficult to understand if you are not Jewish so let me break it down: If you support Hamas, then you support an organisation whose sole purpose is to annihilate the state of Israel. Being anti-Zionist equates to a measure of anti-Semitism, whether you like it or not. The problem is that so many people are not actually aware of this. What’s worse is when it is an actual real-life friend or work colleague posts Hamas propaganda or sensationalist, biased reporting on their wall.
This usually results in them finding wells of sympathy for the people of Gaza (who I, too, happen to believe are mostly innocent and held to ransom by Hamas, pawns of their fundamentalist and unwavering desire to decimate Israel) and reserve nothing for the many innocent Israelis (and Palestinian Israelis), living out their days in bomb shelters while missiles rain down on them. The mainstream media, particularly in South Africa, rarely publishes anything from a Jewish point of view so it shouldn’t be surprising that so many have been hoodwinked. Then there are those who are naive enough to think that they can post something on their wall blatantly taking sides without their timeline exploding into hatred.
Much of this thoughtless posting, I’ve come to realise, is absolute obliviousness; the inability to possibly imagine that something you post might be hurtful to your Jewish friends. Frivolous posting left, right, and centre. It’s so cool to feel sorry for Gaza. So PC to hate Israel. So many perceive Israel to be the aggressor without realising that without the benefit of the Iron Dome, thousands of Israelis would be dead. That without the blockade of Gaza to begin with, thousands of Jews would be dead. That there is actually a reason for the blockade of Gaza in the first place whether you agree with it or not.
But, it would be asking for far too much for Facebookers and Tweeters to actually do some research before posting a misinformed narrative. How many people actually read an article before they post or tweet it so willingly? How many will research this war and its background thoroughly before taking a stance? Many don’t. They read a headline and retweet without a second thought. Propaganda is powerful and the internet was born for its propagation. And this is what hurts. Hurts like an arrow in the chest. That beneath the smiley, lovely, dovey rainbow nation exterior, to so many out there, it’s the perfect opportunity to jump on the Jew-bashing bandwagon. “The Jews own the press, the banks, the news… Hollywood…the world.” “They’re the Chosen People who think that they can do whatever they like.” Even, “Hitler should have killed them all.”
Would that be okay if it was a white person insulting a black man’s race? Or defending apartheid? It’s not that I was naïve enough to think that these views didn’t exist, I’m just so shocked at their extent their viciousness, the readiness to hate instead of understand, to cite Hitler, to resort to racial stereotyping, so fervently and so very indignantly. You see on social media, everyone can have an opinion. And they do. Usually uninformed. But, in my experience, there really is no point to a Facebook or Twitter debate. There is no genuine attempt to see another’s viewpoint. Minds have already been made up, the underdog must be 100% correct, citing crude fatalities of war seems to be evidence enough of who’s bad.
The truth is that very few opinions are going to be changed on social media platforms. Yet we rally, we rant, we resort to ugly dogma. Yes, we can all find articles to cite, facts to state, blogs to post that support our point of view, YouTube videos to prove that we are right. Yet, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is so much more complicated than it might seem. And context is everything when formulating a strong opinion or post and putting it out there for all to see. Please know this: I do not have to support everything the Israeli government does to be a Zionist or a Jew. I, for one, have always had a problem with Jewish settlers in the West Bank. I do not leap to blindly defending Jews or Israel.
But, I also have a major problem with the terror organisation Hamas. Also, please don’t think that I do not mourn the loss of innocent life on both sides. It’s tragic. You don’t have to be on a side to know this, to feel it. War hurts and it mostly hurts those who don’t deserve it. But please don’t call it is a genocide. It’s not a conscious effort to wipe an ethnic race off the map; 1600 lives tragically lost out of 1.816 million in Gaza is hardly genocide. And it’s not apartheid either. Do your research and you’ll realise that Hamas does not want to be a part of Israel — they have chosen to isolate themselves for historical reasons that you can read about.
Where is your Facebook outrage about Hamas launching rockets from civilian homes, schools and mosques? Where is your tweeting about them using the millions of dollars in aid (from Israel) to buy weapons rather then build schools? I ask you, where is your outpouring of sadness when it comes to Muslims killing other Muslims, hundreds of thousands, and of innocent women and children, in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Nigeria, many in Jihadist attacks? You must realise that your silence on other innocent deaths does not paint you as pro-human rights but only as anti-Israel, as Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said recently when he spoke at a conference.
The uncomfortable truth is that I’ve never been here before. I’ve never been disturbed by anti-Semitism in my environment. I have always placed myself on the periphery of the tribe, resisted any persecution complex, and done my best to tease it out of my DNA. It hasn’t been easy. Yet, now here I am. But suddenly, it’s more PC, more acceptable than ever to hate South African Jews, to demonise them. I’ve never felt less welcome in my homeland. I wish I could erase the things I’ve read on Facebook from my memory. I wish I could pretend that everyone thought Jews were okay — just to go on in blissful ignorance. I am not asking you to agree with everything I say or believe, but I am imploring you to go beyond knee-jerk religious prejudice.
My fears for Jews in South Africa are further exacerbated by the opining of someone like Jesse Duarte, who obviously has no real, holistic understanding of this conflict. But, what can we expect from a government who has always supported the PLO, whose objective was to destroy the state of Israel? This is despite, relative to our tiny South African numbers (about 67 000), the massive amount of Jews who supported and died for the struggle. Ruth First, Albie Sachs, David Webster, Helen Suzman, Nadine Gordimer, Joe Slovo; that of the 12 people arrested and tried with Madiba in the Rivonia Trial, six of them were white, and all six were Jewish – Goldberg, Bernstein, Hepple, Wolpe, Kantor and Goldreich. The list goes on and on.
Remember, you can never take your comment or your post back once it’s out there in cyberspace — it’s recorded for eternity. Perhaps it’s good, this social networking uprooting, revealing what some really think of Jews beneath the happy handshakes and perceived tolerance. Social media is cutting to the chase. Drop the cyber bomb. Unfriend. Unfollow. Yes, I know it won’t make a difference to them but at least then I won’t be inundated with uninformed, misaligned notions about Jews that spread like toxic wildfire.
I’m not that interested connecting with those jumping onto the Jewish conspiracy bandwagon or people who base their rhetoric on biased news sources without reading the other side. Mostly, I am not deleting friends because they’re anti-Semites, but because they are ignorant. The problem is that you can clean out your ‘friends’, you can even delete the offending App, toss them to the ether, but the uninformed, outraged masses still are out there in the world, in real life, just waiting for other opportunities to prove their theories about your kind right. To spread their ignorance and inappropriate outrage virally.
One thing is for sure; friendships around the world are being rapidly made and broken on this issue in the parallel reality of cyberspace. So, if there’s someone you actually care about, think carefully before you push that ‘share’ button.
Follow Nikki Temkin @NikkiTemkin
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