By Claudia Mendoza, Head Of Policy & Research, Jewish Leadership Council
‘You can remove bigots on Facebook, but it’s not so easy to remove hate from the real world’
Facebook is a funny thing. Over the years I have collected scores of ‘friends’; actual friends, friends of friends, long-lost cousins, professional acquaintances and
colleagues. I started trying to be exclusive but always felt awkward allowing ‘friend requests’ to remain pending.
An average snapshot of my Facebook feed consists of people (we have now acknowledged they are not all friends) updating their status. But since Operation Protective Edge was launched in Gaza in response to Hamas rocket fire into Israel, Facebook has been completely transformed.
My newsfeed has become saturated with statuses, pictures, articles and rants about the conflict, and this from people I have never seen post on anything more consequential than The X Factor. I have a mosaic of ‘friends’ from all walks of life and the bluster and venting is coming from all directions.
It is healthy to read different viewpoints as it makes for a much more nuanced approach to what is a very emotive conflict. I long ago did away with commenting and getting embroiled in lengthy discussions over issues as fraught as the Middle East. Instead, I employ the ‘like’ function as a helpful and non-confrontational way of agreeing with a post.
I encourage debate, but I no longer have the time or inclination in what essentially always becomes a slanging match and – if you’re lucky, ends in a “let’s agree to disagree, this doesn’t change our friendship, peace/shalom/salaam” – until the next time, that is. This said, for the first time in years I felt compelled to intervene on someone’s status.
So shocking this was, it was followed by a prompt ‘unfriending’, the Facebook equivalent of ending diplomatic relations. My tolerance for the hostility towards the state of Israel has increased exponentially over the years – and thank God for that, judging by the venom out there – but my intolerance of anti-Semitism or, indeed, any racism has not waned.
The post in question came from an old college friend. Unlike my X Factor friends, he seems to become active on Facebook only when there is a crisis involving the Jewish State. Lots of bile, lots of propaganda, and then the post – a video from a white supremacist and KKK member, lambasting the Jews for their control of the world.
I asked if he knew the person he had linked to was KKK and if it made him think twice about posting. He apologised feebly but then asked if I could actually dispute anything in the video. Unfriend, unfriend! But this is bigger than social media and I should be grateful I have had to experience this hatred only through the medium of a computer screen.
Anti-Semites far and wide are using the conflict as a pretext to attack Jews. For the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy to issue a joint statement condemning anti-Semitism at pro Palestinian demonstrations bears testimony to the scale of hostility towards us.
During this conflict, eight synagogues have been attacked in France and the levels of anti-Semitism recorded have risen in the UK, France and Germany. A synagogue has been attacked in Belfast, twice, a bomb threat made against a pro-Israel organisation in London, Jewish people have been abused and threatened on the streets, and for a brief time, the hash tag #HitlerWasRight was trending on Twitter.
More than 100 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported to the Community Security Trust this month, most related directly to the conflict. I would like to ask these people: how do you hope to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians by attacking Jews? Are these people pro-Palestinian or are they just opportunistic anti-Semites looking for a legitimate cause in which to shroud themselves?
By all means, let’s invoke our democratic right to freedom of speech and have a debate about the rights and wrongs of Israel, but using the Israeli state’s actions to punish Jews is reprehensible. While it remains an easy solution to ‘unfriend’ the bigots on social media, sadly, it is not quite as easy to remove the hatred from the real world.