I am deeply saddened that the terrible situation in Israel and Gaza has continued into another week. Along with continued fighting on the ground and in the air, there is continued fighting online. And along with the continued fighting online, there are continued questions about the etiquette and effectiveness of the so-called “social media war.”
Here are some of the questions I’ve gotten in the past week and my attempts at answers, acknowledging that someone out there will argue with whatever I say. Also, in order to avoid the inevitable lambasting that I know would follow, I’m not going to link to any posts in this column besides what I wrote about the conflict last week . That appropriately brings me to the first question:
1) As someone who is well-known in the Jewish community, don’t you feel a responsibility to share your politics?
No. I feel tempted to share my politics, but that is not the same thing. Through my own Facebook wall, I have attempted to ask neutral questions to get people talking about how people talk about the conflict without bringing up specific political points. I posted one article that I thought was neutral and enlightening. Even when I asked people to respond only through personal messages, a long online conversation followed which, notably, accused me of posting something and calling it neutral when actually it was biased. I hope that as a leader in the Jewish community I can set an example of how to be respectful, but that’s the extent of how much I’m willing to involve my own beliefs in a public forum.
2) I want to introduce friends and colleagues outside of the U.S. to other perspectives when it comes to Israel than they may be hearing in their local media. How can I do this without posting anything controversial that could threaten my own career?
Perhaps you could post something like this on Facebook: “To my friends who are hearing only about how terrible the Israelis are, I want you to know that there are many other perspectives and sides to this situation. If you're curious, I would be very happy to share some articles and to discuss in person or through private messages." You're avoiding publicly saying anything too specific, but you're letting people know that you oppose one-sided coverage.
3) I saw a community leader post something that I consider to be flat-out racist. Should I call the person out for this type of comment?
This type of situation is best handled through a private message. You could say, “I know that a lot of people look to you for guidance, and I’m bothered by the tone in your recent comment. There are so many problematic aspects to the current conflict, and I would hope that we can agree not to complicate matters through hateful speech. If I’ve misinterpreted what you said, I’m sorry, and I’d love to know your goal in posting that comment.”
4) I am tempted to respond to a Facebook thread that I find really offensive, but I don’t know any of the people who are part of the conversation. Should I get involved?
Online forums are seductive because they give a false sense of importance. People respond, so they must be reading what you write. If they respond, they must be thinking about the issues. If they’re thinking about it, maybe their minds can be changed. Right? Wrong. While a few people this week have pointed out instances to me in which someone has changed his or her mind after reading something online, it’s very rare, so I don’t think it’s worth the heartache, especially with people you don’t know. If you have very thick skin and an endless amount of time on your hands, go for it, but beware the rabbit hole.
5) So if I shouldn't get involved in forums, what should I do? Seriously, what should I do?
Use your best judgment and resources to determine a way to respond to the conflict that feels true to your beliefs and values. Look at whatever Jewish and non-Jewish news sources you typically consult and follow links. Read critically. Look at sources you don’t typically read, too, and look for discrepancies. See if there are opinions you hold that may be worth questioning. Ask friends you trust how they are responding. Ask friends in Israel what daily life is like for them. Try to do the same about daily life in Gaza. Ask why, a lot. Ask people who have different political beliefs from your own how they are responding and how members of their various communities are responding. You will probably end up with more reading material than you could ever get to and, unless you are so firm in your beliefs that your opinions are unalterable, you will probably end up frustrated and confused. Though I’m not sharing links here, I am happy to suggest some reading material to people privately, so feel free to get in touch.
6) But really, what are your thoughts on the conflict?
I have been told, more than once over the past week, “But I know you must be on my side.” I don’t really know what it means to take sides right now. In my heart, I have to believe that even people who are saying things that I consider to be truly awful are saying these things out of a deep frustration and ultimate desire for peace. Naïve, perhaps, but I can’t let myself believe that ultimately people prefer war to peace.
I'll share the one comment I’ve made on Facebook that received the most positive response — not because I think it’s above criticism, as nothing seems to be these days — but because it’s the best I can do: I believe it is possible (and preferable!) to be pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace all at the same time.