It is a mitzvah to ask. That is one of the core lessons I’ve picked up from my years volunteering within the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), which raises and distributes $3 billion annually for “social welfare, social services and educational needs.” JFNA has become the hub for tikkun olam in America. It is a strong voice in support of the Jewish state and a principle investor in developing future Jewish leaders and strong advocates for the State of Israel. It is also one of a plethora of such organizations headquartered outside of the Jewish State that are “pro-Israel.”
I walk on the tight rope between Gen X and Millennial.
Those of us born between the 1960s to early 1980s receive our news from more classical ways – newspapers, television, the radio, books, lectures, and learning from others more knowledgeable than us about a specific topic – whether a teacher, a parent, a friend, a tutor, a rabbi, a priest, an Imam, etc. We know what we know and we know what we don’t know. We ask questions and aspire to learn more about what interests us.
To get such information into one of these channels that served as tools for mass education required some level of editorial review. That didn’t mean that propaganda and misinformation were non-existent, but it was harder to disseminate because of the wisdom of crowds. And a bad actor spreading misinformation from one-to-one caused less damage than today’s self-publishers using contemporary channels to preach opinion as fact on social media, blogs, and the Internet. Those people are willfully lying or simply being lazy in finding facts in their journey to be educated or to be an educator. They’re not asking questions. They’re making assumptions. Worse so, these assumptions and these Web 2.0 tools are being used by a loud minority to recruit and bolster ideals of hatred and terror over ideals of brotherhood, benevolence, harmony, peace, truth, light and justice.
Those seven principles represent each candle of the B’nai B’rith menorah. Founded in 1843, in the United States by German-American immigrants, B’nai B’rith was established “to confront what Isaac Rosenbourg called ‘the deplorable condition of Jews in this, our newly adopted country.’” The organization’s founding pre-existed the current State of Israel by over 100 years and its first lodge was established in 1888 – 60 years before the War of Independence. The Children of the Covenant, B’nai B’rith, has worked to improve the state of Jewry in America and around the globe. It has been a strong supporter of Israel since its founding. Its membership ties are those of brothers and sisters. Shimon Peres recently said of it, “A Jew today is a person who ensures his grandchilden are Jewish. That is what B’nai B’rith does, and it does it very well.”
I juxtapose the Jewish Federation and B’nai B’rith work against those who are using misinformation to stage a question for this first blog post… A question about a question: when did we, as rationale members of a global community, stop asking questions?
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was first published in 1903 and – like a virus adapting to its environment – it spread anti-Semitism and misinformation in numerous languages across numerous nations to far-too-numerous of people (e.g. one would have been too many). Hitler required it to be taught in all Nazi schools. And it was taught as fact. It wasn’t. And it certainly isn’t “non-fiction”. It is lies. Wikipedia describes non-fiction as “a story based on real facts and information.” A Google search of the title of “The Protocol of the Elders of Zion” comes up with 413,000 results. And today The Protocols can be found in a mobile app, as an eBook that is available for a $0.99 download, and a soft cover copy on Amazon.com can be purchased for under $5. Cost is no longer an impediment for mass education of hatred. This is problematic.
The Internet is a democratizing tool. That is a good thing. More information is better than less information. I mentioned the wisdom of crowds earlier. I believe in it. A learn-ed person will look at sources, will listen to contrary views, and will conduct research to come to his or her own conclusions. They will listen to their peers. They will ask questions. They may even read the writings of those with dissimilar views to better equip themselves with contrary points to their argument. In politics in America we call this “opposition research.” The challenge is when a people are shielded from such contrary views – they live in a myopic state. And when a government or institution is only teaching its children lies and shielding its people from such information, they are committing censorship. See the books in most Palestinian schools.
The challenge of the Internet as a democratizing tool is that it lowers the barrier of entry for propaganda to be spread and facts to be contorted. The Protocols is available for anyone with a mobile phone where before one needed a hard copy to be handed to them. The democratization of the Internet has led to information and content to be free. That is generally a good thing. But anyone with that same mobile phone or access to any Internet connection can now source endless links that would support or contradict his or her own views (e.g. imagine how many of the 413,000 results to The Protocols propagate its lies rather than dispel them). The individual needs to know what questions to ask. If they are living in a myopia, it is easy to find supporting evidence online about misinformation. Especially when the person is going into the exercise with what they feel is the answer rather than an awareness that they may not know what they may not know. Just because one can support an answer that is incorrect doesn’t make it any more true. The world isn’t flat. That fact has been disproved. It is round. The lies in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” have been proven to be that – lies. They’re not facts. But the attempts to demonize and divest from Israel continue based on it as a source. They continue based on misinformation and propaganda.
Earlier I mentioned the plethora of Jewish organizations that claim to be pro-Israel. I often find myself reading the press statements of some of the less than mainstream ones and furthermore read the social commentary on their Facebook walls and Twitter channels. This is my own research. They’re not my opposition or Israel’s, but I see a sharp contrast to that of the messages of JFNA, B’nai B’rith, and the other mainstream organizations. In my opinion, a lot of these conversations from the peripheral groups are far from being “pro-Israel.” It is one thing to question facts. It is another to contort them or make up non-truths. They’re not asking the right questions. And what worries me about these non-mainstream groups and those that support them is pretty evident to anyone reading the commentary on their Facebook pages and Twitter channels. It is as if we all aren’t on the same team any longer. We may play in the same league – MLB, NBA, NFL, “pro-Israel” – but we’re on different teams. It shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be about my organization or yours winning the argument. It isn’t about who holds up the trophy at the end of the season or who gets to wear a ring. Our league is about supporting Israel – collectively. And that isn’t a game. It is about supporting those Israelis on the ground that face greater threats than what we could comprehend. A strong Israel is in all of our best interests. I respect these other organizations ability to have their own views and their supporters right to choose to support them, but I don’t understand why they do so. I don’t understand because of how often I see a comment on those channels start with, “I am Jewish, but…”
In the United States we face far too much rhetoric between our political parties about being un-American. One side will argue that it is un-American to not offer universal healthcare in private exchanges. The other side will argue that is un-American to force people to purchase healthcare. But we unanimously all don’t want people to be sick or die prematurely because of a lack of access to healthcare. We may disagree on these issues, but we come together to celebrate the 4th of July, enjoy fireworks, and BBQ. We also came together to support our soccer team in the World Cup. And most importantly, we all support our troops and their families’ sacrifices in protecting our freedom and our right to defend ourselves from those who want to do us harm. We may argue and disagree (strongly) publicly, but I feel we are on the same team.
When a sentence starts, “I am Jewish, but…” and concludes with a blanket statement that contradicts Israel’s right to defend itself against terror – it isn’t very Jewish. If “a Jew today is a person who ensures his grandchilden are Jewish” it isn’t very Jewish to then directly or indirectly make a statement that supports a regime whose mission uses terror as a tool and one that does not see the right for a Jewish state to thrive in coexistence with a neighboring Palestinian state. These competing organizations are certainly then not on the same team. They claim to support a two-state solution, like the Israeli government, but they ignore that a recognized terrorist organization is a part of that government. To some they may not even be aspiring to achieve the same goal.
My Jewish identity has been shaped by traveling to Israel, volunteering within the Jewish community, working for a Jewish non-profit organization, and the leadership training providing to me by the Jewish communal world – including Federation and B’nai B’rith. These experiences have helped me to ask questions rather than accept opinions and/or facts suggested to me.
I have learned that it is a mitzvah to ask. And sometimes an introspective question to oneself is the best kind of question to be asked and answered. I ask myself about how I can support Israel. I look at my Jewish faith and its grounding in Tikkun Olam. I seek how I can make the world a better place by promoting Truth and participating in Tzedakah. I Travel to Israel and make attempts to support the state from a far through volunteering my Time, my Talents, and my Treasure with the Jewish State. These are my seven Ts for supporting Israel and asking introspective questions about how I can support the Jewish State: 1) Tikkun Olam; 2) Truth; 3) Tzedakah; 4) Travel; 5) Time; 6) Talents; and 7) Treasure. It works for me. It may not work for you, but I’d encourage all those who write such Facebook comments of “I am Jewish, but…” to do more independent research and think about the first two. We are a dynamic people and through dynamism we can teach ourselves and our neighbors such truths about fixing a broken world – and beginning to fix it at home.
I may not be Israeli, but I support the Jewish State and I believe strongly in the truth that “Am yisrael chai.”
DISCLAIMER: The views in this blog expressed are those of the author and may not represent those of any of the organizations that he is affiliated personally or professionally.