I’ve been reading a lot of stories in the blogosphere and social media status updates about people losing friends over their support for Israel. One story after another of surprise, disbelief, disappointment and hurt. And the stories keep on coming.
Let me tell you about one of my experiences.
I had a very strongly opinionated friend. I’ll call her Jade (obviously not her real name). Well, technically, more of an acquaintance who I occasionally saw socially and with whom I got along really well, despite her being incredibly talkative and opinionated (read “like a the shelling of a machine gun in direct competition a noisy gaggle of geese”).
Anyway Jade claimed to have had a Jewish grandfather on her mother’s side. To be honest, I was unclear on how much Judaism featured in her upbringing, other than her brother having been barmitzvahed and her referring to her grandfather as “Saba”. I also understood that in recent years Jade was trying to reconnect with her Jewish identity, not so much religiously but by culture and tradition.
In mid December 2014, our hometown of Sydney was shaken up by a hostage situation in its central business district. Known as the “Sydney Siege“, a terroristic gunman took 18 hostages in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place. The 16-hour nightmare ended with the death of two hostages.
In the days that followed, Martin Place, which chillingly is also home to the Sydney Cenotaph and the dawn services held to honour our fallen soldiers, was covered in wreaths of flowers in tribute to the two victims. Jade was among those who lovingly laid a wreath.
Then some three weeks later, the Charlie Hebdo shooting occurred on 7 January 2015, followed two days later by the attack in the Hyper Cacher supermarket where four victims, who just happened to be a “random bunch of folks” and who just happened to be there at the wrong time, of course (*cough, cough*).
Fast forward six months, and Jade started inexplicably posting anti-Israel stuff on her Facebook timeline. Now to be honest, I was a virgin to this situation. Online anti-Zionism and the occasional comment from strangers in face to face situations? I’d faced plenty of that. But from someone I was actually friendly with in person? I was stunned, even knowing how aggressively opinionated she could be.
Now, I get that even the smartest people are human, they can get suckered in by emotional narrative and sensationalist images on television and on the Internet. I’m not immune to it, I know that. And so do propagandists. In the months that followed the above mentioned attacks, so did the backlash against targeting Muslims. For example, the famous-turned-infamous #IllRideWithYou campaign that accompanied the Sydney siege. To which incidentally, Jade had been among those who later expressed their cynicism over the campaign that was revealed to have been based on a hoax story.
Still, I maintained online composure as I refuted some of the claims being made by Jade, as did my sister. I was polite, stuck to facts and was careful not to embarrass her. After all, engaging in political discussions with friends is already treading a fine line. I expected her usual bluntness. I expected a heated debate. What I did not expect was the reaction of a woman possessed.
Initially, Jade revealed that when she was growing up, she’d been turned against Arabs by her grandparents. Now I can certainly understand her feeling ashamed about her prejudices and wanting to pursue a more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I would even have understood a temporary, overcompensatory leaning towards the Palestinian narrative. She continuously urged me to read “The General’s Son” by Miko Peled. She became enamoured of Naomi Wolf’s acute hostility towards Israel. But what bothered me the most was that she was gleaning her “information” mostly from propaganda memes. And from discussion threads on Facebook pages that were hostile to Israel and the Western world in general. Predictably this included 9/11 “truthers”, the “Israel Invented ISIS”-ers and other groups that have a strict dress code of tin foil hats.
Jade’s conscientious fury against a country she had neither visited nor even taken any interest in until recently was bizarre, but even more so was her white hot rage reaction against me for defending Israel. It was like she was trying to physically eviscerate me with her words. She accused me of suggesting that she “wasn’t well read” (I did nothing of the sort, all I did was recommend some more balanced sources). Her propensity for sparing my feelings, despite herself, out of respect for me up until now, was replaced by profanities, an abusive tone, lots of capitalised words (because SHOUTING always gives an article MORE CREDIBILITY, doesn’t it?), being told “my views are MY business NOT yours” (Umm…..then why post them up on your Facebook profile?), and finally to “stop banging on about (my) Hamas s$&t”.
In the end, Jade unfriended me, despite the fact that I’d given up discussing politics on her Facebook timeline. My guess was she’d become part of the backlash against the reprehensible and growing hostility towards all Muslims due to local and overseas terror, by violent cult members whose twisted sociopathy dared claim their acts in the name of that same religion. Perhaps she was tainted by the guilt of prejudice inherited from her grandparents and overcompensated by replacing her original bigotry with an opposing bigotry. Maybe it was some kind of self-punishment metered out in order to exorcise herself. (Or maybe she’s just plain arrogant and can’t bear the idea of someone proving her “wrong”). Who knows?.
I do know this: people never cease to amaze me with their irrationality. We are living in a time where people no longer read, they react. Nobody will even properly read a status update more than ten words, let alone a full article. They read headlines and think they are “informed”. I work with kids, and I’ve even noticed that when they play music on their iPads, they’ll play about five seconds of a song, rewind it and play that bit over and over. Then they’ll move onto the next song and do the same.
Has social media caused or simply accentuated these short attention spans? Will this “channel surfing” behaviour serve to propagate more and more hatred and bigotry? Will intellectual laziness become a social more?
As for Jade, well, it’s been a year since I’ve had any contact with her. I’ve no idea whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still even a concern for her, or whether she’s joined the next “cause du jour”. I wonder how she responded to last year’s terror attacks in Paris? Or the Brussels Airport bombing this year? Was she moved by the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting? Or did she finally fall down that rabbit hole of believing that these events were “just another Zionist conspiracy to make Muslims look bad”?
And finally, as Jade is a mother of teenagers, I wonder how she would have reacted to the stabbing of Hallel Yaffa Ariel (may her name and memory be for a blessing). Would she see this innocent thirteen year old girl as like her own daughter? Would she express the same outrage at this senseless slaughter – and the praise of this act by the terrorist’s mother – as she did a year ago about Israel’s “war crimes”?
Or would she just tell people to “stop banging on” about terrorism?