His Facebook name uses a combination of words stemming from Irish Gaelic that mean “proud” and “exile.” He claims to be a veteran and has referred to being court-martialed in his past. And he’s one of the most anti-Semitic individuals with a presence on the web; his comments, which have appeared on sites ranging from Haaretz to Ynetnews to our very own Times of Israel, have touted everything from Holocaust denial to the support of violence against Jews. In other words, he’s a bigot of the lowest order, attracted to news stories about Israel and the Jewish people that are posted on Facebook, though he rarely, if ever, seems to read them—instead, he prefers to respond to people who provide their own opinions on these articles … oftentimes expressing his thoughts in an abusive, insulting manner.
I’ve read through many of these comments and frequently have reported them to Facebook, with some success; the site, thankfully, has removed quite a bit of content that he has posted and has even slapped him with bans from commenting further. Still, these bans are temporary measures, and although they presumably aim to incite self-reflection on the hate speech disseminated, they more likely appear to foster a determination in the individuals who perpetuate such bigotry to continue to post inflammatory texts when they return from their exile … or even beforehand in the form of fake accounts that have been created to circumvent their bans.
“Trolling,” you say? Yes—this behavior is exactly that. A regular, near-daily presence on the Facebook pages of Israeli newspapers, our “proud exile” engages in this activity with vigor and seems to relish the plethora of angry rejoinders that follow his invective, while his comebacks, written in stilted prose, are generally in the form of personal attacks that mask his own prejudice with accusations and self-righteousness. Indeed, this individual has such a firm belief in his own virtuousness that he sees nothing wrong with bragging about it on these sites; he is his own greatest advocate and doesn’t hesitate to blame others for their faults … which, in general, originate from some presumed inherent problem with their religion and culture: Judaism and Jewishness, the things he hates most.
What is the reason behind such vitriol? Why would anyone spend so much time flinging hate speech at total strangers on the page of a major media outlet? He’s not affecting decisions of policy in Israel or even editorial at the publications themselves. He’s not changing the opinions of those he disagrees with. He’s merely promoting animosity, even indulging in it. Why?
Understanding the motivations of individuals such as these is difficult without discussing them with the very people who are guilty of this behavior. One thing that’s certain is that this is an angry, bitter man who has a lot of time on his hands and finds himself marginalized by society. He sees the forums on Facebook as places where he can vent, fight back at the folks he believes have wronged him, voice his fury. He is frightened of actually doing something to build bridges between parties, scared of taking action with an organization or professional who can rationalize his ramblings, help him comprehend what’s really behind his hostility. He’s afraid of himself and takes it out on the Facebook pages of Israeli newspapers. He is, quite obviously, very disturbed.
My question is: Should we ignore him? I haven’t been able to do so and am even writing about him in this blog post, so he’s definitely made an impact of some sort—if just a negative one. I’m sure many people just brush him off, dismiss his comments as racist nonsense, put him on the back burner. That’s probably why he continues to rage on the Internet, because he’s so disenfranchised. It’s the only place he can go to say what he feels.
But I’m wondering if ignoring types like these is the wrong path to follow. Someone like our “proud exile” certainly needs a kind of intervention to help him in some way; he’s a damaged person and should have someone to talk to on a one-to-one basis. Not that I’m condoning his behavior—oh, no … his comments on Facebook are virulently anti-Semitic, harmful, unhealthy and foster an antagonistic atmosphere. Yet I do believe that this individual could benefit from some serious therapy, professional assistance that could delve into his mind and find some way to heal it while engendering a more positive attitude toward the Jews he so despises. Someone should take steps to reach out to this man. Someone should suggest a route that could provide him with the answers he requires.
I’ve thought about doing it myself, though I admit I’ve had misgivings about the process. On Facebook, where strangers communicate with strangers all the time, I’ve been afraid of tackling the notion of reaching out with anything other than a mild comment made in response to a post about someone’s pets or birthday celebration. Perhaps our “proud exile” warrants such an outreach. He definitely could use it. What could I provide him in terms of help? Suggestions of professionals in his area? Challenges to his mode of thinking, coupled with emotional support? Would he open to it? Would he be accepting?
A person like this is not alone in the world; he isn’t the only anti-Semite to exist in this universe, nor is he the only person to post offensive comments on the Internet. Still, there’s a good chance that he feels alone, that his expressions of anti-Semitism on the web are merely a front for the loneliness and feelings of dissatisfaction that permeate him, alienate him from society. I’m not sure I would be the right person to talk to him, but someone definitely should. Is this “proud exile” too evil to be helped? Is he not human enough, despite all his character defects, to be guided to a better psychological place?
For now, I’m still in the process of deciding that. Perhaps others could think about that, too. For this man is not just one person in the world; he’s myriad. And we can’t cure him by ignoring him—we can’t cure the disease of anti-Semitism or any other hate speech by dismissing it. We have to address it somehow, in some way.
Let’s start soon. The more we wait, the worse this illness will fester. That means there will be more people in exile, just like this individual, waiting for assistance, waiting for recognition, expressing themselves in bigotry, not open-mindedness, and never able to find a balm for their internal suffering.
It’s up to us to give them that balm, I know it. We just have to find a way to do it.
I assure you, we can’t wait too long.