Stella Ishack
Stella Ishack

An open letter to the recent graduates of Instagram University

Instagram (Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)
Instagram (Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)

I once dated someone who I only later realised was a notorious ‘gaslighter’: someone who psychologically manipulated me into doubting my own sanity, my own notion of what reality was. It was only in the posthumous wake of that relationship that I was able to discern fact from fiction, to see the ways in which someone had projected their narrative of events on to my own in order to humiliate me into accepting this as reality. Because if you try to convince your gaslighter of your own perspective, it is only twisted and thrown back at you in its disfigured form.

Though perhaps a crude comparison, the past ten days have felt a lot like that relationship for me every time I check my social media channels or step outside the house.

As the Jewish descendant of Holocaust victims, and as the granddaughter of Jews who fled persecution in Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia with only the clothes on their back, I am painfully aware of the fragility of my ethnic, cultural and religious identity in the world.

This week, as my Whatsapp groups with Jewish friends were flooded with conversations about whether we should remove our Star of David necklaces, whether we should in fact attend a public Shavuot dinner, whether it was safe for our families to walk to synagogue, I realised something. I realised that the narrative of our safety was not the popular one.

The narrative of our relentless persecution throughout the ages was not the interesting one. People were bored of hearing about the Jewish struggle for survival and acceptance. I have a friend who told me that one of her clients this week exclaimed that he was ‘tired of Jews using the Holocaust as a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-Card’.

How do you bargain with people who choose to see the fairly recent systematic murder and ethnic cleansing of Jews and your ensuing intergenerational trauma as passé?

How do you explain the deep agony it causes you to hear your painful history repeated back at you with an eye-roll and such apathy?

Last year, I wrote a piece calling for the Jewish community to speak out against racism.

To quote myself at the time, “acknowledging bias and learning is only half the battle. The other half is not treating the issue as a chance to momentarily jump on a trending bandwagon, or posting a black square in lieu of informative advocacy”. How is it, that less than a year later I am hoping for the same thing, but from my non-Jewish network – less virtue signalling, more proactive education, more allyship against prejudice – and instead am being met with a barrage of misinformation, of blame, of painful silence around the suffering of Jewish people? With a growing 438% rise in antisemitism over the past eleven days, I have only had one non-Jewish friend check in with me to see if I am keeping safe, if my family and friends currently residing in Israeli bomb shelters are safe.

One of the reasons I am alive today is because Israel took my grandfather’s family in as refugees fleeing antisemitism in Tunisia; though I have lived in Israel and experienced it first-hand, though its existence and my own are therefore interwoven, I do not pertain to be a scholar on the Israel-Palestine conflict (and therefore without a doubt, neither should anyone who has gained their contextual knowledge from social media alone).

What I do know and what I believe (like most of my Jewish network) is that both Palestinians and Israelis have a right to self-determination, to peace and to safety. I do not believe that those two things should be mutually exclusive; despite what your Instagram infographic may have told you – this is not a one-sided conflict and there is fear, loss and trauma on both sides.

I refuse to be educated by those who are treating this subject as though it is a fad or as though it can be summarised in a few lines.

I refuse to be educated by those who refuse to continue to educate themselves and who wish to step over my personal experiences in their quest for social media clout and single-minded humanitarianism.

Like an addict looking for their next high, I have repeatedly refreshed my Instagram homepage waiting to see some demonstration of allyship with Jewish people from those in the majority, to no avail.

I find it incredibly ironic that the people who claim antisemitism and anti-Zionism are two separate things, are the very same people who won’t publicly call out the current appalling global displays of antisemitism out of fear it will somehow place them in a pro-Israel camp: if that is you – how can you possibly say that the two aren’t in some way inherently connected?

And if you feel as though you cannot contextualise your support for Jewish people without mention of the current conflict, again I ask, how can you possibly claim the two are not somehow intertwined? I cannot believe that in the era of fake-news and Photoshop I am having to write this sentence, but here it goes: not everything you see on social media is real or true.

My unequivocal truth is that right now I have never been more afraid and yet (perhaps paradoxically) prouder to be a Jew.

Denying me my truth is to gaslight me, making my ancestral victimhood comparative is to gaslight me and implying that my safety or right to survive is besides the point is to ignore the point itself.

If you care about human life, advocate for peace.

About the Author
Stella currently works for an innovation foundation which brings together governments, foundations and researchers to develop and test new approaches to increase innovation and support high-growth entrepreneurship. Stella obtained a BA in English Literature from Queen Mary University of London and has previously worked at a not-for-profit organisation delivering cultural programmes in Sydney. She has also worked as a freelance figurative portrait artist.
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