Israel is a nation of addicts. News addicts. It’s been that way since the establishment of the state in 1948. Prior to the internet, life in Israel came to a screeching halt for five minutes every hour of every day while Israelis stopped whatever they were doing to listen to the news. That gave everyone 55 minutes to discuss whatever was going on with their personal armchair politicians and faux international relations experts before the next news update.
From the very beginning it seemed that Israelis understood that they had to keep an eye on world events as they pertained to their country. It was important to be on the “right” side. Israel needed media wins. The best part of Israelis’ collective news readiness was that you could strike up a conversation with a stranger on the street, yell and scream at each other, then with a superficial hug, walk away as friends. Most Israelis were ready for a debate any time they found someone willing to engage them! The Bezeq repair person at the corner of your street, your cab driver, the person in front of you at the falafel stand. Almost everyone had a PhD-level degree in International Affairs from the University of Radio News.
In recent years, this national addiction has changed as a result of smartphones and 24/7 social media. Today, platforms like TikTok, Instagram, X and Facebook call the shots. Now you don’t have to wait for the top of the hour to find out what’s going on. All you have to do is open the internet icon on your phone and slip down any wormhole while searching for a piece of information.
Instant news also means that every kook with an outrageous message can present their point-of-view on some platform and other like-minded people will find it and share it. They don’t have to know what they are talking about. They don’t have to do any genuine research. They don’t need to cite their sources. And they can spread misinformation without being held accountable, unlike traditional media who require legitimate sources for their content. The volume of visitors on these ad hoc sites is massive and they are used to manipulating the minds of poorly informed, idealistic young people. Welcome to the world of conspiracy theories, aliens and AI presented by people and possibly governments who are often more interested in causing disruption than providing information. If you have the technical skills you can cause havoc by connecting to impressionable minds who are always on the lookout for the next woke issue.
How else can you explain groups like Queers for Palestine? Toddlers for Hamas? Strippers for Intifada?
Either way, the bottom line is the same: Israelis have always needed to feel like we were on top of whatever was going on. Otherwise, how could we formulate our opinions on any number of topics? The irony today is that very few people are interested in Israeli opinions. The Israeli perspective is less popular than ever. Non-Israelis think they know Israel better than Israel knows itself.
With infinite access to information on the internet comes infinite responsibility. However, even the well-intentioned surfers can’t always tell what is real and what is fake. The information you find online may not be accurate or real, but if you read it and it aligns with your personal beliefs then it becomes factual to you. To paraphrase American political strategist Lee Atwater, your perception becomes your reality. No need for further analysis or, heaven forbid, an academic degree, because what good is a degree, if someone without one, can speak with authority to their 80 million followers on Instagram?
It makes you pine for the pre-smartphone days when you had a much better chance of finding real information. Eventually Israel will win this war but it won’t matter because Hamas and its millions and millions of supporters worldwide will twist the narrative into a message that makes just enough sense to its supporters that Israel will appear to be the loser. In the past, history was written by the victors; It had nothing to do with the facts but rather with the winners’ interpretation of what occurred. Today it is slightly different. History is written by whichever side has the best messaging. It still doesn’t matter what really happened; it matters who presented it best.