How I got hacked by ‘Free Palestine’

Last week, I was away from my phone for 45 minutes. I came out of exercise class to find 75 WhatsApp messages saying things like “Why is your parsha group called Free Palestine?!” and “I think you’ve been hacked!” My heart was still beating fast from step class and this was not slowing it down. No longer was I a mere Torah teacher and writer. Anti-Israel hackers had turned me and my WhatsApp group into (virtual) soldiers of Israel, fighting to advocate for Israel on social media, our newest battleground.

A little more background: For the past few years I have been sending out weekly parsha thoughts (aka “Power Parsha”), which often contain pro-Israel messages or relate to life in Israel. While I am relatively tech-savvy and made myself the sole admin of my WhatsApp group, it turns out there is also an additional, not-so-smart default setting on WhatsApp, which is set to allow anyone to be able to change the group’s info.

Our “friend” with a +20 area code (Hello Egypt) took advantage of this and joined the group and changed the name to “Free Palestine” and the photo to a Palestinian flag.

While a few nervous readers left the group, a bunch of media savvy others changed the name to block the +20 number and the photo to Am Yisrael Chai! They were my heroines that morning. Seriously speaking, I was pretty shaken up. I was upset yet somewhat comforted to see I was not alone in this sort of attack, as Miriam Peretz’ Facebook page was also targeted by pro-Palestinian messages this past week.

My 2 major takeaways from this unpleasant experience were:

1) Today, we all have a role to play in the social media battle for Israel’s image and soul. We mustn’t be pulled down into the mudslinging on social media. Yet, with some basic training in this area, you can still take a stand in protecting and advocating for Israel online.

2) Instead of making me more fearful, this experience made me more brave. I often share proud Zionist messages in my power parsha writing. This invasion and manipulation of my WhatsApp group combined with the distressing scenes around Israel, has only motivated me to write more about our beautiful country and share these thoughts with the world.

So thank you +20. We will turn your attack on my WhatsApp group into a reminder that today we can all be (Virtual) IDF Soldiers. Am Yisrael Chai!

This week more than ever, if you know anyone who would like to join the groups, please share this link:

About the Author
Karen Miller Jackson is a Morah l'Halakha, Jewish educator and writer, living in Ra'anana, Israel. She teaches and studies at Matan HaSharon and is the creator of Power Parsha, a short weekly whatsapp dvar Torah. Currently, Karen is a Matan Kitvuni Fellow, writing a book on Talmud Berakhot. She is the host of the Eden Center podcast: "Women & Wellbeing" and she runs Kivun l'Sherut, a guidance program for girls before sherut leumi/army service. Karen is a board member of Kolech - Religious Women's Forum.
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