I am not a person who enjoys theme park rides. Years ago, I was at Sydney’s Luna Park, and against my better judgement, I went on two extreme rides, “The Spider” and “The Octopus”, both consisting of rotators that not only take all the attached cars around and around, but the car that you are sitting in spins as well. Both times I rode with friends who were squealing and laughing and laughing and whooping while I was almost lying on the car’s floor feeling like my head was being stretched vertically and my stomach was trying to escape out of my ear.
When the rides stopped, both times all I could remember was flashes of colour, not being certain if I was lying down or standing upright, and I’m pretty sure I passed out.
Since last November’s US election, when divisiveness in our Zionist community officially gained alarming traction, I’ve been feeling the same kind of disorientation. (Which, if you take a “glass half full” approach can be a good thing when you consider the price of theme park entry these days!). It’s as if our normal intra-Zionist bickering resurrected the Cretaceous Period, grew extra long and sharp teeth and became the Tyrannosaurus Rex 2.0*. Either way, it’s a scary experience.
Yes, the beast has hatched. This fearsome creature, when in its natural habitat, comes tearing after their prey in a most aggressive manner, bares those sharp teeth, and attempts to savage and beat down their victim into complete helplessness and exhaustion.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to the “Online Zionist Police”. You’ve seen them around, they are those members of our community who who have appointed themselves the grand judge and jury of “Who Is A Zionist”, and set the arbitrary, and often far-removed-from-reality, “benchmarks”
They are vigilant. They have their eyes and spies everywhere. They are brutal too when they strike, often out of nowhere. It could be someone you haven’t interacted with in a while. They will take you by surprise and excoriate you with their outrage. You will also react instinctively with a knee-jerk counter attack, and often surprise yourself with your own brutality. It’s a surreal experience, like watching yourself in a movie, and silently asking “Who ARE YOU?”.
Now, I know you’ll be tempted to think that the Online Zionist Police are people of a certain political affiliation. “Yep, that’s typical of right wingers”. Or, “Oh, I know all about those leftist snowflakes”. Trust me you’d be wrong, because they come from both extremes. And sometimes from the not-so-extreme. Ironically, they are for similar reasons, and those reasons stem from some kind of trauma.
Examples of this reflexive, overreactive defence mechanism behaviour include:
- Jumping to conclusions about a person’s affiliation with Israel based on a positive or negative post or comment about a politician or public figure outside Israel, even when said observation is fairly innocuous and not related to foreign policy, reacting angrily to even humorous comments about said public figure. The worst part of this is the extrapolation, straw man arguments and insane, Olympic level logical gymnastics that lead to accusations and assumptions about people’s loyalties and motivations. An example of this would be someone’s open support for a liberal politician evoking the following chain of logic: “This person is a liberal, therefore left leaning, there is a lot of hate for Israel coming from the left, therefore this person is unequivocally anti-Israel”. Or, “This person didn’t agree with the US’s invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan under George W. Bush, therefore they are anti war, and Israel is at war, therefore they are anti Israel”. In extreme cases this leads to oversensitivity, unfriending and blocking, or leaving online groups based on inflated generalisations about its members.
- Going on the offence as a means of defence, paranoia leading to reading into things that have not actually been said based on the history of the person who said it, or one misplaced word; “putting words into people’s mouths”, leading to personal attacks (and counter attacks) or snarky comments aimed at total strangers.
- Declaring cyber war on people seen as opponents of their own ideologies by shaming and “trashing” them in online groups, usually by way of posting screenshots of posts or comments they have made, while mocking them ruthlessly. Alternatively, attempting to cause division between friends, as a means of testing out people’s allegiances, by showing screenshots of what their friends have said or which comments they have liked on other pages.
- Refusing to click on or read articles from specific publications just because some of the articles go against one’s general political beliefs or personal Zionism (even when there is diversity of both in said publication).
So, why is this happening? What happened to us? This goes beyond our usual bickering, this has become blind hatred that should be reserved for our real enemies. When it happens to me personally, I get a mental image of snapping teeth, a feeling of being reprimanded and screamed at, faces foaming at the mouth in fury in self righteous outrage, and even being poked in the chest. Forget prehistoric creatures, a better comparison would be the contorted fury of Sydney drivers in a fit of peak hour (read: any hour), road rage, or even more fearsome, private school mothers who unleash their wrath on people they believe have jumped in front of them in the pickup/drop off queue. (Hey, it was an honest mistake, ok? Wasn’t my fault you were daydreaming, making me think you you were just parked there…).
We boast about Israel being a democratic country, yet we can’t seem to tolerate pluralism among ourselves as Zionists. Why?
Here are some of my thoughts.
The post U.S. election tension has not gone away. People are feeling disoriented, questioning the status quo and generally looking for answers in a firestorm of confusion. This in itself is enough to create the kind of anxiety that brings out the worst in people. However those people who are more inclined to be set in their opinions regardless of the political climate, are observing those who are actively questioning their affiliations as a means of making some sort of sense out of the confusion. In turn they may feel that their friends are betraying them because they are no longer the “safe” and predictable friends who see the world in the exact way as they always have. For some Zionists the uncertainty leads to a feeling of paranoia that their friends may turn anti-Zionist.
Conversely, those Zionists who are questioning themselves can start to feel smothered by the paranoia, or by the rigid world views held by their more conservative and cautious peers, causing them to lose patience and dismiss them as stubborn right wingers. And so the cracks start to become apparent, and people start to polarise.
Also, one thing Zionists have in common is that we think of Israel as family. And one thing we Jews are good at is maintaining strong family bonds and closeness. I am of course referring to actual Zionists, and not counting those who feign smarmy “caring” about Israel as a cover for being happy to feed it to the wolves, by one sided appeasement. Nor am I counting those who have abandoned affiliation with Israel altogether.
Some of us will put family members on a pedestal, and will fight like a tiger for their honour, even when they have erred (as all humans do). And on the other extreme, some will take on a more “parental” attitude, in that they are less afraid to point out flaws, but still do it with the best of intentions. Sometimes drawing attention to foibles is done in good humour, the way one would with an embarrassing but well intentioned cousin who one would still not trade for the world, because those quirks just add to their character.
But we are an argumentative and touchy bunch, and one misplaced or ill timed word about Israel puts you right in the way of the voracious theropod. So, how do we get around this?
Well, as much as I hate being Captain Obvious here, it’s about communication. But there’s one even more important thing, we need compassion. As the Jewish people, this has been a fundamental link to our survival. Compassion is a sign of strength, yet it appears we are showing it to everyone except to each other. We will give the benefit of the doubt to our favoured politicians, why can’t we do this with our fellow Zionists? Why are we so joyfully willing to believe the worst about those who have a different, but still loving, voice for Israel? We are are not made up of only Kahanists and J-Streeters. The political spectrum has plenty of room in between. We are a complex people. We can’t be defined in binary terms. We have always been at the forefront of critical thinking, which evolved from our tradition of Talmudic interpretation and analysis. And not only did we invent the word “nudnik”, we are the epitome of it!
So the most compassionate thing we can do is be a little more patient and a little less reactive with each other, even if it means agreeing to disagree. Remember when I said that most of our most brutal verbal attacks come from a place of trauma and hurt? Well, unless you are communicating with an obvious troll, keep this in mind when exchanging comments online. Keep in mind that there is a person on the other end with a family, a history and a set of unique experiences that they have been struggling to make sense out of, and may sometimes be off target in this respect.
So, the next time you notice a more hawkish person appearing hardline in their attitudes, and quite prickly online, perhaps its because they’ve heard “Go back to Germany and Poland where you belong” one too many times by antisemites and those who take smug pleasure in tormenting Israel supporters under the thin guise of “social justice advocacy”. Or perhaps they are feeling jaded and traumatised by a few too many “criticisms of Israel” in the form of “Hitler left some of you around so that the world will understand why the Nazis did what they did”.
Timing is important too, for example, when an act of terror has been committed against Israel, it’s not the appropriate time to lecture other Zionists about flaws in Israel’s policy, even if it doesn’t relate to the tragedy that just occurred. This is akin to going to a funeral and pointing out the deceased’s family members’ conflicts or individual character flaws, while they are grieving. Decorum makes a huge difference.
Conversely, the next time you come across someone with more dovish ideas, as strongly opinionated as they may be, don’t jump down their throats with accusations of self hatred, anti-Zionism, or wanting to destroy Israel. Take what they say at face value, try to assume good intent, even if it does sound idealistic and naive. Chances are they too have been hurt and traumatised, they may just adjust differently. Some people keep their sanity with unbreakable optimism (Yes, I’m “that” Pollyanna). After all, wasn’t it sheer persistent hope and optimism that ultimately led to the founding of the Jewish state, and the resettling of our tribes from around the globe?
And remember, people’s behaviour can be very different online, sadly, often to their detriment. Those Zionists who I have been privileged to meet in person, or have always known in real life, are among the kindest, most generous, most compassionate people you could know, regardless of political affiliation.
Save the brutality for the actual online trolls, or fake profiles set up to torment, threaten and cause psychological pain to others. Better yet, don’t give them the reaction they want, instead report them immediately, preferably to the authorities if possible.
Remember, that despite our ferocious reactions and stronghold on our own viewpoints coming from a primal survival instinct, unlike those prehistoric creatures, we are evolved, educated, intelligent and wise.
And maybe, just maybe, we will regain our balance and stop spinning out of control.
* The author promises to try not to get inspiration for her blogs during school holiday outings, particularly when there is a narrow window between entering the dinosaur exhibition and being rushed out to the gift shop by impatient kids!