On Activism, Slacktivism and Zionism

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has stood at the forefront of scientific research. To many, Israel is still synonymous with innovation be it in the field of medicine, computing or agriculture. Yet it is possible that Israel’s crowing achievement lies not in the laboratories of Teva pharmaceuticals but in the offices of the Whitman Company which in 1957 coined the term Krembo and begun mass production of Israel’s most beloved candy. A strange combination of an Oreo cookie, marshmallow and chewing gum, the Krembo has become wildly popular both in Israel and around the world.  And no two Israelis eat the Krembo in the same manner. Some begin with the biscuit at the base and work their way up while others separate between the base and the chocolate covered dome or even squash the dome onto the base and create a sandwich.

While I have always known that Israelis love their Krembo, it was only last week that I learned what some are willing to do in order to put their hands on one. I was sitting outside the Social Sciences Faculty building at Tel Aviv University when I saw two members of “Im Tirtzu”, a student organization and self proclaimed second Zionist revolution, set up a booth on which they piled boxes of vanilla and mocha flavored Krembos. During the break, students stormed the booth asking for the treat. “I’ll give you a Krembo if you ‘Like’ Im Tirtzu on Facebook” replied the booth manager. “Sure. No problem. Now give me my Krembo!” was the immediate response by the student body. But the members of Im Tirtzu demanded to witness the transaction. So the students took out their Smartphones, ‘Liked’ Im Tirtzu and got their prize.

By the time the break was over, the second Zionist revolution had received some 100 ‘likes’.

Like most activist organizations, Im Tirtzu understands that online social networks have become an important platform by which they can further their cause. Facebook may serve as a tool for increasing the number of activists in an organization, getting one’s message across to a wide audience and, most importantly, demonstrating the wide support the organization enjoys. At the moment, Im Tirtzu’s Facebook profile has received some thirty three thousand likes.

However, the question is not whether Facebook can rally the troops, but whether Facebook can mobilize the troops. As I watched the endless parade of Krembo eaters at Tel Aviv University, I heard one female student tell the other “I just got a Krembo for ‘Liking’ Im Tirtzu. Who are they anyway?” Another one said “I can’t believe I just ‘Liked’ Im Tirtzu” to which her friend replied “who cares… no one looks at it anyway”.

This brings up the age old question of Activism versus Slacktivism. Slacktivism means ‘Liking’ Im Tirtzu’s Facebook profile. Activism means picketing outside the class of a University Professor labeled by the second Zionist revolution as a menace to society. Assessing the scope of Im Tirtzu’s support is of paramount importance as this organization is currently taking an active role in drawing the boundaries of the discourse permitted within the Israeli academia.

In a recent Op-Ed published on Tuesday in the Haaretz newspaper, prominent US attorney Allan Dershowitz spoke out against the American Studies Association call to boycott Israeli academic institutions which, according to Dershowitz, “boast a higher level of academic freedom than almost any country in the world”.

This depiction of the Israeli academia may have been true several years ago, before organizations like Im Tirtzu begun cultivating a mentality of obedience amongst Israeli academics as well as a fear of expulsion. So called Zionist organizations now routinely label Israeli academics as Post Zionists and portray them as a danger to the cohesion of Israeli society. Academics that wish to practice Dershowitz’s high level of academic freedom, and dare question the beliefs and norms of Israeli society, are targeted by right wing activists on social networks, picketed against on university campuses and soon find themselves warned by their own academic institutions not to test the water.

This mentality of fear has no place in the academia, a place which like Emanuel Kant “dares to think”. In Israeli academic institutions, there are those who dare to think that the Zionist movement has achieved its goal, the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel, and can therefore be disband. Others dare to think that the establishment of Israel was accompanied by a mass expulsion of Palestinians while some think that Jews may be better of living in Canada than in Jerusalem.  Should organizations like Im Tirzu have their way, daring to think will soon be equivalent to heresy.

If Im Tirtzu truly has over thirty thousand supports and willing activists, than Dershowitz’s vision of the Israeli academia is no longer relevant. Yet if Im Tirtzu has five thousand activists and twenty five thousand Krembo aficionados then we may still dare to think and by doing so may dare to live in a thriving Israeli society.

About the Author
Dr. Ilan Manor (PhD Oxford University) is a diplomacy scholar at Tel Aviv University. Manor's recent book, The Digitalization of Diplomacy, explores how digital technologies have reshaped diplomatic practices. Manor has contributed to several publications including The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward. According to his Twitter bio, Manor is the inventor of the ashtray. He blogs at