David Benger
David Benger

The Extraordinary Catharsis of The InTeaFada

Twitter is not the real world, and often what transpires within the confines of that website is of no consequence. But on Monday, March 1st, Twitter played host to what I am labeling the InTeaFada. The InTeaFada was an uncoordinated, spontaneous satirical campaign by a group of Zionist Twitter users who were sick of the disingenuous slogans and the dishonest discourse ceaselessly leveled at people who simply support the state of Israel’s existence. They took the United Kingdom, a nation whose “right to exist” is universally beyond question, and leveled all of the rhetoric traditionally spewed at Israel, against the UK. It was, in essence, performance art.

I should note that I mean no disrespect to the victims of terror when I use the term InTeaFada, just as the person who initially coined the term does not. Indeed, these reflections come from a place of great respect to the many lives lost to the true violent intifadas and other terrorist attacks carried out against the Jewish people. These tweets were written with the intention of shining a light on the inexcusable brutality of lionizing murderers like Leila Khaled and Ahlam Tamimi.

Now, back to Twitter.

The lampooning began when the BBC, in their infinite wisdom, decided to host a panel on whether the Jews of the United Kingdom, who constitute less than .5% of the British population, should be categorized as an ethnic minority. The debate, it must be noted, included only one Jewish panelist among the five. As news of the panel began to spread through JTwitter (the nickname for the group of Twitter users who use the site to discuss issues primarily related to Jewish life), frustration began to mount. Eventually, Blake Flayton, an outspoken voice on antisemitism in progressive circles, retweeted a screenshot of the panel with the comment, “Britain does not have a ‘right’ to exist, actually,” a frustrated allusion to antisemitic accusations that Israel does not have a right to exist.

After Blake’s Tweet, a Twitter user with the handle @elikohn3 swiftly doubled down on the joke. She wrote: “Yes, it is time we quest[ion] Britain’s right to exist. I think not, and I think anyone who disagrees with me is a horrible person that supports any bad thing Britain has ever done. And harassing British students all over America is an essential part of dismantling the British project.”

At this point I should say to the reader: If you are confused by the reference @elikohn3 is making with her text, and have not seen rhetoric like this directed toward Jewish students (Israeli or not) on university campuses across the world, I envy you. Rest assured, those of us who are closer to these discussions recognized the vitriol @elikohn3 was parodying right away. After the Tweet above, the idea of using the UK as a backdrop for depicting a satirized version of widespread anti-Israel rhetoric, went viral.

Here are just a few selected examples:

And, of course, the eponymous InTeaFada joke, a portmanteau of “intifada” and “Boston Tea Party”:

It is difficult to quantify the reach of this spontaneous unplanned flash mob of satire, but there were dozens and dozens of posts, shared by accounts with tens of thousands of followers. It is fair to say that a reasonable chunk of the self-described JTwitter community who logged on to the Twitter website that day saw at least a few tweets on the subject of “dismantling the Britainist project,” a play on the calls to dismantle the “Zionist project.”

For those following along, many of these elicited true belly laughs. But, of course, as all good occasions of humor do, this too came from a place of immense pain and sadness. It was a small act of radical defiance against the coordinated campaign by groups like Jewish Voices for Peace, If Not Now, and Hamas to threaten Jewish survival.

For example, interspersed with the laughs was news of an outrageous statement by Professor Marc Lamont Hill, co-author of the new book, “Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics.” Professor Hill, of Temple University, amplified an ancient antisemitic conspiracy about an omnipotent Jewish cabal. He explained the conspiracy as if he meant to debunk the theory, but instead doubled down on the theory and argued that, in fact, the cabal could be defeated. In other words, rather than dismissing the Protocols of The Elders of Zion as incendiary hogwash, he reassures his listeners that in fact, The Elders are simply not as omnipotent as they are portrayed. Indeed, they can be defeated, if only we work hard enough. Chilling.

As I closed my laptop to power down for the night, I was grateful to the many denizens of JTwitter who riffed on each other’s creativity. my thoughts turned to (admittedly very hyperbolic) parallels. I thought of great works of literature composed in defiance of authoritarian regimes: “The Master and Margarita,” for example. I thought also of Sholem Asch’s play, “God of Vengeance,” staged in a Nazi ghetto attic, as depicted in Paula Vogel’s “Indecent.”

Why did my mind go there? Well, the jokes on InTeaFada Day were silly, but there was an edge of panic to them. This was not the relaxed, casual sneering of an empowered group punching down. This was a humor of fear and desperation, and the catharsis that came from laughing at the joke Tweets was absolute because the fear is all-encompassing for so many of us. Arguably, this is nothing new for Jewish humor (or Jewishness, in general). I have heard it said that ceaseless awareness of our own mortality is an inimitable Jewish characteristic. Alongside our history books, there is nothing more Jewish than knowing how cheaply history has valued our blood.

But good satire, which, in my view, this was, not only makes the audience laugh, but it brings normally opaque truths into sharper focus. In this case, the ridiculous attacks hurled at the legitimacy of Britain’s existence helped to remind the observer how hopeless is the cause of those who are hellbent on dismantling The State of Israel. At the end of the day, they don’t stand a chance.

Indeed, the back and forth brought to mind an apt parallel I once heard between the discussion over Israel’s existence and that of a young couple contemplating having children. It was apocryphally attributed to Natan Sharansky, but I do not know whether it was truly his. The idea is simply that it is normal and, indeed, appropriate and encouraged for a young couple contemplating having children to discuss whether they should have children now, later, or even at all.

So too were the debates in pre-war Europe about the intellectual merits and demerits of Zionism appropriate. Antizionism was an acceptable stance to have when Zionism was but an aspirational, theoretical idea. But once the child is born, it is downright ghoulish to continue the discussion about the relative merit of having a child. So too with the creation of the State of Israel. It exists now. The discussion is over. Antizionism is no longer a legitimate position. To be an antizionist today is to call for Jewish blood.

If ever there were a legitimate debate to be had on whether Israel had a “right to exist,” that debate was put to bed on May 14, 1948 when the State was declared independent. Today, we ought not think of Zionism or antizionism. Zion is no longer an ism. Zion simply is.

In conclusion, Here’s to dismantling those who seek to dismantle us. Am Israel Chai. All Hail Brittania!

About the Author
David is a research fellow at Harvard University, and a publishing Adjunct at The MirYam Institute. He is a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served as the chapter president of Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law, and the Events Chair of the HLS Alliance for Israel, as well as an editor on the Journal of Law and Public Policy and the HLS National Security Journal. Previously, he was a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he studied international relations with a focus on international law and Israel-China relations. He received his BA summa cum laude in Politics and Russian Studies from Brandeis University. Please follow him on Twitter at @David_Benger
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