Nick Lieber

The reality of my viral Bahrain selfie

Yes, that's me but I'm no journalist, I wasn't at the Kushner workshop, and I have a message of peace for the Arab world

We’ve read a lot about fake news over the past few years, and last week, I had the surreal experience of becoming the subject of it. For a few days, my face was splashed across traditional and social media throughout the Arab world after somebody dug up an old picture of me and spread the rumor that I was an Israeli journalist in the Kingdom of Bahrain to cover Jared Kushner’s Peace to Prosperity workshop.

While the picture itself was genuine, it was shared out of context. I am not a journalist, nor was I in Bahrain for the workshop, even though Daoud Kuttab wrote in Al-Monitor that “the single image that captured the normalization issue was an Israeli journalist’s selfie with his passport outside the offices of the Bahrain society against normalization in Manama.”

My selfie, which was taken several months before the workshop, features me in Manama, Bahrain, holding up my Israeli passport in front of the Bahraini Society Against Normalization with the Zionist Enemy. I found it incredibly funny, and it struck a nerve throughout the whole region.

I have no idea who started the rumor and put the photo on its path to virality, but I first became aware of it Tuesday morning, when I received some weird Facebook notifications that there were people posting photos that might include me. I checked out the photos, which did indeed include me, and found it odd that strangers were posting it. But it’s a funny picture whether you know me or not, so I let it go and went on with my day.

Shortly thereafter, I received a message from a journalist based in Jerusalem who wanted to let me know that my picture was making the rounds on Palestinian social media. From that moment on, the picture was absolutely everywhere. My friends from all across the region – in Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere – started writing to me, trying to figure out why I was all over their Facebook feeds.

A Yemeni site accuses me of “ridiculing Bahrainis.”

I was prominently featured on news sites throughout the Middle East, along with headlines saying that I, the alleged Israeli journalist, was ridiculing and mocking Bahrain. I was even featured in publications closely associated with the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah and its sponsor, the government of Iran.

And it gets better. The people at the anti-normalization society decided to publish a video of them literally mopping the spot where I once stood, in order to wash away the stain of Zionism I left behind, which caused the photo to make the rounds again.

It’s definitely possible that this is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to me, but it was also quite sad. When I originally shared that picture, I didn’t do so in order to mock Bahrainis or Arabs, and it was sad to watch as millions of people took it that way without being able to do anything about it. I shared the photo in order to make the point that this mentality of enemies belongs in the past, and that it’s time for all of us – Israelis, Palestinians, Bahrainis, and people from all around the region – to work together to build a brighter future for all of us.

It was also sad that I became the face of a conference that’s widely perceived as a bribe, trying to pressure Palestinians to give up their right to statehood in return for economic benefits. Although the participating Arab countries have clearly stated that they are not abandoning their demand for a creation of a Palestinian state – to the dismay of Bibi Netanyahu and his ilk – that is how it’s been largely regarded on the Arab street.

Just to set the record straight, I believe that the only way forward, the only truly just resolution, and the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, is to come to an agreement that allows both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples their right to self-determination; in other words, the two-state solution.

Unlike Bibi, I accept that chances for normalized relations with the Arab World are extremely remote in the absence of a meaningful agreement with the Palestinians. But I believe that wider dialogue between Israel and the Arab countries can only help us move closer to a meaningful agreement. If only the Arab countries had shown a greater willingness to engage with Israel decades ago, we may not have found ourselves in the mess we’re in today.

But times have changed, and for a number of reasons, including geopolitics and the process of liberalization many Arab countries are slowly going through, there’s a greater willingness among both the Arab governments and peoples to engage with Israel. And all Israelis have a part to play in furthering this dialogue.

It is in that spirit that I will continue traveling to Arab and Muslim countries as often as I can, meeting people and making connections that can help us on our path to peace. Despite the hate directed at me on social media when my picture made the rounds last week, I’ve only only been treated well in the Arab countries I’ve gone to, even after revealing my Israeli identity.

But to the people who hate so deeply that you feel the need to clean the ground where I stand, you better be ready with a lot of soap.

About the Author
With an eye toward advancing the two-state solution, the only solution that would grant both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples their right to self-determination and secure Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state, Nick is working to build connections between Israel and the Arab World.
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