Coming Out as Pro-Israel on Facebook
I recently spelled out my support for Israel on Facebook. This is new for me. I'm an American baby boomer, and I always took it for granted that my country supported Israel, and that forces infinitely more powerful than I had the job covered. There's another reason I previously hadn't said much about Israel: I'm Polish-Slovak-American, and I am Catholic. Polish Catholics are stereotyped as the world's worst anti-Semites. Poles suck anti-Semitism with their mother's milk, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir famously declared.
My book, Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype, is devoted to analysis of this negative image of Poles and other Eastern Europeans. In Bieganski I am very critical of prominent Jewish authors and scholars. I have received hate mail on a weekly basis for over a decade. This messy reality is part of why I hadn't previously spelled out my support for Israel.
On June 12, 2014 three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped. That triggered combat between Israelis and Hamas in Gaza. This conflict dominated the headlines and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I felt called publicly to articulate why I support Israel.
Many Facebook friends responded in an unfriendly manner. One friend accused me of being brainwashed by an all-powerful Jewish-controlled media, and of being possessed by an irrational bigotry against Arabs and a sadistic desire to celebrate Arab suffering. Interestingly, this man had been my Facebook friend for years, and on no previous occasion had he ever felt the need to point out my alleged brainwashed state and my irrational hatred of and sadism towards Arabs. In fact, he had previously praised me for writing Bieganski and having the courage and insight to resist popular myths.
The charge that Israel's supporters have been brainwashed by Jewish-controlled media is an oft-repeated one. Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour is an Obama-administration labeled "champion of change." In July, 2014, Sarsour criticized African-American Israel supporter Chloe Valdary in her tweet, "We all know exactly who pulls your strings and fills your pockets. Run along."
Another Facebook friend mailed me a three-page, single-spaced letter raking me over the coals for voicing support for Israel. He had never written to me before, and we are not close. He is a Jewish-American.
I wanted to understand what I was missing. I lurked on threads of anti-Israel Facebook friends.
In this foray into Facebook anthropology, like Dian Fossey among preening and mutually grooming gorillas, I discovered much back slapping, self-congratulation, and announcements of oneself and one's "sane" and "decent" friends as members of an exclusive club. Paraphrase of a typical post: "Many of my friends appear to be brainwashed by the Jewish-controlled American media. They are all racists against Arabs. I am not a bigot and so I am deeply moved by Arab suffering. I am also an ethical and courageous person so I must speak out. I am relieved to discover that there are other people here who feel the same way. Thank God there are intelligent and ethical people who have exposed themselves to the real facts."
What are those real facts, I wondered? I like my Facebook friends. I don't want to think of them as anti-Semites. I continued lurking on their anti-Israel threads, eager to discover these real facts that would justify what was obviously not just their criticism, but their hatred of Israel.
One friend began a thread with a photograph of an Arab baby allegedly murdered by Israelis. The focus of the entire thread was the Jews' murdering this one baby. No matter where the conversation went, repeatedly, posters returned to the photo. Paraphrase of one such typical post, "Poor dead baby. To murder you was really wrong. I am very sad."
At no point did anyone posting in the thread acknowledge that babies inevitably die in all wars, and that those who choose war automatically risk the lives of the babies living on their territory. The hideous and universal crime of the death of children in war was attributed to one group, and one group only: Jews.
Further, it is very much not Israel's policy to murder babies, to murder Arabs or Muslims, or to murder civilians. Israel has taken up arms not to destroy; rather, it is to protect its own citizens from an entity, Hamas, sworn to their elimination. In fact, it is various Muslim Arab entities who have publicly praised the murder of a baby for no other crime than being a Jewish baby. For just one example, in 2011 a three-month-old sleeping Jewish baby, Hadas Fogel, was decapitated in her own home, along with her parents and siblings. The Arabs who killed her were praised with the words "hero" and "legend." In an opinion poll, one third of the Arabs polled voiced approval of this murder.
None of this was mentioned in the thread.
At no point did anyone posting in that thread acknowledge that Hamas has publicly opted for war, through both stated intention and deeds. At no point did anyone confront the abundant evidence of Hamas' intent to exploit civilian casualties as propaganda -- though one poster did pre-empt mention of that policy by publicly announcing that no one should be allowed to mention it. No reason was given for this taboo. No mention of Hamas using a grisly scene from a fictional American horror movie that depicts a pretty young girl being decapitated as faked "evidence" of Israeli crimes. This usage of a fictional film scene announces loud and clear that for Hamas, propaganda of suffering innocents victimized by Jews is a key component of their strategy. No mention of Hamas recruiting and training very young children to fight as soldiers, which is itself a recognized war crime. No mention of Hamas dictating to Western media what images it is allowed access to -- yes to images of dead children; no to images of adult soldiers. No mention of Hamas dictating to Gazans what they are to say to outsiders, as quoted at MEMRI: "Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don't forget to always add 'innocent civilian' in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza."
No, the tight focus of my anti-Israel Facebook friend's thread was maintained with discipline: Jews murdered this cute, defenseless baby. Jews, and Jews alone, kill babies in war.
My Facebook friend who posted the photo of the dead baby is a respected professional and would bristle at being labeled anti-Semitic. I clicked on the photo. Its source was the Facebook page of Mohammed Zeyara. On his Facebook page, I found this statement, "The Holocaust is a lie and the real Holocaust is happening to the Palestinians." I found an image of a swastika, an equal sign, and the Star of David. I found a manipulated photograph of Benjamin Netanyahu depicting him with devil's horns, and bloodied hands, drinking from a glass full of blood. The inspiration for this image is of course the blood libel, which has been used for centuries as justification in the murder of Jews. All of this was just one click away from the Facebook page of a respectable, atheist, feminist, left-wing professional rejecting any concern of anti-Semitism and announcing only intelligent and ethical compassion for suffering babies.
Another popular motif in anti-Israel Facebook threads was the "I am Jewish and I am appalled by Israel's terrorist actions/war crimes" threads. Statements like these were assessed as trumping all others. A Jew condemned Israel; there's nothing more to be said. Jewish bona fides were emphasized. Paraphrase: "I'm so Jewish that my grandfather was a rabbi in Vilna… I'm so Jewish that my family has lived in Jerusalem for seven generations… I'm so Jewish that I served in the IDF… and I am so appalled that I actively support boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel… I am so appalled that I wear a kaffiyeh."
A frequently hit upon talking point, to quote one post, "Why is it always seen as wrong to criticize Israel." The lack of a question mark in the original flags this as a rhetorical question whose premise, that "it is always seen as wrong to criticize Israel," goes unquestioned by the post's audience. From another post, "It is wrong to simply say that because some idiots are anti-semitic and oppose Israel then everyone who opposes Israel is."
Anti-Israel posts often pre-empted and condemned any mention of the Holocaust. One pro-Israel poster related current anti-Israel propaganda to Nazi propaganda; in fact, they are often comparable. "To mention the Nazis in relation to this bloodshed, is so very very wrong," and "Why do you mention Hitler?" his anti-Israel Facebook interlocutor responded, without ever giving a reason why it was so "very very wrong." The reason we mention anti-Semitism, Hitler and the Nazis is clear. People alive today can remember the world allowing Nazis to mechanically slaughter six million Jews. If that's not a pertinent fact as a tiny Jewish state fights for its life against overwhelming odds, I don't know what is.
Another rhetorical ploy was to use words like "complex" and "complicated." When I challenged Facebook friends to support their anti-Israel position, they would often say that "It's all so complicated" or "It's not so simple."That would often be the end of the post. No facts would be adduced to support the complexity of it all. Rather, an insult would often be added, paraphrase, "You jingoistic American brainwashed by Jewish media and hating Arabs, you make it all so simplistic."
Relativism was a soft posture in the anti-Israel camp. Some anti-Israel posters insisted that Israel is exceptionally evil. In contrast, the relativists posted statements like "Both sides should stop killing. Christians, Jews, and Muslims must learn to live in peace." Tossing mention of Christians into a war between Muslims and Jews might serve the rhetorical point of emphasizing the relativism. Immediately after mention of World War II, a war with a very clear bad guy, a Facebook friend wrote, "Like all these conflicts, there are rights and wrongs on both sides." I find fault in that sentence. In World War II, as now, the wrongs on the side that initiates war in order to carry out a genocide outweigh the wrongs on the side that responds to a war initiated on it in order to defend its civilians from death for no other reason than their identity.
Relativism stretches like a rubber band. "Yes, Hamas fires rockets, but Israel bombs… but America nuked Hiroshima." Relativism could snap back into place whenever the speaker needed it to do so: Israel alone murders babies.
Anti-Israel posts were pregnant with ad hominem invective. As one anti-Israel poster put it, Israel's supporters were paranoid Jews, eager to exploit their history of suffering to gain special privileges, a gambit reflective of their sick insistence that they are "God's chosen people."I never saw any factual support for any of the ad hominem charges, even when factual support was requested. The Facebook poster who insisted that Jews are "paranoid" utterly denied that Hamas' charter calls for the destruction of Israel. This poster was a white-collar professional, Ivy-League-educated and eager to flaunt that, living in one of America's wealthiest, and whitest, zip codes.
There was an opposite phenomenon in pro-Israel posts. It was obvious that pro-Israel posters were listening carefully to criticisms of Israel, and were adducing facts specifically to refute those criticisms. To the charge that Israel is uniquely inhuman in its conduct of war, posters listed the humanitarian constraints Israel observes.
Anti-Israel posters claim that Israel is "illegitimate" and a "colonial" "invention" that "stole land from Arabs." Nonsense. Israel's legitimacy is in no way different from any other nation's legitimacy.
Look at a color-coded world map from 1900. You won't see the multiple, small blobs of a rainbow of colors you see on a world map today. Rather, you will see a handful of very large blobs of a very limited number of colors: the Russian Empire, the British Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, China, etc. Much of Africa was French, British, or German. Virtually all of the Middle East was under the control of the Ottomans. Czechoslovakia, the country my mother was born in, did not yet exist -- and it does not exist today. Nigeria, Liberia, Iraq, Turkey, did not exist. The countries we have today came into being largely after the World Wars. What is now Israel had been, for the previous four hundred years, the Ottoman Empire, and then, for a brief period, under British control. Many of today's Israelis descend from inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire. Previous to that, Jews had lived on that land for thousands of years.
A minority of Israeli citizens descend from ancestors who had been living in Europe. About half of Israeli Jews descend from Jews who lived in countries like Morocco, Yemen, and Iraq. Those deeply troubled by Jews' alleged cosmopolitan provenance should have a look at superstar Palestinian Edward Said, who grew up in Cairo, Egypt, and lived most of his life in New York City. There was never a country called "Palestine," and no Jews stole any fictional country called "Palestine" from anyone.
Nation-state-building population transfers were typically merciless. In Poland, Germans were subjected to mass expulsion and ill treatment. Ukrainians were ethnically cleansed from southeastern Poland. Russians eliminated Poles from what is now Ukraine and Belarus. I personally know Poles, Ukrainians, and Germans who survived refugee camps and menial labor before their children could reconstitute decent lives in lands distant from their parents' birth. These people never regained lost property. None became terrorists. No serious person argues for Poland's illegitimacy – or Nigeria's or Indonesia's. Singling out Israel alone as "illegitimate" is blatantly selective and those who do this are entirely subject to having their motives questioned.
Mistreatment of dispossessed populations was absolutely not worse in Israel than in other newly created nation states. The single worst population transfer, involving record-breaking human rights abuses, including murder leading to genocide, undoubtedly occurred in the 1947 creation of East and West Pakistan, and the subsequent creation of Bangladesh in 1971. As many as a million human beings were murdered in the carving out of Muslim Pakistan, a state that had never existed before, out of the majority Hindu Indian subcontinent. In the subsequent creation of Bangladesh from East Pakistan, a genocide of Bangladeshis occurred, with estimates of up to three million killed. Pakistan and India remain enemies to this day, and experts estimate that their rift is the world's most likely spark for nuclear war.
I challenge those who insist that Israel is "illegitimate" to address the above facts. I've done so on Facebook. I had no takers.
Israel is tiny; roughly the size of New Jersey. A Turkish journalist calculated that since 1948, Muslims have killed ten million of their fellow Muslims in the Middle East. In all its defensive wars, Israel has not killed even one percent of that number. I have repeatedly asked this question of my Facebook friends who are anti-Israel. North Korea is a torture state with no human rights at all. China continues its crimes against Tibet. The caste system in India oppresses over a hundred million human beings. Ninety percent of women in Egypt have suffered FGM. Child marriage is rampant in Yemen. Saudi Arabia flogs people for blogging. Why do you focus such a hugely disproportionate amount of outrage at Israel?
No one has even attempted to answer that.
Are my anti-Israel Facebook friends correct? Do I support Israel because I am an anti-Arab racist and sadist who enjoys Arab Muslim suffering?
You know, it's a funny thing. As a former world traveler, I have been talking to my friends for years about suffering in the Arab world and the wider Muslim world. I tell them, for example, a story from Africa, where I lived and worked. An Arab, Muslim man had to wait in a remote area for a passing truck that might be going his way. Traffic passes this remote area at the rate of about one or two trucks per day, and there is no way to time their arrival or departure. A Peace Corps volunteer, also seeking transportation, waited with this man. Imagine sitting at a table in a shack under hot sun for hours, and drinking sodas cooled by being placed in water buckets. The Arab man was accompanied by a female -- perhaps his wife, mother, or daughter -- who was completely covered, no body parts visible, including eyes. The Arab man, as if communicating with a dog, through body language and grunts, ordered the veiled, silent female to face the wall of the shack and squat on her haunches. The female remained there, squatting silently, face to the wall, for the five hours it took for a pickup truck to arrive and transport everyone to the next town. During those same five hours, the Arab man conversed animatedly with the Peace Corps volunteer in passable French, played cards, and drank cool beverages.
After I returned to the U.S., when I tried to tell these stories of Arab suffering to my friends, I was accused of being culturally insensitive, intolerant, and not multicultural.
Yes, the Arab world and the wider Muslim world are nations of great suffering. Warfare is constant. As Samuel P. Huntington observed, "Islam’s borders are bloody, and so are its innards." That is, Muslim countries are more likely than non-Muslim countries to be at war with their neighbors. Muslim countries are also more likely to be at war internally, one Muslim against another, as is happening now in Iraq and Syria, as has happened in Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, and Sudan. Arab and Muslim countries are notoriously not free by international standards. Their populations are skewed male because females have less chance to survive to adulthood. Women are less likely to be literate. Books are less likely to be translated into or out of Arabic. One could go on.
The simple truth is, in terms of life expectancy, nutrition, education, freedom of expression and democratic representation, Muslim Arabs who live in Israel are doing better than Muslim Arabs who do not live in Israel. In a 2014 opinion poll, 63.5 percent of Israeli Arabs called Israel "a good place to live."
The human misery in Gaza is horrific.That baby who was exploited for propaganda purposes and had her fifteen minutes of postmortem fame among opinion-makers in the West should not have died. Israel is not the cause of the human misery in Gaza. I agree with Ataturk, Bernard Lewis, and Mosab Hassan Yousef. The root of human misery in Gaza can be found in the gap between Muslim-majority societies and democracy. Comparable misery is occurring right now throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. Babies are dying at the hands of those who call themselves jihadis in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Kenya. If my harshest anti-Israel Facebook friends got their way, and every last Israeli Jew were eliminated, the Muslim Arabs remaining in that tiny, New-Jersey-sized piece of real estate would step up killing each other, as they have already done in the case of public executions of homosexuals or Arabs who are not adequately pro-Hamas. As Muslim populations secularize and modernize, conditions improve, but not before. The defeat of Hamas, an Islamic terror organization, would be the best thing for the suffering victims of Gaza. Hamas has chosen war, not Israel, and the suffering that is taking place now is not the result of alleged Jewish arrogance, or their taste for blood, or American imperialism. The suffering that is taking place now is the suffering of war, a war Hamas has chosen. The war Hamas has chosen is an eternal one; Jews are one target; all infidels are the next. My anti-Israel friends, while they may not be the anti-Arab racists they accuse others of being, are, by accusing Israel and playing the Hamas propaganda game, extending human suffering in Gaza. Further, anti-Israel voices are exploiting and in a perverse way celebrating human suffering in Gaza, because publicly bemoaning that suffering gives them the opportunity to play at being humanitarian while not actually doing anything, and to say nasty things about Jews while dodging censure.
Are my Facebook friends who criticize Israel anti-Semites? The answer varies. In one case, yes. Based on reading comments for years and seeing only negative comments about Jews, and no mention of Jewish friends, I think one of my Facebook friends is an anti-Semite. In other cases I still doubt that they are. One friend who despises Israel is very good friends with a Jew, who objects to anyone calling this person an anti-Semite. I think this person might just feel pride in having an opinion that goes against received wisdom. "I'm an independent thinker!" One man I encountered in another friend's thread was harshly critical of Jews, but he condemned me as a "Romanist," that is, a Catholic, and he insisted that George Bush carried out 9-11. He may just be an eccentric.The man eager to flaunt his Ivy League degree struck me as an old fashioned WASP snob, the kind of antique who might belong to a country club that doesn't allow Jews. Movie star Javier Bardem signed a protest letter against Israel; when challenged he rushed to say that he loves everybody and meant no one any harm. Some people may just be ill-informed.
In the end, it doesn't really matter if those stirring up animosity toward Israel on Facebook are anti-Semites or not. The level of real anti-Semitism in general populations may not have mattered much in 1939, either. What certainly did matter was the genocidal hatred of those who took action, the Jews' lack of defensive weaponry, and the world's indifference. The response of bystanders to those who do hate may be what determines how much the haters can get away with, and whom they target after they are done with the Jews.
Danusha V. Goska is a writer and teacher living in New Jersey. Her book Save Send Delete recounts her debate about God, and love affair, with a prominent atheist.