On the ground in Gaza, Israel’s war against Hamas has been devastating. Online and in the public sphere, a different sort of war has been taking place – a broad initiative to delegitimize those who raise questions about and critique Israel’s actions.
This initiative is being carried out both by so-called ‘pro-Israel’ individuals as well as student volunteers enlisted by Israel’s government in its ‘social media war.’ The result: those who merely express empathy for the suffering in Gaza, where over 800 people have been killed and 5,000 injured, are tainted as anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas, and those who offer dissenting opinions are labelled as enemies who seek Israel’s destruction.
The goal is to shut down dialogue and debate, something Jon Stewart nailed in a recent bit in which he attempts to discuss Israel, only to be shouted down as a self-hating Jew. It is not a new phenomenon or initiative, though it has become much more intense and widespread as emotions run high over the ongoing violence in Gaza and continued rocket attacks in Israel.
It seems to be affecting everyone who publicly offers critical opinions about Israel’s Gaza offensive, whether celebrities,journalists or anonymous individuals.
The horrible irony is that, as propagandists try to defame dissenters by slandering them as anti-Semitic, thus diluting its meaning, real anti-Semitism is rearing its head in Europe. Anti-semitism is still a real danger, and that danger is being made graver by those who are participating in this online initiative to falsely tar concerned voices as enemies of Israel.
In the past three weeks, I have been targeted countless times with such accusations, both on Twitter and in comments to my articles. Yesterday, it reached such heights, with my views being distorted beyond recognition, that I wascompelled to Tweet out the following three statements, to which the response was overwhelming:
The response to these statements were so strong, in part, because of the vast numbers of people who have been on the receiving end of similar attacks. And that’s outside of Israel. Within it, as Etgar Keret writes today in The New Yorker, efforts to silence and delegitimize dissenting voices on Gaza are intense in a society which overwhelmingly supports the military operation.
In the end, such attacks are not personal. In fact, they usually don’t even have much to do with the person being targeted. Instead, such incidents are really just efforts to dehumanize Palestinians and undermine their status as victims in a zero sum game.
I’m just the vehicle. We all are. But like many, I refuse to play this zero-sum game, in which one can be on only one side. Indeed, there is a ‘third way.’ A way to be invested in and care about both sides, viewing the conflict as one in which both sides can win.
My hope is that, in the end, it will be the former. And that’s why I write.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.