Can We Stand Up for Israel Without Alienating Ourselves?
Public opinion has shifted dramatically against Israel in the Western world. #FreePalestine has become the battle cry of anti-Israel social media crusaders, as they attempt to make its utility widespread enough to rival #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter and thus elevate it to the level of today’s most important social justice causes.
Just like with #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, publicly standing against #FreePalestine and other anti-Israel rhetoric can now result in losing friends and perhaps your job. It’s socially, professionally, and sometimes physically dangerous, as evidenced by the recent spike in antisemitic and anti-Israel hate crimes.
The fear of repercussions instilled in Israel supporters now forces most to be totally silent.
When I shared my recent article on social media — “You Don’t Have to Pick a Side in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” — anti-Israel commenters wrote back with angry criticisms against Israel, slinging ugly accusations of “genocide,” “apartheid,” and “ethnic cleansing.” And 100 percent of the criticisms were shared publicly. Fearlessly. In contrast, only about 10 percent of the praise — i.e., compliments from those agreeing with my position — was posted publicly.
Here’s the key: people who felt strongly enough to applaud me privately were by and large too afraid to publicly do so through something as benign as “liking” the post, let alone engaging with the public anti-Israel rhetoric in the comments.
The overwhelming pressure to be silent leads me to wonder: is there a way to still defend Israel without suffering the collateral damage?
There may be a few ways to walk the line.
Express interest in learning another perspective.
Social media posts often express unequivocal and pointed positions. We very rarely see posts asking open-ended questions, with the goal of learning more from friends and followers.
A post that starts with, “I’m having trouble understanding…” or “I’m looking for some more information…” communicates an interest in dialogue and a willingness to supplement current beliefs and opinions. Acknowledging that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an explosive subject that can pit people against each other, and requesting that those interested in discussing it do so in a civil and respectful manner, could make a difference, too. Use your social media platform to suggest reading materials from various perspectives and ask friends and followers to read them with you and discuss afterwards. Lead by example by expressing your beliefs with the utmost respect and reasonableness.
Expanding your own viewpoint by learning from people with opposing viewpoints will make you more empathetic, compassionate, and knowledgeable. It will open the door to productive conversation, bridge barriers, and demonstrate to others that Israel supporters are neither unreasonable nor unreachable.
Make concessions when appropriate.
Especially as Israel came under hotter and fiercer fire during the May 2021 outbreak of violence, many Israel supporters were tempted to avoid making concessions out of fear of feeding the flames. An inability to acknowledge any wrongdoing and mistakes, however, is a poor strategy. Especially in a conflict as long-standing and complex as the Israeli-Palestinian one, both sides have certainly done wrong, and refusing to admit it only hurts your credibility and makes others less likely to accept counterpoints you raise. Acknowledging instances of wrongdoing will hopefully encourage others with opposing viewpoints to feel safe enough to do the same and achieve a more fruitful dialogue.
Bolster viewpoints you support.
Anti-Israel activists are successful in their strategy to weaken and isolate dissenting voices when the dissenting voices remain silent and disjointed. They are succeeding: most Israel supporters are too intimidated to similarly engage on social media, making it appear to onlookers that pro-Israel positions are isolated and unpopular.
Don’t give in. Even if you hesitate to publicly defend Israel through posts on your own platform or via comments on others’ platforms, you can still make a difference by something as simple as commenting, “Thanks for sharing,” or clicking “like” to contribute to a post’s or a comment’s “like” tally. The small risk is outweighed by the benefit your voice adds.
Highlight Israel’s positive contributions to the world.
For those wishing to avoid taking a public stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entirely, but who still want to express support for Israel in another way, consider highlighting the good Israel does.
Here are a few examples: as the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel is the only one of its neighbors that grants equal rights to women and the LGBTQ community. Any Israel supporter should be proud to post online about this. Israel also is one of the world’s leaders in humanitarian aid, sending out scores of aid workers when natural disasters strike around the world. And Israel as a “start-up nation” consistently introduces unparalleled scientific and technical innovations from which the rest of the world then benefits.
Your social media followers might also like to learn about organizations bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. For example, Tech2Peace is a joint Israeli-Palestinian NGO teaching tech and graphic design skills to Israeli and Palestinian youth, while also engaging them in conflict resolution dialogue. Similarly, many major Israeli spaces, like Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, exemplify a lesser-known reality in Israel of Jews, Israeli Arabs, and some Palestinians working side-by-side to provide services to patients of all religions and ethnicities.
Take private, behind-the-scenes actions.
If voicing support for Israel on social media in even small, innocuous ways is truly out of the question, there are plenty of private actions you can take. Urge your representatives to back favorable legislative initiatives. Donate to organizations working to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations. Attend Israel conferences and fundraisers. Invest in Israeli companies. Also invest in Palestinian educational initiatives and innovation, because that may indirectly reduce reliance on Hamas. Support Israel’s economy by traveling there, and while there, seek out both Jewish and Arabic culture, history, and perspectives. Buy Israeli products. Frequent Israeli restaurants.
Seemingly small, behind-the-scenes actions like these truly do add up. They serve the dual purpose of maintaining your connection to Israel and Israel’s ability to survive — and can be taken by everyone.
Jennie Shulkin is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania. She has served as a former judicial law clerk in the Eastern District of New York and an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. She currently works as a white-collar criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C.