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Op-ed | Zionists and Coffee: A critique of Facebook in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 08:11



“Wow what’s with you Zionists and getting coffee.” This was posted by a member of Tufts’ Students for Justice in Palestine on Facebook on Nov. 15, 2012, in response to a Facebook debate on the current Israeli-Palestinian affair. I was offended. This group has similarly upset me in the past. I, personally, support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is because of this belief that I have been very frustrated this week with Israel’s escalation in Gaza, and the divisive posts from both camps on Facebook that have commented on this issue.

I learned in Professor Eichenberg’s Introduction to IR course about terrorism. According to his lecture, terrorism aims to inflict pain in order to motivate the people of a democratic country to elicit a change in their government’s policies that would support the terrorist’s goals. Hamas is the democratically elected governing body in Gaza. The al-Qassam brigades, which are the armed militants associated with Hamas, participate in terrorism by targeting civilians and sending rockets into Israel with the stated purpose of obtaining the most casualties possible. Terrorists, as a general claim, love the media because it gathers attention towards their cause; part of their fight is to win a PR war. 

Israel has responded to recent terrorism by targeting Hamas officials. It is true that Israel is guilty of greatly marginalizing Palestinian rights in a stated attempt to defend itself from attacks, including erecting a “separation barrier” to restrict Palestinians’ movement in the West Bank. There have also been many civilian casualties in Israel’s mission to defend itself, exemplified in Gaza, which is a densely populated and very small strip of land. Many Israeli lives have been lost as a result of Palestinian terrorism, particularly during the Second Intifada, and Israel tries protecting its citizens by decreasing the ability of terrorists to attack. Both sides have many sad stories because violence is a vicious cycle. Deaths create a desire for revenge, and can provoke new attacks. I am especially dubious of a long-term solution if Hamas is determined to make good on previous promises to fight until Israel does not exist.

I usually do not comment on this conflict because I do not see a long-term solution to it, and because most vocal people are so biased that they refuse to consider the other side of the argument and have a fair discussion. With this new Israeli offensive, I have witnessed numerous one-sided Facebook posts either supporting Israel or the Palestinian cause or completely dismissing the concerns of the other side, and thus I feel obligated to toss in my two cents. 

There are many pros and cons to Facebook in terms of political activism. Facebook is good because it makes politics more transparent. Facebook is bad, however, because it is polarizing and distancing. People can ignore what they do not want to see, and spread false information rapidly. People do not feel compelled to respond to everything addressed at them, like in a verbal discussion. In many Facebook disputes that I have seen this past week, I have noticed substantial selectivity in arguers’ posts and responses to others’ comments. 

People have stubbornly come out on Facebook either supporting the Palestinian cause or Israel, but rarely expressing empathy for the victims of the violence on both sides. People have chosen to spread biased news articles or publications that radically support one side. Emotional stories have been shared trying to evoke sympathy, and thus support for one side. In this conflict sympathy is key because there has been so much destruction and pain. As a self-described centrist, I fundamentally believe that the two most important concerns in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are to end the injustices being committed against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to ensure security for Israelis in the future. That is why radicalism on both sides frustrates me; those views inherently deny one of my two prerequisites for peace.

People’s biases, formed by their past experiences and the media, interfere with an objective dialogue about the conflict, and this becomes problematic when people fail to acknowledge that their biases cloud their vision. Debates usually fail because people focus on the information they want to hear and ignore the rest. 

It is clear to me that the Facebook posts by members of Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine exemplify their collective unwillingness to have a productive dialogue and compromise on any of their viewpoints. Despite their stated claim to want to have productive conversations with pro-Israel members of the Tufts community, SJP generally fosters an environment, with their events and public statements, that is incredibly non-conducive to realizing that goal. Further, this group is self-affirming in its public unwillingness to engage with other viewpoints. By being closed off as a group, members have reinforced each other’s opinions. Members have also been guilty of using what I view as intimidation and mean-spirited criticism to silence opposing viewpoints.

The Zionists and coffee comment, mentioned above, is indicative of this. A pro-Israel commenter asked to engage the author of a SJP member’s post to further dialogue in a face-to-face setting. The intention was good. An SJP member used intimidation, implying that Zionist arguments are a waste of time, to silence this commenter. Instead of initiating what I view as radical events, like Israeli Apartheid week and their walk-out from Michael Oren’s, the Israeli ambassador to America, speech last year, this group should take a more moderate approach. They should realize that events like these do not attract supporters but instead create anger from pro-Israel groups and moderates, including people whose main priority is securing full rights and prosperity for Palestinians while working within the framework of a two-state solution. 

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