The Challenge of Explaining Israel to Everyone Else
On the morning of October 7th, I woke up and, as usual, immediately took a look at my phone. There was a headline that popped up in the notifications area of the lock screen; it was from the BBC. I read it in disbelief, “Israel kills 146 Palestinians.” It’s the BBC, so I automatically took it as biased and with a grain of salt, but even for the BBC, this seemed a little far-fetched. Obviously, the situation was developing, and the BBC’s headline was extremely misleading. It was 7 AM in Los Angeles and 3 PM in Israel - the situation was anything but clear at that time. I wondered what other news outlets were saying and if I could get a better perspective of the situation from them. I’m very used to the anti-Israel bias from the main networks such as CNN, NPR, ABC, NBC, and more. In fact, as the dust settled, the only network that seemed to portray the conflict correctly was the network I always steer clear of, FOX News.
Social media was quick to react, inundating me with posts that were distressing in their content. Initially, I engaged with these posts, only to find myself deeply affected by the graphic portrayal of the violence inflicted upon my people. The impact was so profound that I eventually had to disengage. Even now, 40 days later, my social feeds are still swamped with similar content – a relentless stream of videos and slogans. However, these posts seem redundant to me; I'm already familiar with the information they convey. I often question their purpose – they're clearly not meant to persuade someone like me. This leads to a bigger question: are they effectively reaching their intended audience?
Most of my friends on Instagram and Facebook are Jewish, sharing the perspective that I, and seemingly the majority of the global Jewish community, have come to embrace in the wake of this appalling atrocity. Therefore, the continual stream of posts on these platforms feels redundant to me. It's like preaching to the choir; these messages are being circulated among those who already understand and share this viewpoint.
Elaine, my wife, experiences a strikingly different landscape on her social media compared to mine. Her feed is often filled with posts that are violent, deeply antisemitic, and staunchly anti-Israel, which she refrains from sharing with me. Interestingly, the content I encounter and even share with her doesn't seem to appear in her feed, likely due to the selective algorithms used by Meta and other social media platforms. These algorithms tend to reinforce echo chambers by showing users content that aligns with their perceived interests.
In her role as a community leader and clergy of a church, Elaine faces unique challenges. A colleague in her denomination, a pro-Palestinian clergy member, has been particularly influential, pushing anti-Israel resolutions and propaganda. This individual's posts not only appear on Elaine's feed but are also widely circulated among other clergy in the conference, demonstrating the powerful and sometimes divisive role of social media in shaping opinions within specific communities.
Elaine, in her role as a community leader, prioritizes her focus on serving her congregation. She steers clear of the political maneuvering often seen on social media and in her wider professional network. Despite this, she is faced with the critical task of elucidating the realities of the Israel conflict and the ongoing war to her community members. They know I have close family serving in the IDF and they are genuinely concerned. They come to her with questions, seeking clarity and understanding, and she is tasked with providing informed and thoughtful responses to these complex and sensitive inquiries.
“Why does the media portray Israel as the aggressor when Hamas murdered all those kids at a music festival?” One member asked her.
“Why do so many people hate the Jews?” another asked.
“Why is Israel killing civilians?”
“Why does the media only report news about Hamas?”
“Why is the media skeptical about Israel's claims, yet blindly accepting Hamas' reports?”
Elaine is faced with a continuous stream of questions from her community, seeking accurate and comprehensive answers about the war. Understanding the importance of providing correct information, she chose to delay her responses until she could gather more knowledge.
To deepen her understanding, Elaine turned to me for a detailed explanation of the conflict's history. She engaged actively, asking numerous questions and challenging with counter-claims, all in an effort to fully grasp the complexities of the situation. This thorough questioning continued until she felt confident that she had enough information to accurately convey the realities of the conflict to her community.
My availability and knowledge on the subject were crucial in this context. Without these resources, Elaine would have found it challenging to use her platform effectively to educate her community about the true nature of the conflict, highlighting the significance of having informed and accessible sources when addressing such intricate and impactful topics.
Israel's public relations efforts often miss the mark in reaching the very communities that are crucial to shaping public opinion in America. These communities, which form the bedrock of American society, are pivotal in the formation and propagation of public perspectives, yet they seem to be overlooked or inadequately addressed by Israel's outreach and information campaigns. This gap highlights a significant challenge in ensuring that a comprehensive and accurate understanding of Israel's situation and stance reaches these influential segments of society.
Elaine's community members are genuinely good-hearted individuals, characterized by their kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity. They embraced our interfaith marriage with open arms, intrigued by the diverse perspectives we could bring. This acceptance resonated particularly with those among them who were part of interfaith unions themselves or had family members in such relationships. Despite living and working in the Jewish-rich environment of the Greater Los Angeles Area, their understanding of Jewish people, culture, history, and Israel remains limited.
I have taken it upon myself to educate them about these aspects. This endeavor has been rewarding, and I'm proud to say that we've fostered one of the most pro-Israel Methodist communities in Southern California.
However, the journey of imparting knowledge about Israel to those unfamiliar with Jewish history and culture is ongoing and often challenging. We frequently assume a certain level of awareness that, in reality, isn't there. The need of the hour is not just to reinforce existing beliefs within our circles but to actively reach out and educate those in the diaspora who are less informed about these important topics.