There is a somewhat sarcastic term used in Israel to refer to the city of Tel Aviv: “Medinat Tel Aviv” (The State of Tel Aviv). Located in the center of the country, out of range of the vast majority of both Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s missiles, residents of Tel Aviv are described as living in their own little “state,” unaffected by the woes of their brothers and sisters in the north and south.
This status quo ended last week, as Tel Aviv’s sirens were sounded, in earnest, for the first time since the Gulf War. My fellow Tel Avivians were not going to let such an opportunity pass easily, and the newsfeed on my Facebook page soon featured a barrage of videos, pictures and posts all about the four rockets which have (thus far) landed in Israel’s central region.
This is one of those rare times, I believe, that we are in danger of confusing a possible virtue—hasbarah—with the desire to vent, moan and generally be the center of attention. In the process of deciding how much complaining to which one is entitled, it is necessary for each Israeli and Israel-focused Jew to carefully decide—on an individual basis—precisely their attitude toward The World at Large.
I say “on an individual basis” because I have no illusions about reaching a general consensus on this matter. As the old adage goes, “Discuss a matter with four Jews and you will end up with five separate opinions.” Even during the generally unified effort of Israel’s establishment, views on the precise role of the state varied massively. Some believed that statehood would allow the Jews to at last gain world acceptance. At the other end of the spectrum were those who believed that acceptance was impossible; Jews needed military sovereignty to protect them.
The depressing evidence of the last sixty years would seem to lend weight to the latter opinion. In effect, it seems like nothing more than naivety has turned my entire Facebook newsfeed into a pro-Israel social media campaign. My Israeli friends tell me, “We need to provide alternative information to our friends abroad who only experience the anti-Israel media.” Ironically, it’s only their friends who will see their posts. Mainstream culture will continue its sentiment against the Jewish State. If the media weren’t anti-Israel, there would be no need for Israel.
This is not to say, of course, that Israel should reject any attempt to gain friends abroad. I once worked with a Member of the Knesset who spends most of her time telling Israelis to stop trying to pander to the Americans and to put their own security first. In a quiet moment, she admitted to me what I already knew: without American support, Israel might well not be here today. But is social media a useful way of gaining that support? The jury is still out on this one, but personally I don’t think so.
How many of us, during the viral online campaigns in support of the Sudanese, Iranians, Syrians, did anything more than post a “supportive” status or change our profile pictures? How many did anything to change actual lives? I met one girl who bothered buying a Kony 2012 wristband. That is as much as I ever saw come out of that particular campaign to raise awareness about the Ugandan warlord and Holy Spirit Movement religious leader.
Of course, it is hard to reject all the hasbarah that I see online, however self-serving and ineffectual it often turns out to be. As Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi put it, “even a little light dispels a lot of darkness.” You never know who sees something you post online, and just how much that might change things. But I think that the phrase “even a little light” is significant. When we post on Facebook, we should never kid ourselves that we are doing anything more than shining “a little light” (a very little light). We are clicking a mouse, writing a status, and that is all.
If there is one thing we can all look forward to, it’s the end of the insufferable pomposity of the online campaign. It is up to each individual to choose how much hasbarah they plan to do, but please remember: Netanyahu, Obama and Merkel aren’t reading your Facebook posts. Stay humble and stay dignified. And to all my friends in the south (where the real danger is): stay safe.