I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and since the violence escalated between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza last week, my Twitter time has only increased.
And as others have noted before me, official Israel doesn’t seem to really get how Twitter works.
The IDF Spokesman has tweeted warnings to members of Hamas not to show their faces above ground, warned journalists to stay away from Hamas operatives (which would likely make it difficult for them to get the story) and, of course, sent out the now infamous poster of Ahmed Jabari, the assassinated head of Hamas’s military wing, with the word “ELIMINATED” emblazoned across it.
For his part, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., American-Israeli Michael Oren, has tweeted and then deleted an apparent willingness to negotiate with Hamas, has made a point of the “pin-point” accuracy of Israel’s airstrikes (with nary a mention of the pictures that suggest otherwise), and while he’s expressed concern over the fact that Hamas is known to intimidate members of the press in Gaza, he has yet to tweet his concern for the members of the press who were in the Gaza City media tower when Israel bombed it. Twice. (For the record: Several were injured, and one lost his leg.)
What official Israel doesn’t understand is that Twitter is not a press release office, where people in official positions offer top-down, authoritative information, setting the narrative for any and all, in 140-characters bites. Twitter is not, to put it another way, the best outlet for hasbara.
Twitter is, in fact, as far from top-down as it could be—it is horizontal, and sideways, and loop-de-loop. If you misspeak, there’s no simple deletion—that tweet will live in screen-caps forever and aye, unless and until you actually address what was said. If you crow about the deaths of your enemies, people all over the world now have an equal chance to point out just how heartless that makes you look. And no matter how hard you try to direct the narrative, millions of other voices can chime in to say you’re wrong—and do so in the hearing of the very people you’re trying to win over.
A big part of why my Jerusalem-born-and-bred husband and I chose to raise our Israeli children in the Diaspora can be seen buried in official Israel’s hasbara-ish tweets: A callous, arrogant indifference to the lives of those we occupy (and upon whom we are now waging war), and a swaggering, overweening insistence that everybody else sit down and listen. Even if it means stretching, ignoring, or re-weighting the truth, even if it means a constant drumbeat of insistence that we, and only we, suffer. That we, and only we, deserve human compassion. That we, and only we, have a right to behave as if we live in the middle of a war.
The unwillingness to admit the existence of legitimate competing narratives, the cavalier indifference to any lives lost on the way to our latest target, and the stalwart insistence that Israel is always right drove my husband and me from our home. It is reflecting very badly on that home as this war continues.
And far more to the point: If more reasonable voices do not appear soon (on Twitter or, rather more importantly, in the halls of Israeli power), I fear that it will ultimately mean the end of the Zionist dream.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.