Rabbi Dr. Benji Levy
Israel and Hamas may have had ceasefire, but online war still rages
A ceasefire may have ended the latest round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas on the ground, but the digital war of public opinion is still raging.
As the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas came into force Friday morning, civilians slept without the fear of air-raid sirens for the first time in a fortnight. Many of my neighbors in Jerusalem, however, awoke to fireworks celebrating Hamas’s “resistance.” These celebrations presented a symbolic victory image for the radical extremists of the world. They followed a war in which they lost many leaders and had cross-border attack tunnels and ammunition houses destroyed, but succeeded in garnering the sympathy of millions around the world.
Even supporters of Israel are often quick to criticize its diplomatic efforts during times of crisis. In this war, however, Israel received the support of governments around the world. US President Joe Biden gave Israel the time it needed to carry out the military operation and repeatedly stressed Israel’s right to self-defense. The Israeli flag flew in solidarity on government buildings across Europe, and EU foreign ministers even arrived in Israel to show their support. These are positive developments and strong achievements for Israeli diplomacy, showing the strength of the legitimacy of Israel and the IDF in the eyes of many governments around the world.
However, for most people, neither Israel’s military strategy and Hamas’s incessant rocket attacks nor public diplomacy were where they experienced the conflict. People were asking when Gal Gadot (with 53.8 million followers on Instagram) would weigh in, how influential the Hadid sisters were with their anti-Israel posts (and a combined total of 110 million followers on Instagram) and what gave comedians John Oliver and Trevor Noah the right to weigh in with authority on these complex issues to millions of viewers around the world.
Branded by some as the “TikTok Intifada,” every step of this conflict, from the inter-communal violence, through to the Sheikh Jarrah controversy and Operation Guardian of the Walls generated the greatest attention in the digital arena. Whether it was influencer endorsements, infographics on Instagram or 15-second TikTok videos, the content being shared across social media fundamentally shaped how much of the world viewed this conflict.
Israel’s narrative is a just and moral one, but it
is not cutting through.
The pictures of destruction in Gaza and casualties ensure that the empathy of many is entirely on the side of the Palestinians. The context of images shared by Israel are dismissed or used against it. Now, just as the recent #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements were watershed moments for younger generations rallying behind social justice causes, #FreeGaza is becoming a more central “progressive” cause for millions.
Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets designed to harm as many civilians as possible has been replicated on the online battlefield. The difference, though, is that once a rocket is intercepted or falls, its impact is neutralized. Disinformation, lies and false narratives penetrate far deeper and are much more difficult to counter.
Just as rockets endanger lives, the hatred being spread boils over from the digital to the real world, onto the streets of major cities around the world and into the halls of government. This leaves Jewish communities more vulnerable than ever to the threat of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment, and threatens the long-term stability of Israel’s relations with other democracies.
What we need is a digital ceasefire and some return to objective facts and context. Israel has overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges in its 73 years of existence. The shattering consequences of the loss of public support, however, requires every ounce of Israel’s innovative energy to turn it around.