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Adding Injury to Insult: Fighting BDS on Social Media

January 3, 2018

by: Abigail Gilbert, BFP Staff Writer

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One of the leading influences in our rapidly developing age is the instantaneous ability to connect with millions of people through the click of a button. Your personal feelings can be shared as fact. You can gather around those who share your views and argue with those who don’t from behind the safety of a screen. Social media has a hand in elections, conversions, connectedness and the increased alienation of the younger generation.

Photo by TeroVesalainen/pixabay.com

The “media” isn’t just your local TV station or newspaper anymore. It’s not even radio talk show hosts propagating their own opinions. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram turn each individual into an ambassador for whatever cause is close to their heart. For the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, social media has become a powerful tool in the economic war against Israel and its delegitimization.

Why Is Social Media So Effective?

Most social media embraces brevity. Some platforms even require it. This approach forces over-simplification, turning complicated issues like the Israeli–Palestinian conflict into one-line “solutions.” This serves the BDS movement well. A brief sentence and a picture taken out of context can go viral before anyone has taken the time to test the facts.

Perhaps the strongest influence in the social media arena is the emphasis on emotion over logic, or, in this case, facts. As people scroll through their online pages, they stop to look at only a few things—generally dramatic pictures and brief videos rather than a list of written information. Jennifer Hitchcock, in a scholarly article aimed at improving the BDS social media campaign, said a strong emotional connection was vital to “Palestinian mobilization.” She encouraged more “I” statements rather than facts to invoke greater emotional connection with the content, calling for social media to do what printed pamphlets did in the time of the First Intifada—spur supporters to action.

Peer Pressure in the Public Arena

The BDS movement also uses social media to put peer pressure on celebrities and corporations to boycott Israel. In 2015, American R&B and soul singer Lauryn Hill cancelled her show in Israel following BDS pressure that was largely fueled by a social media campaign turning the title of one of her most popular songs with The Fugees, “Killing Me Softly,” into a bullying tool. BDS activists posted a video with Hill’s famous song put to the pictures of Hill and IDF soldiers, with images comparing Israel to an apartheid state and the title “Hey Lauren, you’re #KillingMeSoftly.”

A Jerusalem Post article at the time reported more than 4,000 views of the video, coupled with a tweet from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation that read: “@MsLaurynHill 11,000 people asking you to boycott Israel. Please respect Palestinian call.” She caved to the overwhelming pressure.

#FreePalestine has 10,600 followers on Twitter, and has been used by big-name celebrities like Rihanna and Zayn Malik of One Direction. We must resist the urge to roll our eyes at these “social media shenanigans.” Millions of people use Twitter. Rihanna has more than 83 million followers. That means more than 83 million see her anti-Israel message pop up in their social media feed.

Photo by JohnHain/pixabay.com

There’s a battle over the narrative of what’s happening in the State of Israel, and a large part of that narrative is being formed on the social media stage. Proverbs 18:1 says: “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.” This is your battle, too.

What Can We Do?

In social media, you tend to collect people who think like you. Gilad Lotan, a chief data scientist for Betaworks, found that pro-Israel and pro-BDS groups rarely overlap in their online accounts—strong evidence that the two groups barely talk to each other on social media, indicating that they’re getting their information about the conflict from entirely different sources.

That means the online debate about the legitimacy of Israel is very polarized, and more than likely the people you connect with on a daily basis will not be the visceral leaders of the BDS movement, or even particularly interested in the subject at all. Most will be apathetic at best.

It’s not effective, then, to join the conversation as a hostile party trying to force a point. The Bible says “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). Listening to understand where another person is coming from before leaping into the online conversation is far more impactful than inserting angry one-liners on comment threads.

It’s important to remember that Israel speaks for herself; all we’re doing is providing a microphone. Israel is a beautiful, thriving land with a rich and dynamic culture. It’s a place of freedom and democracy, where Arabs and Jews serve side by side in the Knesset, and women enjoy equal rights unrivaled in the surrounding Arab countries. Sharing the good news from Israel is a great way to influence the Israel narrative and helps balance some of the slanted images coming from popular news sources. Talk about the advances made in technology, the successful universities and the humanitarian work Israel is involved in around the globe.

In the debate surrounding the legitimacy of the modern State of Israel, there are tools to share the truth in simple and compelling ways. Danny Ayalon, with The Truth about Israel, put together some brief videos that help answer tough questions in a relatable way. Stand With Israel also has videos and pictures online that are easy to share.

A common misconception is that social media, a product of the modern age, is just a tool for the younger generation. The Bible says, “whatever you do, do all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The platform has been abused by the world, but it can be, and is, a powerful tool within the kingdom of God. Let’s get creative.

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