Some of their best friends are...

By David Prever, July 17, 2014
Follow The JC on Twitter

Facebook has never felt like a comfortable place to 'do politics,' unless 'politics is what you do.'

Over the past fortnight, Operation Protective Edge has brought out the haters and defenders in equal measure, but with some surprises.

My social media timeline now includes so-called friends - whatever that means these days - suddenly attacking Israel with a previously hidden passion.

And this from people who normally only post pictures of their cats and kids.

We are all Israelis now and we're all in PR

So what to do?

Should you ignore or un-follow? Or worse, click the button that says hide; an e-equivalent of turning the other cheek. We're not meant to do that, are we?

It can be exhausting, trying to engage in a debate with someone whose anti-Israel argument begins with Annie Lennox quotes lifted from the Guardian.

One friend even pointed me towards 'sonic landscaper' Brian Eno's support for the Palestinian cause, as if a career as a record producer qualifies the former Roxy Music man as an expert in Middle East affairs.

I've only commented on two posts - both about the BBC. The first, from Zionist friends unhappy with corporation's perceived pro-Palestinian coverage; the second, a non-Jewish friend unhappy with the lack of coverage of Palestinian marches in London and elsewhere.

It's as if the conflict could be solved so easily, if only the BBC would get it right.

It was this comment that riled me: the suggestion that BBC coverage is biased because Danny Cohen, its director of TV, is Jewish. It's borderline blood-libel territory and I couldn't let it pass.

I could, of course, have pointed out that in respect of BBC News, they'd got the wrong Jew. But the argument was already lost. Instead I politely suggested that Danny Cohen doesn't have a say over editorial decisions in any BBC newsroom that I've ever worked in. The suggestion is laughable.

I'm not a BBC staffer but I do present a daily programme. The problem for any broadcast journalist is that every report, in isolation, can be heard or seen as biased. Last week, I ran an interview with a Palestinian mother forced out of her home. It was compelling, factual audio and deserved to be heard. It was balanced with analysis and background to the conflict that told the story from both sides.

BBC Studios are now carpeted with hot coals. Listen or watch most bulletins and programmes and you can hear the pain of presenters and newsreaders trying to say the right thing. This is no bad thing but the rush to be first means that mistakes will sometimes be made. Most of the time though, they get it right.

Back on Facebook, articles, links and videos are posted and reposted, each presented as indisputable fact.

Strangely, I don't recall any of these 'friends' of mine standing up for Syrians, Ukrainians, or any Iraqis bombed out of their home by advancing ISIS forces.

Once again Palestinians are the 'cause du jour' and they really do deserve better.

When you respond to a friend's post, you are also opening yourselves up to all of their friends. It's the stuff that social anxiety disorders are made of. One friend of a friend asked if I was the "dude that had written for the Jerusalem Post." I confirmed that I was.

It was in that piece, a decade ago, that I wrote about a PR vacuum at the heart of British Jewry. There was no Facebook or Twitter then. No easy access to well sourced video and eye witness reports.

Social media has provided Hasbara with a new battleground. The urge to un-friend (sic) people is understandable but we owe it to ourselves to engage, calmly and with empathy. Even when it feels like an impossible struggle.

In that sense, we are all Israelis now and we're all in PR. The tools are there, we just need to use them well.

One word of advice: don't accuse any of your friends of being anti-semitic. I've already made that mistake. How can they be? Some of their best friends are Jewish. Including you.

David Prever presents the drivetime show on BBC Radio Oxford and is the author of The Blood Banker

    Last updated: 1:10pm, July 17 2014