Karen Glaser

Those of us who have a voice must use it to fight back… with the facts

It can feel daunting and lonely combatting some of the disinformation and untruths spread online, but we need to do it

November 10, 2023 11:08

"Why doesn’t Israel agree to a ceasefire?”

“What Hamas did was wrong, but it doesn’t give Israel the right to commit genocide.”

“Israel is an apartheid ethnostate, that’s what’s at the root of all this.”

“Might Hamas’s reaction have something to do with a tiny civilian population being mercilessly starved and bombed while illegal settlers continue to force them from their land?”

If you’re on social media, tune into BBC Radio 4 or LBC phone-ins or simply move in bien-pensant circles, you will have heard a lot of deeply offensive and profoundly ignorant maunder since October 7. The deluge of lies and misinformation engulfing our screens, the nation’s airwaves and its middle-class dinner parties since the Hamas pogrom has been overwhelming.

So overwhelming that at times I have felt I am not waving but drowning in a sea of hate. There is nothing random about the questions and statements I quote above: I have responded to all four on Faceache (as a friend has helpfully rebranded the social media platform) in the past hour.

If you’ve also been barking back, you hardly need me to tell you how exhausting it gets. It requires zero effort to make absurd statements about the Middle East. It is easy to ask lofty questions about Israel’s war on Hamas, questions you  might think make you look clever and virtuous, but which actually reveal a gasping ignorance.

Conversely, it takes time to respond responsibly, to marshal one’s arguments and to check facts, to counter and contest with credible sources, to demolish antisemitic lies. As the French philosopher Sartre said of Jew-haters in 1946: “… it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The antisemites have the right to play.”

This week, a well-meaning friend advised me to use fewer words. “You are not responsible for other people’s ignorance and hatred, Karen. And, besides, you won’t convince them.”

His words came from a place of deep kindness and concern, but I think they are misguided. Yes, it is true that we will never convince the haters, those who are so pickled in the brine they are immune to facts and reason. But when we challenge the deceit and myths in which the Jews’ nation state is mired, we are not talking to hardcore antisemites, we are talking to Britain’s neutrals. The neutrals who I strongly suspect make up the overwhelming majority of people in this country, and who I also strongly suspect are asking themselves: what the hell is going on in that faraway country called Israel? They are the reason we should refute the lies, why we cannot leave things unchallenged on the table. If we do, we are de facto accepting propaganda, allowing people with open minds and open hearts to conclude that that faraway country does not have a case, an argument.

What’s more, I know from conversations with family and friends in Israel that when we speak out in the diaspora, it is appreciated. When Jews and our allies attend Downing Street vigils, when we counter falsities on social media and respond to idiocy on phone-ins, it helps the people in the tiny state of Israel, a sliver of land about the size of my native Wales, feel just a little bit less alone.

And there’s another reason it is incumbent upon us to speak out: because we can. Despite the sickening scenes in my adopted city of London these past weeks, the stations overrun by mobs, the chants of “from the river to the sea” on the streets, and the posters of the hostages ripped down, the sobering fact remains that we are still living in the best ever period for Jews in this country. We are not living, as my mother once did, in 1960s Poland. This is Britain in 2023, a place and a time where we have a voice.

But we need to use our voice well. Today I was the only person to respond to the questions and statements I cite above. But on other occasions I haven’t been alone and while it’s always  good to be among friends, I’m sometimes dismayed at the quality of our ripostes. As I’ve said, it isn’t easy to demolish lies. You need facts and argument, not emotion and cries of antisemitism (even when you’re feeling emotional about the antisemitism).

At a JC event at JW3 the other week, Booker Prize-winning novelist and JC columnist Howard Jacobson called for greater efforts to educate Jewish children so that they would be able to tell our narrative.

“The kids don’t know what to think,” he said. “We haven’t steeled them enough. We haven’t taught them enough.”

I think the same can be said of some adults in our community.

Harsh? OK, well, how would you respond to the charges with which I opened this piece?

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November 10, 2023 11:08

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