The Fear of Being a Proud Jew

Three days is all it has taken for my perception of the world to implode.  In three fast-paced days, my treasured identity as an proud American Jew, and an equally proud Zionist, has been threatened unlike ever before.  Three days is the short time frame in which I have joylessly begun to internalize that simple fact which my grandparents and parents have parroted to me like a depressing slogan for as long as I can remember;  The entire world is against us.

Last monday was Yom Yerushalayim.  Amidst my Yeshiva day school’s long list of festivities in honor of the reunification of the holy city,  I obsessively refreshed my Twitter feed, searching desperately for news of the chaos I peripherally knew was brewing in the very city we were gathered to celebrate.   As the day dragged on, an order of events congealed in my mind based both on what I had pieced together from social media, and from sources such as the New York Times and CNN publishing new articles on the situation hourly.  

The timeline, based on the information I had gathered, was as follows: Israel rerouted the planned Yom Yerushalayim parade through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem, anticipating high tensions.  They then proceeded to invade the Al-Aqsa Mosque for no justifiable reason, using rubber bullets and stun grenades on its unarmed and praying inhabitants.  In retaliation for Israeli brutality towards these innocent worshippers,  Hamas issued an ultimatum to the Israeli government: they were to vacate the area, or they would be bombed.  

I was lucky enough to receive a robust education regarding Israel and her history.  I am also knowledgeable enough about the world we live in to be wary of the sensationalism, activism, and bias that permeate western journalism.  Given this, I questioned the incriminating story villainizing Israel which seemed in those early hours to be attacking me from every angle.  

However, even that was not enough to prevent me from doubting my steadfast allegiance to Israel.  Was I supporting an oppressor?  Was I on the wrong side of history?  Social media rhetoric aside, how could I disregard the reports I was getting from the mainstream press?  By the time I got home from school, the developing narrative was even more damning as the lopsided death count began to rise.  I walked through my front door in the midst of what can most appropriately be described as a genuine crisis of the heart.  

I approached my father, who shares my passion for Israel, to voice my concerns about Israel’s conduct during this entire affair. What I was shocked to discover during that emotional conversation, was that my father had a completely different set of facts than the one I had accumulated, and his timeline deviated from the one I had established as well.  According to my father’s internal fact sheet and timeline, Israel was not the instigator of unneeded violence.  Rather, Israel only ever acted to protect its citizens from radicals after being clearly and explicitly provoked.  Israel defended itself as any self respecting country would have done.  This truth was not in any way acknowledged by the western press.

As Tuesday dawned, after a frightening night spent by many Israelies in bomb shelters, it became mind bogglingly clear that the worldwide press, from which I had received Monday’s news, had absolutely no interest in the truth of the situation, or the legitimacy of Israel’s self defense.  They, whether consciously or carelessly, bought into the vicious and deceptive lie painted cunningly by Hamas.  A lie which reframed terrorism as a noble fight against opression, and self defense as a merciless attack on the vulnerable.  

More than any other single development, this bleak reality, this fabricated tale of oppression and liberation, so widely publicized by sources I once trusted,  caused me to feel overwhelmingly disillusioned.  It momentarily caused me to despair.  Because how could I possibly craft a believable defense of my beloved Israel, when the entirety of the western press was building an imagined reality so contrary to the one I knew to be true.  How could I realistically ask the world to abandon the prized democratic institution of free press?  How could I possibly convince a single logical person to believe that the information they seemed to so plainly receive was falsified, curated to serve a single nefarious motive?

I think this initial devastating misstep by the press was the leading cause of the chilling wave of Anti Zionism and scantily disguised Anti Semitism which mightily seized every major social media platform during the following days.  There’s a sizable chunk of America, especially the particularly impressionable youth, who receive their information primarily from Instagram, or from fifteen second long Tik Tok videos.  

In such forums as these, sharing a nuanced story is virtually impossible, for who could possibly do justice to the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a fifteen second time slot?  The only report on the conflict delivered through social media was a one sided, thoroughly warped version of the truth.  A story of oppressor versus oppressed.  A story which loudly and persuasively advocated for immediate drastic action, and did not in any way promote pursuit of further information.

By Wednesday morning I was unable to look at my Tiktok feed without being assaulted with a monsterous barrage of hatred, which seemed intent on unraveling my entire identity as both an American Jew, and a Zionist.  Every video on my “For You” page, published by the very same activists whom I once admired as pursuers of social justice, seemed to without fail deliver a scathing condemnation of Israel and her allies.

I often felt obligated to comment on such odious videos defending my own beliefs.  While I had been warned by the adults in my life of what the declaration of such unpopular sentiments on social media would bring, I was still woefully unprepared to face the onslaught of hate that greeted my every written word.  My words were never incendiary.  My words never advocated violence.  My words affirmed the equality of Palestinian and Israeli lives, and lamented the terror indiscriminatly causing the loss of both.  Nevertheless, my words branded me a Zionist dog, and an unapologetic opressor.

Even given the onslaught of virtual hatred, I comforted myself with the knowledge that Israel was in possession of the irrefutable moral high ground.  And then, even that solitary comfort was suddenly no longer crystal clear.  I could close my ears to the press I had once trusted.  I could ignore the bombardment of social media propaganda.  

I could not ignore the news I heard on Thursday.  Could it really be that my Israeli brothers and sisters were rioting violently in the streets?  Could it really be the truth that they were burning and looting Israeli-Arab property?  How could it possibly be that there were Jewish mobs lynching Arabs?  These abhorrent developments did more than just sadden me.  They called into question my Jewish and Zionist pride in a far more personal way than any article or social media post possibly could.  The contradictions between my own perspective of Israel and the facts I was presented with caused me to second guess myself in a way I never truly had before.  They made me question whether being a Jew and a Zionist is actually something to be unconditonally proud of. 

Of course I understand that the actions of these extremists do not in any way represent the attitude of the mainstream Israeli population.  Of course I also know that there are still allies of the Jewish community who defend Israel online.  However, as I write this rather depressing article, the fact still remains that my own identity as an American Jewish Zionist has abruptly fractured.  I feel overwhelmed and heartbroken in the wake of the shattering of the funhouse mirror through which I viewed the world.  I am angry at the western world who abandoned the truth with such indifference.  I am ashamed of those in Israel whose actions are so appalling that they force me to question my commitments.  I am more than anything else petrified, because my country and my family are in such immediate danger.

To my fellow high schoolers: know that if you are coming to the same disheartening realizations that I have these past three days, you are not alone.  The struggle between the facets of our identities is highlighted at this moment in an unprecedented way.  The most important thing we can do now is stay true to our principles, and cling to the story we know to be true.  When the truth isn’t immediately evident, pursue it with vigour.  Surround yourself with voices of reason.  Voices who advocate moderation. Voices who you trust.

Gabriella Jacobs is a junior at ​Maayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in New Jersey. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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