Selective Outrage

I’m a geek of very liberal politics living in Israel, and I communicate with friends around the world daily. You’re a bright bunch of people, with whom I am able to have a friendly disagreement on matters of substance without endangering our friendships. I love having friends like that.

It is in that spirit that I want to call out a behavior that I see among some of my geek friends. This is a difficult topic to write about because it mixes politics and friendship, and…

Israel.

Generally, the utterance of that one word is basis enough for even the strongest-willed to lose their grip on a civil, meaningful conversation. Being Israeli means dealing with the topic, frequently. When I read delightful screeds on how women in tech must deal with gender, I try to empathize by thinking about my often-unwanted role as educator about The Israel Issue™. It’s the last thing I feel like dealing with most days, but in the end I’m equipped to write about it—if I won’t do it, who will?

This is perhaps the most meaningful thing I’ve written on how people bungle their criticisms of Israel, for better and worse. My goal is to change your minds on how you go about criticizing Israel, and by extension, anything for which a capital-T “Truth” is simply undistillable.

It started with a tweet

I’m calling out a good friend, Steve Holden, so I’d like to preface the following with an assertion that Steve is a bonafide friend and a man whose company and intellect I enjoy immensely. His tweets were simply emblematic of the kind of behavior I want to change. After publishing this, I will remain Steve’s friend. No drama to see here, move along if that’s what you’re after.

Steve is a fellow geek of liberal leanings, but I’ve noticed tweets in the following vein several times:

On the face of things, this seems relevant and not at all noteworthy. He has his political views, I have mine, they don’t align, no foul. These tweets are generally accompanied by a link, and the linked items do always include something I find to be worthy of outrage. I have no interest in defending the things in the linked article or others like it.

Taken individually, these tweets are all justified. Taken collectively, they are a pattern of discrimination which I’ve seen over and over again: somebody whose connection to Israel/Palestine is tenuous at best decides to make this their pet cause of the week. I take issue with the volume (both frequency and tone) of such complaints for two reasons:

  1. It is lacking in proportion to the tenuous relationship between their lives and Israel/Palestine.
  2. It is a selective application of outrage to some action of Israel’s when similarly outrage-worthy subjects are consistently ignored.

Before we tumble down the moral-equivalency rabbithole, I’ll qualify my statements: you need not be Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, or Arab to be permitted to engage in debate on the matter. You do not have to give “equal airtime” to all viewpoints to be able to criticize Israel without fear of being called an antisemite (hint: you’ll get called names by somebody no matter what position you take on an Israel/Palestine-related topic).

The crux of the matter is the issue of impact. If you’re going to spend a disproportionate amount of your time criticizing Israel, I expect to find a lot of Israel in your life. If you aren’t directly impacted by Israel, then you have to manufacture that impact yourself; it is valid to simply be concerned about this aspect of our world, but only if you’ve taken the time to educate yourself about a truly complex and multidimensional issue. You need to have done some research. You need to make the subject some nontrivial fraction of your life.

Absent that impact, that connection, making Israel your knee-jerk pet cause is discrimination. You looked at the field of things to care about and decided that a country halfway around the globe was more important than problems in your country, your state, your city, your neighborhood, your family, your workplace, your industry, and everything else with a higher incidence in your life than the actions of the State of Israel.

Really, it’s that simple.

Part of the problem lies with the disproportionate amount of media coverage (good and bad) that Israel enjoys. Part of that problem lies with the fact that the predominant faiths of the western world have physical ties to this place, making it newsworthy even in the absence of news. Like tabloid junkies, we all find it difficult not to click on catchy headlines advertising the latest atrocities (real or imagined) committed by Israel, and our moral compass requires that we tell others about the injustices we heard about.

There are reasons why negative news about Israel is disproportionately loud and popular. The decision to be a part of that blind machine is up to you. If you’re criticizing Israel on a regular basis, I’d urge you to consider what I’ve written above and see if you have other issues you devote comparable time to. If you don’t, ask yourself why. If you do, ask yourself why Israel shares their prominence in your life. If you can’t supply a rational answer, I posit that you’re doing something wrong.

TL;DR srsly guise, it is impossible to distill most Israel-related topics into a TL;DR.