Anti-Social Media: When Mud is Thrown in All Directions

Nov. 23, 2020

By DAVE GORDON

If there was social media 3,000 years ago, Jews would have been bitterly divided over King David. The big scandal would be that he sent Uriah, husband of Batsheva, to purposefully die on the battlefield in order to take her as his own.

There would be a camp defending him: He’s a holy leader, the Messiah will come from him, he built Jerusalem! And a camp boiling with rage: He’s a misogynist, narcissist, evil, a murderer!

And it would fire from both ends; anyone who says otherwise is a traitor to our people. 

Surely we’re nodding, as though we’re reading a biting Onion satire serving as painful metaphor.

Something similar occurred lately to one of our community members, Rafi Yablonsky, who wrote about the blowback from his Facebook post congratulating Kamala Harris on her election as U.S. Vice-President. The epithets hurled at him were disgraceful – a shameful lack of civility and respectful discourse.

He should be – we all should be – rightfully outraged. 

With due respect to Rafi, whom I admire for his invaluable Jewish community service, I have an addendum. I believe he ought to have also chided his own side, even if in passing, so as not to give the impression such behaviours are limited to the right.

He complains there are Jews who are labeled “heretics” for not supporting Donald Trump, while I contend, at the same time, that it’s important to know there are Jews who are labeled heretics (and much worse) for supporting Trump.

He inadvertently provides evidence for this, in his “two kinds of Jews” theory:

“There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his [Trump’s] hatred towards women, minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who opposes him. These sentiments stem mainly from his decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and several other pro-Israel policy shifts. And then there are the rest of us.” 

So, one is either a Trump-supporting Jew who encourages hate in all its forms, or a morally upstanding anti-Trump Jew. This us/them black/white characterization is overly-simplistic, lacks crucial nuance, and implicitly paints “other” Jews as terrible people.

I have met scores of kind, good-hearted Jews who support Trump.

There are swaths of LGBTQ+, Latinos, Blacks and women who voted for him, too. Are they all hate-enablers?

No one can judge another’s character based simply on where their X is on their ballot. What I know about any given Trump voter is virtually nothing, because I do not have a looking glass into the heads of 73 million people. And neither does anyone else.

Here’s what some might find unbelievable. For every tweet, policy or malapropism that is perceived to be anti-woman, anti-minorities, or anti-LGBTQ+, there are Trump supporters who can explain a completely opposite perspective that they believe invalidates the accusation. And as we’ve undoubtedly heard, there are supporters who vote for policy over personality.

That doesn’t make them bad people. Misguided, perhaps. Uninformed, perhaps. Or, to their minds, wise. Whichever the case, they, like anyone, deserve to be treated with dignity.

So while Rafi is correct to reproach Trump-supporters who were disrespectful, it’s an error of omission to avoid mentioning the same issues that exist on the opposing end. 

I cannot count the number of times I have seen Trump and those who support him called Nazis, haters, and racists. This is especially true from the six “A’s:” activists, academia, athletes, artists, authors and anchors. The most recent example is CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who equated Trump with Nazis. Comparisons like these are being normalized; trivializing the Shoah by the day.

And to paraphrase Rafi, “there are Jews who ignore, or worse, laud and emulate this hatred.” I’ve seen Jews on social media compare Trump to Hitler, and compare his Jewish supporters to kapos, and not a peep – not even a “thumbs down” – from their friends. 

Just after the election, a prominent and respected member of our community stated on his Facebook wall that he believes Trump is “evil.” (What does that make Heinrich Himmler? “Super-evil?”) This individual also said Trump’s supporters are evil, and asked to be unfriended from anyone who supports the president.

By his reckoning, a person cannot simultaneously be a decent human being, and still think Trump may have accomplished some good (or at least, believe him better than the alternative). 

One must pass a “political purity test” even to be virtual friends with him.

How does unity, so vigorously preached, spring from such intolerance? 

So it’s clear: My political positions are complicated. I might be seen defending conservative positions online, but I also hold many classic liberal beliefs, and surprisingly, a couple of leftist ones.

I would sooner enjoy a dinner with a mensch with whom I differ than have so much as a l’chaim with a shmuck who votes like I do. 

This isn’t achieved through “othering,” which actually goes beyond just Trump, or Obama, or any politician. On social media, going as far back as the day I first signed in to Facebook in 2007, I saw disdain and derision in place of disagreement, on both sides. Particularly during election years. It got personal.

Obsessed as we are when Israel is demonized, and when Jews as a whole are dehumanized, somehow there’s no overlap in lesson when we do this to our fellow. 

In the early 20th century, author Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about the French philosophe Voltaire, to whom the quote is often misattributed, famously wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

The 21st century needs an updated version: “I disapprove of what you say, and I will admonish those who demean you for saying it.”


Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon’s writing has appeared in more than 100 media outlets around the world, including the National Post, Toronto Star, Washington Times, BBC, Montreal Gazette, and Baltimore Sun. His website is www.DaveGordonWrites.com 

Wishing Biden and Harris Well Online? Buckle Up…

Nov. 17, 2020

By RAFI YABLONSKY

My parents were born in Israel. I was born in Israel. All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel. All four of my wife’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada. My wife’s grandfather, Bill Glied, with whom I sat at the verdict of Reinhold Hanning, one of the last Nazis to be tried for war crimes, had spent the last two decades of his life pursuing Holocaust education and telling his story to thousands of students. I have spent my adult life working in the Jewish community, raising millions of dollars for Israel and Jewish communal organizations.

And somehow, here was a comment on my Facebook post telling me that I was no longer Jewish, no longer Israeli.

What was my crime? My unforgivable sin, according to too many commenters?

After four years of the bigotry and venom that Donald Trump and his followers unleashed on the world, and after nearly four days of vote counting, Joe Biden had been declared President-elect in the United States. His running mate, Kamala Harris, had made history by becoming the first woman and first person of colour to hold the title of Vice President-elect.

Her election is an inspiration to millions of young girls across the United States. I was elated to see an end to the sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism coming from the White House. I didn’t think too much of it. Maybe that would be the end of the happy story. 

I put up a brief post on my Facebook wall – a picture of the VP-elect, and a message of congratulations.

I didn’t expect what was to come. 

I didn’t expect to be bombarded with over 100 comments attacking me. I didn’t expect to be sworn at, to be told that I was anti-Israel, antisemitic, and a Nazi party supporter to boot.

A sampler:

– For a Jew like you to support Biden is like supporting Nazi Germany.

– Congratulations on cheating.

– F**k you Rafi, you’re pathetic.

Paraphrasing, one commenter said I’m not Jewish. I’m not Israeli. I’m a Canadian communist for supporting Biden/Harris.

I founded the Hasbara at York group, a student organization at the university which focuses on Israel education. I’ve been called a fascist and a racist for supporting Israel in the past. I’ve been called an occupier and Nazi for supporting Israel. I’ve never had my Jewishness negated by a fellow Jew.

I didn’t expect to have my Judaism diminished. And I certainly didn’t expect that an old friend I’ve known for almost two decades would like that comment. 

I received a number of messages of support. From friends, from family, from current and former members of Parliament and heads of major Toronto Jewish institutions. But I barely slept that night. This was the first time I’ve blocked people on Facebook. I had to “unfriend” someone in real life. 

The truth is, I cannot remember a time when the Jewish community has been this starkly divided, and never this viscerally. Our community is drenched in sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Donald Trump has divided the Jewish community into two kinds of Jews. There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his hatred towards women, minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who opposes him. These sentiments stem mainly from his decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and several other pro-Israel policy shifts. And then there are the rest of us. 

My grandparents who, thank G-d, survived Auschwitz, used to tell me how in the cattle cars, there were Jews of every denomination, from every corner of the political spectrum. Their destination didn’t care if they were secular or Hasidic, right or left wing. They were just Jews destined for the same fate. 

Jews argue. We disagree with each other. It’s a trait that is deep and celebrated in our history and our texts. But the Talmud tells us kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – all of Israel is responsible for one another. We are not the enemy. But there is a part of our community – one that has been growing over the past four years – that treats any Jews who dislike Donald Trump as heretics. 

In the days since Biden and Harris were elected, there’s been a lot of calls for unity. I think that’s great. We are in desperate need of reconciliation, in the Jewish community as much as the rest of society. But reconciliation and unity doesn’t mean we meet in the middle. 

We meet in a place that respects women, Indigenous peoples and people of colour – and we in the Jewish community must dig particularly deep for Jewish women, and Jewish women of colour. We meet in a place that accepts and celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and the Jews who I’ve marched with in the Toronto Pride Parade when Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) tried to have us barred from participating.

I replied to that Facebook commenter, saying that while I pitied him, I didn’t think his support for Trump had cost him his Judaism. I still think about all the negative comments I received over the past few days and I hope daughters never see what their fathers wrote. I hope they instead see Harris shatter the glass ceiling and be encouraged to follow their dreams. 

And more than anything else, I hope that those Jews who have taken to dismissing our Jewishness remember that kol Yisrael arevim ze bazeh and that we are all Jews and will always be family.


Rafi Yablonksy
Rafi Yablonksy

Rafi Yablonsky holds a BComm from York University and worked in the hi-tech industry before working at United Jewish Appeal as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Rafi has worked as the Toronto Director of Chai Lifeline, as campaign director at JNF Toronto, and most recently, at the Baycrest Foundation as Manager of Major Gifts.

JNF Montreal Launches $1M Prize to Make Israel a Climate Change Leader

Nov. 16, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Montreal is aiming high in its Negev campaign this year. The goal is nothing less than to solve the global climate crisis.

A planned $1 million (U.S.) prize to encourage Israel to take the lead in combating climate change was announced at JNF Montreal’s virtual Negev gala on Nov. 11.

The campaign, chaired by Jonathan Goodman, founder and CEO of Knight Therapeutics Inc., aims to enable the prize to be awarded annually.

The Climate Solutions Prize will go to the Israeli researcher or not-for-profit organization which proposes an innovation that promises to have the greatest impact in the world, as judged by an expert panel.

Israel, it is believed, is well placed to make such a breakthrough given its strength in technological development and entrepreneurial spirit. However, most investment has been going into the information, medical and financial fields, Goodman points out, and less into green technology.

“Climate change was not a primary concern for me until my (teenaged) son Noah told me it is his priority,” Goodman said. A JNF youth group is playing a strong role in this project.

JNF Montreal Negev 2020-2021 honoree Jeff Hart, president of Victoria Park Medispa, said the prize “will leverage Israel’s special ability to solve seemingly impossible challenges in order to bring literal tikun olam – healing of the world.”

Given its 119-year history of making the desert bloom and more recent environmental leadership, JNF is considered to be in a position to oversee this initiative. Israel is experiencing the harmful effects of climate change, evidenced by record-breaking temperatures and, in Tel Aviv, unprecedented flooding, for example, Hart said.

The campaign will continue through to late spring, and it is hoped the first prize can be awarded next fall, in a live ceremony to be broadcast worldwide, said Hart.

A related $100,000 prize to recognize a Quebec organization making an outstanding contribution to mitigate climate change, which might lead to a partnership with Israel, is also planned.

Despite the gravity of the subject, the Zoom gala was filled with humour. The emcee was Andy Nulman, co-founder of the Just for Laughs festival, who alternately could be seen in a parka and tuque against a frozen background and in a tank top in a room on fire.

Hart got into the lightheartedness by wearing a T-shirt with the logo, “There is No Planet B.”

The biggest laughs were generated by the guest speaker Yossi Abramowitz, aka “Captain Sunshine,” who was live from Israel even though it was the wee hours of the morning there.

That didn’t dampen his exuberance for his mission to power Israel – and the rest of the world – by renewable energy, in particular the power coming from the sun.

A Boston native, the activist and entrepreneur made aliyah in 2006 with his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman), and immediately co-founded the Arava Power Company in the Negev Desert, which set up Israel’s first grid-connected solar field, proving many doubters wrong.

His aim is 100 percent daytime reliance on solar energy from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Since 2013, Abramowitz has been president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital, which supports affordable solar power projects outside Israel, especially in developing countries, including Rwanda and Burundi.

He would like to see Israel become “the energy superpower of goodness in the world…the renewable light unto the nations.”

Abramowitz thinks the JNF prize will leverage more investment from the government and private sector in sustainability, as was the case in Arava.

Abramowitz recalled how the then California Senator Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff privately visited Arava in 2017 and were highly impressed with the development of solar energy.

He likes to think the “seeds were planted” for the Joe Biden-Harris platform, which emphasizes renewable energy, “or at least was nurtured around our Shabbat table.”

“It’s time the Jewish people steps up, not just for ourselves, but everyone,” Abramowitz said. “We’re a global people that has always strived to be ethical. And this [the climate crisis] is the big one.”

More information is available at climatesolutionsprize.com.

Editorial: The Smiling Dead

Nov. 11, 2020

Some good news according to recent reports: We are inching closer to a COVID vaccine. Even so, we must remain cognizant of the need for proper masking, handwashing, and social distancing. Places like Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand and others, where citizens followed these simple rules and locked down as necessary, have managed to control this beast.

Future generations will study some responses to the virus and scratch their heads in amazement at humans’ stubborn refusal to follow simple rules. They will wonder whether we had a death wish. They will ask how Americans – to pick on citizens of one country – didn’t immediately shame leaders who publicly suggested witchcraft-type cures, from ingesting bleach to shining sunlight down throats.

Academics will study this time in sheer amazement. Research papers will be written on the phenomenon of humans defying common sense because one man convinced them to follow him over a cliff.

Here in Canada, more sense has prevailed but frighteningly, there are eerie signs that the bullheadedness from our southern neighbours is creeping across the border.

This past weekend in Aylmer, Ont. more than 2,000 people demanded an end to public health regulations. No more social distancing, no more masks. “Freedom!” they cried, while others, like protest conspiracy leader Pastor Henry Hildebrant from the controversial Church of God, wondered, “how many people died? Where? Where is the emergency? There is nothing to back it up. We want our freedom back. We want to live.” Others demanded the right to smile in public.

It will be these people who, when the numbers are counted, will be known as the “smiling dead.”

Welcome Back to Sanity

The elections in the United States have come to a shaky end. Most people felt as though a huge weight was lifted from their shoulders when Joseph R. Biden was proclaimed the 46th president of the United States.

However, along with elation came the sobering reality that more than 70 million people cast a vote for the other ticket, perhaps out of an ongoing sense of disenfranchisement, frustration with an establishment they see as rigged, or just to keep a thumb in the eye of the so-called elites who look down on them.

Many of them may have legitimate grievances but many others voted to give voice to the darker angels of their nature. These millions turned a blind eye to the callousness of an American leader who chose to lie and spread conspiracy theories instead of listening to science. As a result, over 200,000 of Donald Trump’s fellow citizens succumbed to the coronavirus. He could have saved tens of thousands with faster, smarter action. His legacy on this and many other files will stain America for generations.

We welcome back sanity and normalcy (even though Trump, it’s fair to say, will not go away quietly.) Mazal tov to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first bi-racial woman to hold the second highest office in the land. And let us not forget the Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, the first Jew and the first man to be so named. From strength to strength.