You’re angry and afraid – direct it properly
At times like this, when it feels like global sentiment has once again turned against Jews, the world can seem like a dark and frightening place.
We’re faced with an ongoing barrage of images, news items, and social media posts which makes us acutely aware of our minority status in the world. Post Holocaust, a total of 15 million Jews exist globally in a world of 8.1 billion. It’s unsurprising then that the reporting on Israel globally and in South Africa is experienced as something of an assault, as coverage of the Gaza war drifts from sympathy with the plight of Palestinians to denial of the horrors of 7 October and outright antisemitism. Against this background, we experience a sense of frustration as mainstream and social media take up this narrative uncritically.
But there are many, many alternatives to stewing in this mire of helplessness and frustration. I offer three suggestions below, of small and simple ways to re-engage with the world in a way that’s both functional and empowering.
- Recognise the emotions you’re feeling, and direct them appropriately.
The Hamas attacks on 7 October, and the subsequent response of much of the world’s population, reignited a sense of existentialist angst among Jews in the world that we thought had gone forever. Recognise the way that this has shaken us, grieved us, and angered us. The grief won’t go away easily, but the fear and anger now need to be put in their correct place. You can choose to watch the monstrous people who tear down posters of kidnapped babies, or you can watch the true powers in the world, the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and most of all Germany, stand firmly with Israel.
You can panic about your safety in South Africa, or you can assess the risks rationally, guided by communal organisations. Of course, the risks to Jews at the moment across the world are higher than they have been. This isn’t “business as usual” in any country where Jews live. But terrifying our children and giving in to panic helps no-one. If you’re unsure what’s safe, ask; if you see something suspicious or you’re concerned for your safety, call it in. The line between panic and caution is quite wide. Take the time to recognise your emotions so you can clearly differentiate between them.
Like fear, misplaced anger can do far more harm than good. The anger we feel now towards Hamas and towards a seemingly hostile world, is sometimes transferred to anger against anything that seems to frustrate or hinder us, no matter how mildly, in our daily world. When the object of our rage is so far out of our grasp, it’s easy for the person standing in front of us to become the target of our frustration. Again, recognise and acknowledge the stress we’re all feeling. Particularly given the huge pressure we’re all under, we need to treat people within and beyond our community respectfully and kindly. Shouting at the Community Security Organisation guard, being impatient with a fellow parent, or being rude, is perhaps understandable in these difficult times, but it’s not right. So, take a moment to consider the stress that you and they are under, and pull back.
- Revisit your consumption and engagement with mainstream and social media.
It’s enraging to watch/read/hear a biased, sometimes nonsensical, occasionally antisemitic news report. But there are a few things worth considering to lower your blood pressure. Every form of media has the equivalent of an off button. It’s not hiding your head in the sand, nor retreating into a bubble to choose media which presents a fair representation of the conflict. That doesn’t mean the media have to take your side consistently, nor that they shouldn’t present alternative voices. If that’s difficult for us to accept because we’re still raw and broken from 7 October, honestly, just turn it off, close it, mute it, block it. There are many interesting, beautiful, entertaining things to watch, read, listen to, and scroll over. Give yourself permission to let some of that light into your media habits.
If you prefer to continue to engage with the media, it can be empowering to respond to bias where appropriate. If you phone in, or write a letter or article in response to some seemingly egregious statement or position, please adhere to some basic rules of engagement. Know your facts. This is an excellent time to brush up on your Jewish history, Israeli history, and general knowledge of geo-politics. If this is a space you wish to engage in, then you do need to pop any bubbles you may find yourself in. Understand the issues at stake, understand your opponent’s position, and know that slogans don’t translate well into reasoned arguments, then feel free to wade in.
Keep your temper. With emotions so high over these issues, it can feel almost inhuman to remain calm in the face of outrageous statements in the media. But if our intent is to convince, then losing patience can equate to losing the battle. Having said that, we don’t have to tolerate the threats and insults that have been made against us. I believe the South African Jewish Board of Deputies has done an excellent job of speaking truth to power beyond the echo chamber of our community. That’s our job, and we’ll continue to do it without fear.
- Don’t feed the trolls.
This phrase, popular within the social media space, refers to the social media algorithms designed to manufacture outrage and foster division. There are many accounts on social media created explicitly to undermine civil discourse and push the narrative to the extremes. That’s where the engagement, and the numbers necessary for the survival of the social media companies come from. The exhortation not to feed the trolls works in “real life” too. Most people like you and me are decent human beings. We don’t have to agree to be able to live together in a highly diverse country. We shouldn’t be pushed to extremes by the radical minority screaming obscenities at rallies and marches. Always engage with empathy and compassion.
We’re desolate about the massive loss of life that this war has led to, and we can mourn the innocents on both sides. The problem isn’t that there’s too much empathy in the world, but that there’s too little.
- Karen Milner is national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.