DOREEN WACHMANN COLUMN
Social media can be anti-social, too

PLUS ca change, plus c'est la meme chose - the more things change, the more they are the same.

This French saying was graphically born out on Page 29 of The Times on August 15.

Heading the letters column was one by Rabbi Jonathan Romain who asked: "Why should Jews be blamed for events in the Middle East?"

He wrote: "It is vital for national cohesion that we do not import the problems of the Middle East and make Britain a proxy war zone."

At the bottom of the page, below the letters, was The Times' First World War series of daily excerpts from the newspaper on that day 100 years ago.

The excerpt that day came from the editor of the London Jewish Chronicle and Jewish World, who wrote: "Instance after instance has come to my knowledge of the ignorant assumption up and down the country that every Jew is necessarily a German and is hence being made an object of hatred as an enemy of this country.

"In Germany I learn that our Jews are in a somewhat similar case, but there they are not called 'German' Jews, but 'Russian' Jews."

That's really comforting to know that whatever happens in the world, it's our fault! But in these seven weeks of comfort between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashana, is there any comfort to be had from Times columnist Matthew Paris' view on August 23 that Muslims have now got it worse than Jews?

He wrote: "Imagine reading the following comments in the online responses of Times readers:

"All Jews are extremists. We should embark upon a sustained effort to destroy this cancer in our midst. Truth, honesty and Judaism are not natural allies."

And more of the same. But Paris then informs us that he has substituted the word "Jew" for "Muslim" and "Judaism" for "Islam" from comments on The Times website, which brand all Muslims as extremists.

Little has changed since the beginning of the Great War, the war which was supposed to end all wars, except that our weapons of mass destruction have become deadlier.

Needless lives are being sacrificed for reasons often incomprehensible to the citizens of the countries involved in the conflicts.

Which is why so many people this century are vehemently against any conflict. But sometimes, as when Israel is incessantly attacked by rockets by a neighbouring country sworn to its destruction, there is unfortunately little choice.

And despite all the lessons learned from the Holocaust of the dangers of racism, the negative stereotyping of individuals by their race and religion is unfortunately as alive and well today as it was 100 years ago, thanks primarily to the rise of social (or rather anti-social) media.

Everything in life can be used for good and for bad and "social" media is no exception.

Without Twitter and Facebook, Israel supporters would not have succeeded in putting a stop to the often-antisemitic protests of Palestinian supporters outside Manchester's Kedem Israeli cosmetics store.

But the nature of "social" media often encourages people to press the "send" button before they have put their brains in gear and realise the hatefulness of the words they are pouring out in the heat of the moment.

Everything we journalists write is checked and re-checked by editors and sub-editors to ensure accuracy and prevent infringement of the libel laws.

No such checks come into place on "social" media where people are free to vent their anger and frustrations in the strongest language without any checks for accuracy of information.

No wonder racism and xenophobia are as alive as ever!


Unfair backlash against leaders

WITH the success of the recent grassroots Facebook and Twitter pro-Israel campaigns has come a Jewish backlash against the established leadership of Anglo-Jewry such as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Councils and local Representative Councils, as activists blame these organisations for not having taken the lead.

This is not fair. The world is changing. For better or worse, thanks to modern technology, grassroots Facebook and Twitter campaigns are effecting change all over the world, whether it be the Arab Spring and the subsequent 2011 British riots or the Kedem counter-protests.

These online campaigns move much quicker and get more people involved than established parties and organisations ever can. But that does not make the established leadership redundant. It only changes its role to that of a force for continuity and balance rather than for innovation and activism.

The contacts that our Jewish leadership organisations have built up with the British powers-that-be are vital for behind-the-scene negotiations which are not always evident to the public eye.

These organisations have always complained that not enough individual Jews have become involved on behalf the community.

Now that these spontaneous mass movements have emerged from the recent Gaza conflict it is vital that they continue to work together with the established leadership who have all the behind-the-scenes contacts, rather than find a target of criticism within the Jewish community, when we have so many outside enemies to contend with.

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