Plastic idealism

Recent provocations against the Birthright project raise melancholic thoughts about the twisted way in which we educate the younger generation.

A BIRTHRIGHT mega-event in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A BIRTHRIGHT mega-event in Jerusalem.
Recently, five young American girls provoked a scene in the middle of a Birthright tour, and abandoned it in order “to see the truth everyone is trying to hide”, with a small group guided by “Breaking the Silence.” That same week, we were granted a similar performance at the Knesset: a session called “Children under Occupation” and a film about the life of children in Gaza, which was freed of Israeli occupation about 13 years ago. But let’s not be petty about the facts, as long as we can make some waves in the puddle, right?
Why would someone insist that Gazan children are still under Israeli occupation, as if the famous Ariel Sharon disengagement never happened? And who exactly is “hiding” one of the international media’s favorite subjects, which in the past twenty years or so has been covered beyond all reasonable proportion? These are two random examples of a much wider phenomenon – hollow activism, based on pseudo-intellectual chatter instead of true facts, and therefore never amounting to any achievements (apart from keeping the activists busy). The “Breaking the Silence” representative said the five spoiled girls were “brave” for walking out on their free trip, and in return they uploaded some idiotic clip on Facebook, and for a minute were under the illusion that they did something meaningful.
It’s sad because this sort of civilian activism, supposedly a wonderful manifestation that utilises democracy to the fullest, is baloney. These youngsters actually believe they’re the reincarnation of Rosa Parks. They do not realise that they are not risking anything, apart from running out of battery power which will prevent them from taking a selfie and posting it on Instagram.
Still, there is a difference between the two examples.
It’s easy to forgive five young girls that boast some plastic idealism which can be exchanged without the original receipt. But the Knesset is supposed to be a place for mature, responsible, serious and knowledgable adults. The problem is that most MK’s engage in constant propaganda: they cherry-pick the facts that will coincide with their campaign, and if the disengagement doesn’t coordinate with their agenda, they pretend it never happened. They know the facts but decide to manipulatively ignore them in order to get some headlines. The five “brave” girls, as opposed to them, are wannabes that don’t know the facts and sadly don’t truly understand what they’re protesting for. As far as they’re concerned, it’s totally okay to exploit Jewish philanthropy, because the non-political Birthright tour “shows a one-sided story”, whereas the politically extremist BTS tour they opted for, doesn’t.
The television critic in Yediot wrote a nice piece about the short op-ed clips that have been flooding the social networks lately. “They’re an espresso capsule of commentary, with the sole intent of clickbait,” he wrote. “They value determination over reason, provocation over depth, attitude over argument.”
He was referring to a clip that presented an “opinion” of a woman that doesn’t vaccinate her children. There are millions of those around the web, but this specific clip was not a medical opinion, although it could have persuaded parents to take an action that would’ve influenced their children’s health. The clip was taken off the air once the ramifications were understood, but the web is still overflowing with opinion clips that have no grounds to stand on, and God knows who they influence and how. They’re designed to “impress”, while no one checks how true they are, how accurate and under what authority. That’s what we’re teaching a whole generation – plastic activism that is no more than a “thumbs up” activating machine.
People my age can sigh, roll their eyes and move on, but the younger generation is being taught to invest only in shallow visibility, and measure achievement only by minutes of fame that an accidental narcissistic “activist” had managed to gain. Credibility and precision are of no interest to them, and when confronted with this, they find some manipulative rationalisation that “proves” that they’re never wrong. They are taught to pursue hollow activism that will never amount to any solution, simply because it’s based on nothing. They go against things without knowing what they’re in favor of. Once their battle fails, they are able to blame “the establishment,” or “the corruption,” as long as it’s somebody else and not themselves.
These young people who cherish the “show” have no idea what they’re really doing. The five American girls that belong to some ephemeral organisation which is supposedly “moral” and “humane,” indulge in fake superiority and live in a dream world. They invest in empty provocations so they can post them on Facebook Live, hoping that someone will comment about how “amazing!” and “brave” they are, and maybe allow them some momentary media coverage. But in fact – they have no idea how to build bridges by doing something positive, and their only “achievement” is causing some damage to one of the signature Birthright tours.
ACTIVISM THAT is based on ignorance is encouraged by sessions such as the one for “Gazan children under occupation,” that are designed to get media coverage and not to promote true knowledge. The subject is more than worthy if presented correctly, while addressing the simple fact that Gazan children do not live under occupation anymore, but under Hamas regime. As responsible adults we should value and merit precision over “opinion”. We should stop twisting facts and encouraging this sort of “activism”, espresso capsules that have a wonderful aroma, but consist of nothing but hot air. Why do we provide the stage for these “mini-opinions,” bold and superficial like commercials, that create the illusion that the speaker knows what he’s talking about?
“Breaking the Silence” and their likes also belong to this baffled genre. Their “sacred” activism is aimed at ending the occupation, but achieves the opposite: extreme factions, allowing Hamas to evade criticism, kindling hatred towards Israel, and supplying Palestinian leaders with the backing that only entrenches them in their stand. If that’s not enough – for every dreamy teenager they recruit, twenty others are encouraged to join the right wing.
Without this empty activism, the Israeli Left would seem saner, and attract more people to identify with it. If anything, this activism only lowers the chance for a bridge, for peace, and for ending the occupation in the West Bank. Everyone is free to express themselves, of course, but freedom of expression becomes a freedom of babbling once these provocations receive too big a spotlight.
Just so these youngsters won’t live under the illusion that they’re Rosa Parks, here is a short reminder of who she really was: she lived under real racial laws in the US over sixty years ago, when the world was different, there was no Facebook Live and no NGO’s, and no one gave her anything for free. It wasn’t a cheap manipulation designed to receive 15 minutes of fame. She took a huge risk, because unlike the wannabes, she fought injustices that her government was solely responsible for, and she faced the possibility of real injury.
The true enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge. So if you’re young, don’t hurry to buy these air-filled knowledge capsules from anyone, no matter how many “likes” they get. And don’t create these capsules yourselves if you haven’t truly investigated the subject. Don’t succumb to whoever tells your that you’re “not dramatic enough” or “not aggressive enough,” and don’t imitate plastic activists. Reality is complex, the 15 minutes of fame are constantly getting shorter, and sometimes it doesn’t matter how good an argument sounds – it can still be nonsense if it isn’t based on accurate information and won’t achieve the goal you’re fighting for. You cannot acquire value when your true intention is clicks and shares, you only get true value with credibility. Rosa Parks is a story of the past. In our day, true courage is being able to see that you’ve been manipulated, and then re-evaluating matters and investing in true activism.
The author is a journalist for Ma’ariv.