Israel mocks Iranian leader in undiplomatic Tweet.

I’m on record as thinking that the current Prime Minister of Israel tends to overstate his country’s case against Iran—that while official Israel’s long-standing concern regarding the possibility of Iran achieving nuclear capability is surely understandable (particularly considering the latter’s oft-stated hostility to the existence of a Jewish State), we mustn’t forget that Israel itself has nuclear weapons (yes, it does), that not everything’s another Holocaust, and that furthermore, if your government has spent more or less the last decade claiming with tones of urgency that we’ve only got six months, a year, two years in which to prevent calamity—your government might be overstating its case.

But you know what? Israel’s long-standing concern regarding the possibility of Iran achieving nuclear capability is surely understandable, particularly considering the latter’s oft-stated hostility to the existence of a Jewish State. If I were an Israeli official, I, too, would want to make sure that the U.S. government was not messing around and that whatever precautions being taken to protect my people were good and solid. That seems only reasonable, and certainly to be expected. Overstating a case doesn’t mean that the case doesn’t actually exist.

And yet.

And yet, there is asking the President of the United States to dot his I’s and cross his T’s; there’s making sure your concerns are heard; there’s even pressuring your allies and asking your friends to do the same because this is actually kind of a big deal and you’re truly alarmed.

And then there’s this nonsense.

Israel embassy tweet Rouhani 9 23 13

 

Rather than treat the rolling tide of news regarding a possible thaw in relations between the U.S. and Iran as the serious matter that it is, rather than take into consideration all that’s at stake, rather than—oh, I don’t know—consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, if the Obama Administration manages to achieve an agreement with Iran, it might actually meet Israel’s security needs and improve the lives of everyone in the Jewish State—the Israeli Embassy in the U.S. decided to try its hand at biting social media wit, by way of fifth grade level sarcasm. Creating a false LinkedIn account for your country’s arch-nemesis carries about as much gravitas as does poking your friend at lunch and saying: “Hunh-hunh! Let’s give Hassan devil’s horns in the yearbook!”

And then Israel’s UN Mission re-tweeted it. Because why not.

Are these people professionals? Are they seriously concerned about Iran? Do they honestly believe that no one in the Islamic Republic can ever be safely trusted—or, alternatively, are they genuinely concerned that Iran’s leadership change its ways and be brought back into the community of nations? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”—then what on earth were they thinking?

This kind of amateur hour performance is an embarrassment, pure and simple—and it does little but strengthen the impression shared by many across the globe (including many Jews both inside and out of Israel) that the fear-mongering has always been more about distracting the world from the occupation of Palestinian lands than it has been about Iran.

Else the Israeli government might be just a little more interested in seeing it resolved.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Yep, again, on HuffPost Live about Israel and Gaza. And Twitter.

No yelling this time, mostly agreement and gentle head-nodding. I’m pretty glad I managed to wrangle my needs-to-be-cut hair a little more successfully today.

If you want to watch, click here; if you’re my mom, I start talking at the 6 minute, 35 second mark.

What Israel doesn’t get about Twitter.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and since the violence escalated between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza last week, my Twitter time has only increased.

And as others have noted before me, official Israel doesn’t seem to really get how Twitter works.

The IDF Spokesman has tweeted warnings to members of Hamas not to show their faces above ground, warned journalists to stay away from Hamas operatives (which would likely make it difficult for them to get the story) and, of course, sent out the now infamous poster of Ahmed Jabari, the assassinated head of Hamas’s military wing, with the word “ELIMINATED” emblazoned across it.

For his part, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., American-Israeli Michael Oren, has tweeted and then deleted an apparent willingness to negotiate with Hamas, has made a point of the “pin-point” accuracy of Israel’s airstrikes (with nary a mention of the pictures that suggest otherwise), and while he’s expressed concern over the fact that Hamas is known to intimidate members of the press in Gaza, he has yet to tweet his concern for the members of the press who were in the Gaza City media tower when Israel bombed it. Twice. (For the record: Several were injured, and one lost his leg.)

What official Israel doesn’t understand is that Twitter is not a press release office, where people in official positions offer top-down, authoritative information, setting the narrative for any and all, in 140-characters bites. Twitter is not, to put it another way, the best outlet for hasbara.

Twitter is, in fact, as far from top-down as it could be—it is horizontal, and sideways, and loop-de-loop. If you misspeak, there’s no simple deletion—that tweet will live in screen-caps forever and aye, unless and until you actually address what was said. If you crow about the deaths of your enemies, people all over the world now have an equal chance to point out just how heartless that makes you look. And no matter how hard you try to direct the narrative, millions of other voices can chime in to say you’re wrong—and do so in the hearing of the very people you’re trying to win over.

A big part of why my Jerusalem-born-and-bred husband and I chose to raise our Israeli children in the Diaspora can be seen buried in official Israel’s hasbara-ish tweets: A callous, arrogant indifference to the lives of those we occupy (and upon whom we are now waging war), and a swaggering, overweening insistence that everybody else sit down and listen. Even if it means stretching, ignoring, or re-weighting the truth, even if it means a constant drumbeat of insistence that we, and only we, suffer. That we, and only we, deserve human compassion. That we, and only we, have a right to behave as if we live in the middle of a war.

The unwillingness to admit the existence of legitimate competing narratives, the cavalier indifference to any lives lost on the way to our latest target, and the stalwart insistence that Israel is always right drove my husband and me from our home. It is reflecting very badly on that home as this war continues.

And far more to the point: If more reasonable voices do not appear soon (on Twitter or, rather more importantly, in the halls of Israeli power), I fear that it will ultimately mean the end of the Zionist dream.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Twitter – sometimes less than charming.

#Sayin.

Dammit, who opened the floodgates of knowledge?

Once upon a time, I didn’t know very much, and that seemed fine.

No, wait. Let me re-phrase.

Once upon a time, I knew a fair amount, more than most people knew, and it was, in fact, fine.

I have long called myself the worst-read well-read person you might ever hope to meet, and there is certainly something to that (Moby Dick? Nope. Sense and Sensibility? Nope. Any number of classics in the field of Middle East Studies that people are certain I must know by heart? Nope.), but there is also something not to that — by which I mean: I actually am very well-read, very well-educated, and probably more to the point, know how to find the information I need at the drop of an Easter bonnet.

I had this skill when all the information was in libraries and one had to get up and go to the library, and I retain the skill, in its Brave New World form, in the age of the internet. I have always followed the news, I have always paid attention to the smaller stories as well as the larger ones, I have always been able to sniff out the lacunae in news reports that often matter more than the actual information on offer.

Well. In my middle years, I have come to learn an Important Truth:

The Information Super Highway is really more of an Information Firehose.

And I confess, dear reader — much as I love my blogs and my fellow commenters and my Twitter — I confess that, oh my good nightshirt, there is just too much to know, now!

Always, always, bloody always I am behind. On something. Something really, really important. Always.

Of course I have felt versions of this overwhelment pretty much since I started reading blogs about three years ago (having felt snooty about the practice beforehand — having forgotten, apparently, that like any tool or medium, a blog is as good as its handler, and if its handler is deft, then the blog is a thing of beauty), with a noticeable bump in said feeling once I got on the Twitter — but none of it compares with how I’ve felt since the revolution in Egypt.

Of course, it should be noted that a lot of the flood of information currently coming at me via Twitter falls, in a rather ahistorical and spectacular fashion, square in my area of professional, academic and personal interest. I actually — honestly, genuinely, and occasionally desperately — want to know every little thing about the rolling revolution under way in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

When it was all going down in Egypt, I was as a woman possessed. I read, watched, tweeted, blogged, commented, stayed up far too late and got up far too early and generally acted like it was my job. At one point, I had two computers on my desk, so that I could have Al Jazeera English on at all times, without having to toggle over from whatever other Egypt-centric internet source I was engaged in at the moment.

But it wasn’t my job (oh lord, how I wish it had been my job!), any more than it’s my job to be up on Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and/or Tunisia now (oh lord, how I wish that were my job!), and when Hosni Mubarak stepped down, I forced myself back to earth — to the actual, paying work, the human beings with whom I live, and the rest-of-my-tangible-world stuff which is forever taking me away from the flood of information.

And so now what Twitter and the handful of blogs I read mostly make me feel is inadequate. And guilty.

There are a lot of people (well – a handful, at any rate) who follow this blog or follow me on Twitter because I was as a woman possessed during the Egypt upheaval. What are they to make of me now? I’m not up on Libya as I should be, nor on Syria or Bahrain or Saudi or — good Lord, I even feel like I’m behind on Israel/Palestine all the time now! –  and I’m writing about female body image, cleaning my house, and gay rights! All of which are things about which, it turns out, I should also know more.

Oy and sigh. I suspect I’m going through what will someday be identified as an Information Influx Cycle or something. I recently upped my content-received, so now I’m going through the “too-much-too-much-TOO-MUCH” stage, which is likely to be followed by the “well, I can’t know everything and so I will let it go like the pretty butterfly it is” stage. Or sommat.

But right now, all I know for sure is that there is a Peter Jackson video blog, his first since he started filming The Hobbit (!!) that I’ve been waiting to see all day, and I keep putting it off for more important things.

For which, come to think of it, I have a blog to thank (thank you, Bob Cesca’s Awesome Blog! Go! [that's the blog's real name. Really. You should read it! It's awesome!]). OHMYGOD so overwhelming, this internet is, but also dead useful.

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Al-Jazeera released a treasure trove of documents yesterday, Wikileaks-style, that it’s calling The Palestine Papers, and the Twitter exploded. The internet exploded. Analysis came quick and sharp and occasionally in very, very confident 140-character increments.

For good or ill I had but little time yesterday to pay attention, and today I have even less — the kids have a day off and I promised fun n’ frolic. I’m trying to remember that the world will hold steady even if I can’t immediately bathe in the flood of information that the Palestine Papers provide.

And indeed, I think it’s for good. There is too much information there, much of it concerning internal Palestinian politics, for me to take in quickly. Yesterday I kept seeing confident assertions that this means the end of the Palestinian Authority, this means the end of the benighted peace process (usually written with quotes around it: “peace process”), this means an end to the myth that the Israelis have constantly sought peace while the Palestinians have failed to be a partner in the process.

But it’s been my experience that people in positions of power — whether it’s the people we actually see, or the people behind those people (in this case: the Palestinian Authority, or the people in the US Administration who support the Palestinian Authority) tend to find ways to continue to call the shots. It’s been my experience that institutions that are enormous in scope and in which hundreds of powerful people are heavily invested (The Peace Process [tm]) don’t tend to just pass from the stage because of embarrassing information. And it’s also been my experience that myths die very, very hard.

Is it explosive? Yes. Does the  new information — such as the fact that the PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told Israel in 2008 that the PA was willing to cede all-but-one of the Jerusalem settlements  (aka: “Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem”) — present real challenges to the status quo and conventional wisdom? Yes. Is it all likely to have some real impact on the future of Israelis and Palestinians alike? Absolutely.

I wish it were my job to dig into this stuff and analyze it — read: I really, really wish I were paid to do what I’ve been trained to do — but it’s not,  and trying to genuinely understand, and make useful predictions based on, what amounts to an enormous document dump (a document mudslide, a document avalanche) can’t be done without first really digging into the material. It can’t be done off the top of one’s head — at least not off the top of mine.

Not to mention that more will be released later today, and if memory serves, there’s a third dump planned for tomorrow.

So I’m going to wait a little. I’m going to read some analysis, take some time, when I have the time, to do a little of my own digging, and probably by the end of the week, I’ll pull something together. I’m a graduate student in spirit, not a talking head — and for good or ill, the world isn’t waiting on me. I’ve got the time, and I’d rather get it as close to right as I can.

In the meantime, here are a few links: The Guardian has created an interactive database for the papers, HaAretz is of course all over it (here, here, and here are good places to start), Amjad Attallah is discussing it at Foreign Policy, and here’s MJ Rosenberg.

If you have thoughts, suggestions, lines of inquiry that you’d like to share, please comment away!

Twitter post 2.0

Looking for a nice primer on how Twitter works? Click here.

The other day I went on something of a tear about how Twitter doesn’t reflect Real Life. And I stand by that post! I said, I said: I stand by that post!

And I really do, because my point was: Let’s take this whole Twitter thing with a boulder of salt. Aside from anything else, I argued, there’s no such thing as “Twitter” — there are as many Twitters as there are people using the service.

And yet.

I believe I’ve already established that I am entirely capable of contradicting myself (being in possession of a bicameral mind), and the truth is that there’s another truth here, too.

While Twitter doesn’t have the kind of impact that people often like to think it does (witness the pronouncement that I’m “influential” in the world of Jewish Twitter — meanwhile, in the world of Jewish People, I’m really rather not [and/or witness the fact that the Iranian government was not, after all, toppled by tweets]), Twitter — and here I actually do mean a single, discrete thing called “Twitter” — does have real world impact that shouldn’t be denied. Certainly not by me, a person who often serves as a conduit for that impact.

I could not possibly estimate the number of new ideas I’ve been introduced to through my Twitter feed, and if we throw in the deepening of my understanding of old ideas, too, then we’re in entirely uncharted territory.

Furthermore, there are actions I’ve taken, good deeds I’ve been privileged to be a part of, about which I would have known nothing were it not for my Twitter feed.

A few minutes ago, I called my state senator in support of an end to the death penalty in Illinois, because I got a tweet. A couple of weeks ago, I brought a bunch of coats, hats and gloves to a Chicago school serving a community of homeless kids, because I got a tweet. And (my personal favorite), a few months ago, I contributed to an ad-hoc, wildly interfaith fundraiser to compensate a Muslim community after a drunk Islamophobe/asshat burst into their mosque and urinated on their prayer rugs — because I got a tweet. And I have, in turn, pushed each of these good deeds and others like them a bit further down the road by tweeting about them myself.

I have also been in a position to: Prepare for a wind storm; bring along a surprisingly necessary umbrella; watch important events unfold live; laugh my fool head off; get excellent, free job search advice; and (my personal favorite) hold hands across time zones with people I wouldn’t recognize if I sat next to them on the bus — because I got a tweet.

Twitter is a tool. It does what we want it to do. Like a hammer, or tweezers, or a fork, or, I don’t know, a chainsaw. It can be used to do good things, like eating dinner, or you could, you know, put your eye out with it. Metaphorically.

The oft-mocked 140-character increments in which we communicate on Twitter are, I will grant you, often mockable. But, at least in my experience, they are more often than not little teasers, ads almost, for worlds that expand exponentially when you click on a link or download a song or follow the trail of replies or…. Each tweet (stay with me now) is a portal.

Or, of course, each tweet can be. One can navel gaze and tweet obsessively about breakfast and bowel movements, or not.

But when we put all of those portals together (and even the navel gazing), there is (in spite of all that stuff I said the other day, or perhaps alongside it) a Thing that is Twitter. It’s amorphous and messy and its borders are ill-defined and ever-changing, like any other social construct, but it’s a Thing. What’s Judaism? What’s the blogosphere? What’s American society?

So, yeah. Twitter’s like that.

On Twitter, the Jewish Telegraph Agency, and real life.

Update (in three parts):

#1. JTA was gracious enough to tweet a link to this post, calling it a “thoughtful critique.” Which, you know, if you’re going to be all gracious and everything, I’m going to have to say that that’s very nice of you. Very nice, JTA! Thank you.

#2. Also, my All Things Internet pal Vicki Boykis (you can see her down there in the comments to this very post, even!) wrote a really good post about the list (also graciously tweeted by JTA) from an entirely different angle, explaining the much more technical and social-media specific problems with the list, some of which I vaguely sensed but could not have begun to explain to myself, much less to anyone else.

#3. Even though I was smart enough to point out that many people don’t know from Twitter, Vicki was even smarter and posted an explanation for those not on it.

bonus #4! Point is: Vicki’s very smart. And wry, and clever, and you really should be reading her. (Plus which, I just corrected my months-long mis-spelling of her name on my blog roll, which she was too gracious to ever point out, so, yeah… there’s that, too).

*******

Easily the craziest thing to happen to me in 2010 happened when the year was almost done.

Last Thursday, December 30, the Jewish Telegraph Agency (aka JTA, a kind of a Jewish AP) posted its list of the 100 Most Influential Jewish Twitter Users for 2010.

I’m #28.

To give you some perspective on this, let me fill you in on a few of the folks I bested:

  1. Danny Ayalon (Israel’s boorish deputy foreign minister)
  2. the Jewish Agency
  3. AIPAC

Yes, that’s right: In Twitterverse, I am more influential than AIPAC.

Now, we all know that I love me my Twitter. I use it as a combination clipping service, source of Awesome Information I’d Never Otherwise Hear, branding device, and virtual water cooler. I have online friends who I know almost exclusively through Twitter, people who genuinely brighten and add to my day, in 140-character increments.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more convincing argument for Twitter’s utter lack of real world applicability than my place on that list. Indeed, on that list a cautionary tale hangs.

Twitter is a place where I carefully pick and choose who I talk to, what I read, and who can talk to me. If people seek me out to yell at me, I block them. This is one of the beauty parts of the service, frankly, but it’s also a piece of a larger, more important truth:

Twitter doesn’t reflect the world.

Indeed, I would argue that there is no such thing (no real thing, no quantifiable thing) as “Twitter,” at least not in the sense that there is a New York Times, or even a Huffington Post. There are as many Twitters as there are people with Twitter handles, and those individual Twitters don’t reflect the world — they reflect the people on the other side of the handles.

My Twitter reflects me. I’m sharing information and laffs with people who are, for whatever reason, and however tangentially, Like Me. It’s true that a bunch of people who are very much Not Like Me have started to follow me in the wake of the publication of the JTA list, but a) I have every reason to believe that many of them will soon stop (like the settler, for instance), and b) even if they’re Not Like Me in Twitter terms? They’re still Like Me in tech terms.

Put it this way: @AIPAC might be on Twitter, but AIPAC isn’t on Twitter.

AIPAC — that is to say, the people meeting with Senators and helping to shape our national discourse on Israel — are not reading the 140-character missives of tens of thousands of people, and neither are they crafting their own missives. They’re too busy meeting with Senators and helping to shape our national discourse on Israel. Similarly, (most of) the people who donate to AIPAC and believe every word that AIPAC utters are also not on Twitter. They’re too old.

Indeed, the vast majority of people — whether they regularly meet with Senators, are old, or not — are not on Twitter. All told, Twitter has some 145 million “registered users,” but there’s no way of knowing (because Twitter apparently doesn’t want to tell us) how many of these people actually use the service. This is a world of seven billion people. A whole lot of whom (even just among the Jews) don’t even own computers.

Before the list came out, I had about 370 Twitter followers. I always block people who have followed me solely to sell me something, so at least I can say that that list represents real people who actively chose to follow me, but a) I have no way of knowing who reads what and how often, and b) 370 people. Dude.

There are Jewish Twitter accounts with twice, three, nine times as many followers as I have who fell below me on the JTA list — many of whom  are, moreover, confident enough in their Cool Kid status to completely ignore me, even when I actively seek to engage them (ok, so they’re also rude, but that’s neither here nor there).

If I actually have influence on Twitter (and I think the foregoing suggests that to be a pretty big “if”), and if the JTA isn’t really just making a mountain out of an exceptionally small and particularly narrowly defined molehill (re-read the bit about how people were chosen, before the fancy metrics were applied), and if having influence on Twitter is even something that can be usefully measured — it clearly means nothing.

Because AIPAC, and the Jewish Agency, and Danny Ayalon are the ones actually calling the shots — some of the shots, at any rate, a hell of a lot more shots than I ever even hear about, much less get to influence. And I live in Real Life, not Twitterverse.

So, to sum up: Twitter is very nice. But it is not Real Life.

Just look at me!

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