Can friendship survive Facebook?

Anti-Semitic graffiti on a wall in Italy. 2014.

Until the most recent flare-up in Gaza, I had been conducting a kind of friendship experiment. Through a mutual interest group I had become friends with a woman who holds extremely negative views on Israel – and, as I would discover on Facebook, Jews as well.

I like to think my own views on Israel are moderate, and I suppose I wouldn’t shrink from the label “liberal Zionist.” Politically, I’m a liberal secularist. I’m a big fan of religious-political-sexual freedom and things like that. I’m not remotely conservative on any issue I can think of. I think the existence of Israel is a good thing for both Jews and non-Jews and have argued for years with those who hold the view that Israel is, well, not a good thing. So I guess that makes me a Zionist, too, though I don’t support the more hawkish positions of the Israeli right or fall for the seductive idea that “Israel is always right.” I admire people like Amos Oz. I seek a coherent, balanced position that doesn’t sacrifice my core beliefs. You get the idea.

So back to my friend. Early on in our friendship we realized it was going to be rough.  She would always make a point of sporting her keffyah every time we got together. We knew there was an elephant in the room. We generally avoided the topic of Israel, but at times we would very politely discuss this or that, trying oh-so-hard not to step on each others’ toes. One evening at dinner I noticed she had displayed a thank-you-for-your-support card from the Italy-Palestine Friendship Association prominently on the mantle. Did she want me to comment? If she did, I didn’t. It might’ve given her too much satisfaction and provided the perfect setup for the anti-Israel rant I knew was waiting to happen. Seeing as we enjoyed each other’s company (and, more importantly, the kids were best friends), it would’ve spoiled the soup. And, as this was an experiment – I believe on both our parts – to see if a friendship could weather such polarizing differences, I thought it best to avoid the topic whenever possible.

Facebook was another story, though. I tend to discuss politics ever more sparingly on Facebook precisely because that’s where friendships tend to go sour. Her feed, in contrast, was  a weapon in the propaganda war against Israel. I had decided to write her posts off as “we agree to disagree”, but when Operation Protective Edge erupted her page exploded in an uninterrupted feed of anti-Israel hatred.

It was all there, every meme from the Israelis-as-Nazis to the Apartheid Meme, from the Blood Libel to the Zionist World Conspiracy. There were calls to boycott Israeli products and articles by (nearly always Jewish) anti-Zionist authors denouncing genocide and ethnic cleansing. Worse, there were backhanded jibes at me (“Look how the Zionists excuse genocide”, snarkily linking an article I had posted a few minutes before), presumably in order to garner favor among her like-minded “friends.” So this is what it’s come to, I thought. Ad hominem attacks.

At first I thought the whole thing would blow over, but as the conflict persisted  her vitriol only worsened. I stopped following her posts. Out of sight, out of mind. Then one day my wife said, “Come see what she’s posted now,” and there was some article by Gideon Levy saying that Israel is just about the shittiest society on Earth. The comment to her post read something like, “What a sickening people. Levy is the only Jew you can trust.” She had “liked” the comment. I unfriended her without another thought. No phone call, no email, no explanation.

I still wonder if what I did was rash. I still want to give her the benefit of the doubt. I search my mind for reasons to excuse her. But when I consider the lengths to which I had gone to accommodate her ranting, and to ignore it for the sake of our friendship (or at least that of our daughters), I realize I did the only thing possible. We haven’t spoken since.

A failed experiment is still a successful experiment, however. You can still learn something from it. I think I learned that Facebook can undo friendships as easily as it can do them. Even the kind where you see people in real life and go to their houses and cook together and your kids are close friends. And I can tolerate political differences, however unsavory. That hasn’t changed. But I cannot and will not tolerate prejudice, racism, homophobia, misogyny or – yes – anti-Semitism. That’s graffiti that just won’t wash.

2 thoughts on “Can friendship survive Facebook?

  1. A good decision, Marc. The list of things you won’t tolerate is spot on. I personally add one thing to the list – health care quackery such as the anti-vaccination crowd. I can put up with a lot of anti-science rants, but not the ones that kill people.
    I have a friend in meat space, and on Facebook, who for years has been a promoter and seller of homeopathic remedies. When he posted on my news feed about homeopathic treatments for ebola, I unfriended him without hesitation. Enough is enough sometimes.

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