In Israeli and Jewish politics, turning love and hate on their heads is just what we need
How Internet-meme campaigns are reshaping Jewish discourse in Israel and beyond.
Two Internet-meme campaigns currently circulating show the absurdity of how we use love and hate in politics. One is about trying to love who we’re told to hate. The other is about about hating who we’re supposed to love.
Ronny Edry’s “Israel-loves-Iran” campaign, launched last March, is now garnering two million views per week, according to an announcement on its Facebook page. Disturbed by what he saw as his government’s escalating inclination to a war with Iran, Edry, an Israeli graphic designer, created a slogan badge that could be affixed to anyone’s personal photo. “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We [heart] you.” In a video posted on YouTube, Edry explained, “For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of one another. We must hate. I’m not afraid of you. I don’t hate you. I don’t even know you.” Iranian badges were soon created in response, and the campaign has since gone global.
In its sheer earnestness, Edry’s campaign forces us to question apparent truths about good and evil. We are supposed to love our friends and hate our enemies. But what happens if we try to rewrite the rules?
The campaign has recently added new memes: “Ready for Peace,” says one. “Not Ready to Die in Your War,” says another.
There is a complicating factor to the latest version of the Israel-loves-Iran meme. When Israelis post their photos with the phrase “Not Ready to Die in Your War,” it’s a clear case of domestic dissent. But what about when Iranians, Americans, or Panamanians post it? Who is the “you” in “your war”?
I asked Edry directly through the Facebook portal. He replied, “To me it is pointed at my government, meaning Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). Iranians are pointing at theirs, and people in general are taking part in the movement because they feel threatened by this imminent war, and they should, because if that war happens, it is gonna be a big one.”
Some may feel that the campaign is foolish. “It’s flat naïveté,” said some of my adult-ed students when we discussed it in class. “How can Israelis possibly assure Iranians that their government won’t launch a preventive strike?” But as an example of citizen diplomacy, it reminds us that there are many ways to get the message across to governments. Having governments peripherally see cross-border person-to-person interaction between so-called enemy states may be just as effective as voters protesting in the streets.
Another newly-launched Internet campaign takes the love-hate relationship in the reverse direction. Playing on the family-nature of Jewish politics, Yiddish Curses for Republican Jews puts the lie to the idea of Jewish unity, in a way that's at least funny. Judging by the number of shares I’ve seen since it launched, the website and related Facebook page have readers in stitches: both the laughing kind, and the tenement-crowded, Yiddish-socialist-garment-district kind.
On same-sex marriage: “May God give you a daughter-in-law who is as kind as she is beautiful, as patient as she is rich, as wise as she is devoted, a virtuous woman in every way. And then may a ballot initiative invalidate her marriage to your fat lump Rebecca.”
And on Israel-Palestine: “May you find yourself lost and stranded in a village of Palestinian Muslims, and may you be treated only with dignity, kindness and respect.”
The campaign also riffs on immigration, birth-control, abortion, tax policy, health care, gun control, and the environment. (The website invites readers to submit additional curses.)
The Republican Jewish Coalition has already attempted to appeal to Jewish voters who supported U.S. President Barack Obama in the last presidential election. By inserting a healthy dose of humorous vitriol into the norm of Jewish love, the Yiddish Curses campaign may be as good a grassroots response as any.
There is much truth to the feeling that Jews are a family - picture the ever-popular parlor game of “Jewish geography” and trotted-out Hebrew phrases like ahavat Yisrael (love of the People of Israel and the Jewish nation). But when it comes to the ultimate problem of politics, there may be nothing a good Yiddish curse can’t solve.
Maybe turning love and hate on its head in politics is just what we need to reshape the debates into more productive ones than they often seem to be. However artificial, Israelis and Iranians declaring their love for each other might just remind their leaders of the deadly costs of escalation. And Jews of different political stripes hurling hilarious insults at each other influenced by their common heritage reminds us that to really figure out what kind of society one is trying to build, it can be helpful to be reminded where one has come from.