Moral Minority

Readers Ask Haaretz: Am I Wrong to Trick Leftists Into Befriending Me to Thwart Their Activities?

'My conscience is bothering me. On one hand, I consider my activities to be very important, but on the other hand they hurt people who demonstrated trust in me'

A peace demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, May 2017.
Moti Milrod

If you don't know how to behave in a certain situation, if you need friendly advice but you've already driven all your sane friends away or if you've got the kind of embarrassing question that can only be asked anonymously, send a mail to: mechlak.musar@gmail.com.

Our answers will be generous and honest – but should not be seen as replacement for professional consultations. Obviously.

Dear Haaretz,

I have a hobby of getting anti-government, anti-army events in Israel canceled. Toward that end, I ask left-wing activists to friend me on Facebook, find out about events they plan to attend and work to cancel them. Of course it’s all legal, but my conscience is bothering me. On one hand, I consider my activities to be very important, but on the other hand they hurt people who demonstrated trust in me.

Shai Shamai Glick

Dear hopeless informer,

Not everyone is familiar with your wonderful work, so I’ll explain that Glick is a kind of self-styled cultural censor, who turns to the authorities in order to undermine cultural institutions and to bring about the cancellation of left-wing events that he considers anti-Israeli.

It’s important to me to explain to readers that this question was sent from your real email address and that you asked to be identified by name — the names of letter writers remain secret unless they explicitly request their publication.

It should also be noted that you have written to me several times in the past, but the previous questions were variations on “I’m a hypocritical leftist, is that ethical?” whereas this time you’re not really interested in hearing my honest answer, but want to use it in order to besmirch the “left” or Haaretz. Nevertheless, it’s important to me to answer, both because the question is interesting and because the answer will reach all readers, not only you. In that way, you and I can continue to voice our opinions within our political echo chambers. Isn’t that wonderful?

As to your question, I don’t think there’s an ethical problem with offering friendship to left-wing activists in order to see which events they attend. First of all, friending someone on Facebook is not really “demonstrating trust” — most people don’t bother to screen the friend requests they receive and don’t treat them as real friendships. But more important, because you identify yourself by name on Facebook and not under a fictitious, deceptive identity, I don’t see any problem with such an offer. Just as I see no problem with the fact that left-wing activists who get a friend request from you will block you immediately. (For anyone who wants to take preventive measures, the user name is Shai Glick.)

The ethical issue that arises from your question is a different one, of course: It has to do with your odd hobby of reporting left-wing activities in order to bring about their cancellation and the imposition of sanctions against their organizers.

Here we should be precise: The events that you are endeavoring to have canceled are not against the state or its soldiers; the worst sin their organizers can be accused of might be the annoying dissemination of platforms and manifestos.

It’s inappropriate to try to silence people who think differently from you. I once read your argument that the left also silences those it doesn’t agree with. First, that doesn’t make what you do okay. Second, I have already explained that militant and violent opinions are protected by the right to free speech, which includes unpleasant and even disgusting things — that was in connection to the great, and very right-wing, poet Uri Zvi Greenberg.

Incidentally, although freedom of expression is generally associated with a leftist perspective, there have been right-wingers who fought for it on principle (meaning even when you don’t agree with what’s being expressed, as opposed to the one-sided nature of your silencing), starting with Ze’ev Jabotinsky and including your uncle, MK Yehudah Glick.

In addition to freedom of expression, there’s something morally disturbing about someone devoting all his energies to destroying what other people create, instead of creating something of his own. Especially when the main modus operandi is informing and slander — morally dubious activity, including according to Jewish ethics. Maimonides wrote that gossip has the power to destroy the world, but even worse is slander.

According to Maimonides, “Anyone who tells things he heard from another person in order to cause his friend physical or monetary damage, or in order to cause him grief or to scare him — that is lashon hara,” referring to a Hebrew terms that literally means evil tongue, or language, and refers to gossip or slander. Isn’t that a very precise description of your informing: saying things that could harm others physically or monetarily, in order to cause them grief or to scare them?

Moral repugnance from tattling is part of the cognitive development of children. Psychologist Jean Piaget divided this development into three stages: From the age of 2 to 6, the child is focused on attaining some kind of control over the world by means of his or her activity. At ages 7 to 10 she understands there are other people and different points of view in the world, and from the age of 11 she is capable of thinking about relations between people theoretically and as a matter of principle.

In one of his famous experiments, Piaget examined children’s attitudes, prior to the stage of moral development, to tattling on others to their fathers. Among children between 6 and 7 years old, 90 percent thought they had to tell their father everything, while most of the children over 8 were opposed to informing.

That suggest the ethical level of your activity is similar to that of a 6-year-old, who is busy attaining control, blind to the other and to the possibility of the existence of different points of view, and enjoys informing on others. However, you are not a sweet 6-year-old but an adult, and your lack of ethical maturity causes serious damage to people who have done nothing wrong, but are only taking advantage of their right of freedom of expression, including statements that infuriate you but are within the bounds of the law.

Only last weekend the arrest of political activist Abed Abu Shehada was reported, after he wrote an article on the Haokets website in which he called to oppose the status quo, and you reported him to the Shin Bet security service. (I have no idea if the things are connected, but you bragged about this connection).

And the same is true in the case of the Barbour Gallery in Jerusalem, which you went after because it hosted an event of Breaking the Silence, and when the Jerusalem municipality decided to close it a few months ago, you boasted of your magnificent achievement. This type of activity is not only improper, it’s also very unattractive.

The instances in which you acted against institutions and individuals are not in the category of cases in which silencing and informing are ethically justified.

And if at first you justified your activity because the “traitors” receive public funds — in any case a somewhat weak justification — eventually you began to fight against groups and people who don’t receive any funding.

A basic sense of justice requires that we protect the weaker groups in society even more, because those with political power are in any case less in need of protection.

Your side is in absolute control of Israeli society; perhaps the time has come for you to demonstrate a little more confidence in the viewpoint of the strong right, in the army and in the rightness of our way. It’s clear to me that any leftist who tells about illegal things that the army has done won’t bring down the walls of the occupation, so why are you, of all people, afraid?