Opinion

I Google ISIS Every Day. How Long Before the FBI Is at My Door?

My computer knows everything about me, and because it’s so important for me to impress it, I always search first for entries like ‘Ben-Gurion’ and ‘Golda Meir’ before visiting Arab newspaper sites.

Illustration: Sayed Kashua's head forms both Os in Google.
Amos Biderman

I spend more time with it than with people. It’s always with me, accompanying me on all my travels. I tell it my deepest secrets, my most agonizing hurts, and share with it all the little moments of joyous events. My computer. It knows what I like and what I hate, it reads my thoughts, recognizes my loneliness, knows when I’m home and when I’m at work, when I’m asleep and when I’m awake. When I plan a trip, it tells me about options for flights, restaurants and hotels. When I think about pursuing further studies, on its own, it immediately suggests courses, departments, universities and tuition options on the installment plan.

Sometimes I’m afraid of my computer, of all the evidence it’s storing up against me. I’m not up to anything illegal, but I do spend too much time searching for clips of battles in the Middle East, and material about organizations and militias of all types. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t key in the word for ISIS in Arabic. I’m in constant fear that maybe today, federal agents will knock on my door, take me in for questioning and confiscate my material. To that end, I’ve prepared a kind of declaration in English, which I’ve practiced reciting for hours. “No, sir, I’m a journalist, I’m secular, I’m not a believer, I do this for educational purposes – it’s a ‘know your enemy’ thing. You know, I have an Israeli passport. Ask about me, call my editor – he’ll tell you that I’m just a regular guy, that the only time I held a weapon was for a photo on a school trip.”

Over time, I have adopted methods to reinforce the mutual trust between me and my computer. Computers work according to the system of “Tell me what your sites are and I’ll tell you who you are.” And because there’s nothing or no one I try to impress more than my computer, I’ve long avoided surfing on sites that could diminish my worth in its eyes. I’m utterly delighted when it suggests a discount on opera tickets in Chicago or informs me about a critically acclaimed play that’s coming to town.

That’s why I was really surprised when it came up with an Israeli clip in which a young woman bangs her head strongly against a wall and collapses. The next moment she’s in a clinic, her forehead bleeding, smiling at a charming doctor who’s examining her, and then the announcer intones, “There are better ways to meet a doctor” – and goes on to tell about a dating site for college-educated singles.

Is she an academic, the girl who banged her head against the wall? Poor kid, she studied so hard to fulfill her dreams and marry a doctor. But what worried me was, Why me? Why is the computer showing me this ad when what I want to watch is the prime minister and his wife boarding their plane as they embark on a national mission? I hoped it was because the computer was certain that I’m an academic and not because it inferred from my surfing history that I’m looking for a relationship. Just to be on the safe side, I did a search for “lawyers who specialize in divorce,” to apprise it clearly of my family status.

I also try to sell my computer the image of a politically balanced individual. I can see it’s working, because it sends me ads for both Jewish Voice for Peace and also for AIPAC. As part of my camouflage operations, I first search for entries like “Ben-Gurion,” “Golda Meir” and “A.D. Gordon” before opening an Arab newspaper site. I also pretend to be a reader of the op-eds in Maariv and of the articles by military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai on Ynet before entering Haaretz to read an article by Uri Avnery, who was a witness to the birth of the state, the outbreak of war, and the fight against the Arab rioters. That is reliable testimony, coming from the man wearing the pin with the two flags – even when it quotes the official narrative, which has been written in accordance with the code that retains that privilege for the victors.We will describe the events as “war,” and we will decide who launched it and when it began. We will be the few, the weak and the moral ones with our backs to the wall. Armed only with the belief in the rightness of our way, in the face of a cruel, primitive Arab mass. We, who came from the countries of Europe to defend ourselves against the villagers, will tell you the truth and nothing but the truth regarding our moral superiority.

The Mizrahim have also understood this. According to a public-service announcement featuring the actress Tiki Dayan, her longings for Syria, her parents’ country of origin, are embodied in the person of her childhood hero Eli Cohen, the Israeli spy in Damascus, who helped bring about the victory in the Six-Day War. And now the committee headed by the Mizrahi poet Erez Biton has reduced the history of the Jews who came from Middle Eastern and North African lands to blood libels, persecution and pogroms, which will dovetail nicely with the original narrative of victory.

Thus the memory of Iraq has become the Farhud pogrom and nothing else; North Africa – Nazis; Yemen – pogroms; Egypt – exile. Arab cultural pride, if it exists, is wrapped up in the Jewish version: the great-grandfather of the writer and actress Hanna Azoulay Hasfari, and Erez Biton writing about the Moroccan-Jewish singer Zohra al Fassiya.

And I, who in my Hebrew-language reading group read aloud poems by Mizrahim like Biton, Sami Shalom Chetrit, the Ars Poetica group and Almog Behar, and remembers a time when Iraqi-born novelist Sami Michael was still a journalist, and when Charlie Biton held demonstrations together with Arabs outside the Knesset and the stories my father told me about the Black Panthers, of which Biton was a leader – I continue to confuse my computer by first looking for entries about “Avirama Golan,” “Bougie Herzog” and “Naftali Bennett” before daring to search for articles by political activist Orly Noi. I stubbornly continue to search for the bridges, in the hope that they weren’t completely destroyed in the spirit of the Night of the Bridges way back in 1946.