By Rebekah Jones
The online violence I've observed during the last month by those on either side of the Israel-Gaza conflict has begun bleeding through into real-world violence.
A six-year-old Palestinian boy was murdered in Illinois– stabbed 26 times for being Muslim by the family’s landlord.
Videos claiming to show protesters removing posters in New York City, or purporting to show violence as a result of those actions, spread rapidly, with little clarity in the brief clips of who started what.
Leading experts have cautioned against the ruthless campaigns against these people, but those pleas have mostly fallen on deaf ears.
On the internet, very little is what it seems these days, and no one is waiting around to find out the truth – especially if the truth in any way contradicts their own structure of beliefs.
What was initially reported as targeted hate crimes against Jews in Paris is now being investigated as a coordinated campaign by Russia to foment anti-Semitism and destabilize France.
“Name and shame” campaigns have targeted the wrong people based on grainy still-frames of videos where it’s impossible to tell what’s happening.
And words have made people the target of another kind of violence - the kind I’ve dealt with in my own life as a whistleblower and critic of Ron DeSantis.
Yesterday, I received a link to a viral post about a Florida legislator shouting “all of them” to a question about how many Palestinian lives was “enough.”
The legislator who shouted “all of them” is someone I know. Even though we don’t agree on much policy-wise, I consider Michelle Salzman, the woman at the center of the controversy, a friend.
I immediately confronted her. I told her she needed to apologize – not just to Rep. Angie Nixon, who posed the question, but to everyone. We spoke for a long time, and I tried to provide my best advice for dealing with the harassment and death threats she and her family had been receiving.
I also reached out to Rep. Angie Nixon, who was the one who posed the question, to let her know that I fully supported her and appreciated her taking a brave stance in the legislator for calling for a ceasefire.
And when I asked my own side to stop threatening to kill Michelle and her family, I became the target of harassment and threats, as well.
I was told I should have condemned her statements (which I’ve done) instead of defending her family’s right to live without threats like “You have no idea what we will do with you. We have your address, your family details, all of your phone number and everything you won’t be able to escape” or “you bxtch [sic] my friends in your area are going to take you out on Sunday.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten pushback for speaking out against death threats directed toward those I do not agree with.
When someone threatened to kill Matt Gaetz while I was running against him last year, I spoke out because threatening to kill people is wrong. He did not speak out when his people threatened to kill me and my family, but that was never the point.
I don’t like Matt Gaetz. He bullied my 12-year-old autistic son on social media. He had one of his goons stalk and photograph my son, and then helped that goon get American citizenship and hired him to his Congressional office. Matt Gaetz is a sexual predator and sex trafficker who deserves to be in prison.
Still, the moment we accept death threats as a reasonable or tolerated response to those we disagree with, we invite the same violence against ourselves and our allies.
I speak out against this behavior because I know what it's like to receive death threats, to get calls and mail and messages with detailed, graphic descriptions of how my children will be murdered. Of how I'm going to be raped, tortured, and dismembered. I know what it's like to have to go into hiding, hire security, flee my home.
You can try to say this is different because all I did to trigger those people was report COVID data, but you're missing the point.
These attacks don't just hurt the person they're directed at even if you decide that's acceptable. They hurt their entire family, the people who care about them, and those who know threatening to kill people is never justified.
I have been so disappointed to see those on my side of the aisle show zero humanity toward those who disagree with them.
I have not minced words on my support for a ceasefire in Gaza, or my feelings toward the IDF. On any given day, I’m labeled either a Zionist or Hamas lover for speaking simple truths about the conflict because the division over this issue is ruthless and there’s no room for nuance or even the neutrality of truth.
I mistakenly believed my allies on this issue were fighting for humanity.
The last 24 hours have shown me that, for many, this is no more than an extension of tribalism, rooted in part with racism, antisemitism, and a mob mentality unconcerned with the consequences of their behavior.
I have been embarrassed by pro-Palestinian comments and the vile things they’ve said in response to my request online for people to stop threatening to kill my friend. I do not want to be associated with a movement that condones threatening to kill children because they’re Jewish, or because their mother said something controversial.
If anyone knows what it’s like to see her children suffer because of political positions they’ve taken as their mother in Florida, it’s me.
I have not and will not defend what my friend said, though I do believe she was referring to Hamas and not the innocent people being slaughtered in Gaza. I believe she has fallen into the trap of being reactionary, not seeing the difference between Gazans and Hamas, as so many have done this past month. I believe she needs to show better judgement, and that she needs to listen to those she has harmed with her words. And I’ve told her all this and more.
Michelle and I do not agree on this issue. We likely will never agree on this issue. Her experiences in life have been vastly different than my own – she served overseas in the Middle East and her husband and children are Jewish. I can’t imagine that does not color one’s perspective. And certainly, I don’t believe there are any good “excuses” for a person not to support a ceasefire. But we’re not talking about excuses – we’re talking about nuance, experience, empathy.
I do not accept that we only have empathy for those who already agree with us. If we are unable to see the humanity in the “other side,” we lose the humanity in ourselves.
And I’m neither willing nor ready to concede that