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Opinion

Nothing fuels hate more than ignorance

Writer and performer Tova Leigh is behind the enormously successful online blog My Thoughts About Stuff. She is also from Israel, which means people expect her to weigh in on big issues in the Holy Land. But, she asks, why do we care what people with a platform think?

I was born in Israel in 1975, my father is Israeli and my mother is from Ireland and moved to Israel when she was 17. I moved to the UK 15 years ago and live with my family in London.

Over the past two weeks people have been pressuring me to comment on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A few people even messaged to say they were “disappointed” I haven’t said anything.

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been pressured to weigh in. Many public figures and celebrities received similar messages and I just want to say a few things about that.

For one, no one owes anyone their opinion.

While it’s OK to feel disappointed that your favourite pop star isn’t an expert on the Middle East, people – even people in the public eye – have the right to privacy.

Just because they share many aspects of their lives, or just because they advocate for other causes, it doesn’t mean they owe us their opinion on everything.

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Don’t get me wrong, I think people should use their voice to highlight worthy causes, and often I find it frustrating when celebrities don’t use their platforms to do more good, but I also know it’s their prerogative.

Plus, I’ve seen a lot of that over the past week – people telling other people WHAT they should say, what they should post, what they should THINK, who they should support and how fiercely they should do it.

What social media did to Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot earlier this month is a perfect example of that. She didn’t say what the masses wanted to hear so they went for her, and I wonder, how does that encourage diversity and a range of voices? And do we really want to have access to only one narrative?

Since I can remember I have known Israel to be in turbulence. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict was part of my everyday life for the 30 years I lived in the country. For example, in 1994 when the Palestinian Authority was established I was a soldier and was positioned on the border between Israel and Jordan when a lot of Palestinians returned.

I think the reason people wanted to hear what I had to say is because of this background, but it was that personal connection that made me fully aware of the fact I might only know one side to the story. It was also one of the reasons I decided to stay out of this.

The idea that a pool of stupidity is better than silence is wrong

We are all entitled to our own opinions, even if they are not popular, or not the mainstream, or simply not the same opinions others hold.

Telling people what they should think is dangerous and lashing out at those who dare to say anything that is not the trending opinion is very problematic.

I am also confused as to why it even matters what celebrities have to say in the first place? How does their opinion matter more than the opinions of those who have studied whatever topic it may be? Why do we give celebrities that much power? And how does it really help, whatever cause it is we are passionate about, if the people talking about it are clueless?

In other words, maybe we should all watch fewer TikTok videos made by people who couldn’t tell you where Israel/Palestine are on the map and read a book about it instead.

Nothing fuels hate more than ignorance, so instead of pressuring people to post FAST, encourage them to educate themselves first.

The idea that a pool of stupidity is better than silence is wrong. And no, I’m not suggesting silence, I understand the importance of speaking out and I totally encourage it, but we need to know what we’re speaking out about.

There’s a lot of “jumping on the bandwagon” going on in the world, especially on social media, and I would much rather those with the power to “influence” use that power carefully, wouldn’t you?

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Finally, and this is possibly the most important point – the idea that every story has only two sides and every issue only two contradicting opinions (right or wrong, good or bad) – is fundamentally untrue, misleading and very damaging.

It promotes hate and division and does not help bridge gaps at all. More importantly, it’s the idea that has allowed people to put pressure on others in the past two weeks. You’re either in or you’re out, it’s either a yes or a no, choose a side, choose a side!

But I think that if we want to have thoughtful conversations about anything, then we have to do our homework and we have to at least consider there might be more sides to things than the two we are able to see most clearly. And yeah, sometimes it’s harder to see those shades of grey, but in every conflict (and this is not specific to Israel/Palestine), there is usually more than meets the eye.

So my point is – instead of asking people to ‘choose a side’, why not have a conversation with them instead?

All of this by the way this is not a way to deflect from the conflict itself. I understand the need to discuss it, the urgency and why it would be great if things were simple, but not only is the Middle East and its ongoing conflict NOT simple, it’s also people’s right to take as much time as they want to research the topic should they choose to talk about it, just as it is their right to say nothing at all.

Follow Tova Leigh on Instagram or find out more of Her Thoughts About Stuff at tovaleigh.com

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