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Pithy and false one-liners, spiteful singular comments, lack of concern for thought and/or the facts – this is all part of the present, possible maliciousness of an internet sound bite.

Since last fall, when I first heard of the Yad Vashem program to instruct teachers from around the world on how to teach the Holocaust to students, I wanted to post something about it on a general, public website to which I have access. I wanted to congratulate Canadians Friends of Yad Vashem for sending 20 educators from across Canada to this program in Israel and express how these educators returned not only with a greater appreciation for the horror that was the Holocaust but with an increased determination to teach the value of caring for all who are oppressed. They further returned with a recognition of the requirement that no one in the world should ever stand by and allow oppressors, anywhere in the world, to persecute and tyrannize those less fortunate. Because of this Yad Vashem program, diverse educators would be teaching in their schools, all across Canada, this important Holocaust lesson of sensitivity that is also elemental to the Jewish People and necessary in the world. It is a fundamental principle we learned from our forefather Avraham. We are to be concerned for others.

A problem emerged, though, and while at three different intervals in the past year, I considered entering this post, each time I decided not to. On the surface, as the Syrian Refugee issue became known worldwide and was also a debated question in Canada, it may just seem that I was troubled with how I would be perceived in regard to this contentious matter. Would such a post not simply indicate that we should help these Syrian refugees? Indeed, in a certain way, it might but, in voicing such support, the post would still clarify that any course of action would not, by definition, be acceptable and that a plan must consider proper reason, care and caution. While, the call to universally care is clearly a lesson of the Holocaust, such a call must obviously also always include thought. My post would indicate this. In fact, within the parameters of this very practical issue, the overall and hopefully thoughtful message of this post could even have greater value. Nonetheless, I was concerned, in light of the Syrian refugee issue, about how certain people would respond – that is, not with a true and thorough consideration of the subject but with a motivation to score points with vindictiveness.

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There is always room for legitimate dialogue and debate. In voicing an opinion one expects such a confrontation, hoping that such intellectual discourse will further overall thought and spur the development of proper action. A problem with the internet, though, is that it can actually weaken such legitimate investigation and discussion and thereby cheapen a study and damage the results. Even as one may raise serious issues in a post, people can comment with one-liners that avoid the depth of the real issue and promote a dogmatic simplicity which these individuals wish to impose on others. In regard to this post on the Holocaust, I would have had no control on the comments that would be made. As such, regardless of the effort that I would exert to properly articulate and defend my viewpoint, my post would also provide an opportunity for a dogmatist to post a malicious, simplistic comment which could even be harmful. This was my concern. My post could provide a forum, through the comments that could be made, for this sound bite terrorism.

Pithy and false one-liners, spiteful singular comments, lack of concern for thought and/or the facts – this is all part of the present, possible maliciousness of an internet sound bite. It is troubling because it is a jab, a quick statement that, albeit it has no basis, still can, sadly, leave its negative mark.

I see this as especially true in regard to Israel. The present reality in Israel is, in many ways, the result of a history of Arab aggression fueled by a denial to accept Israel’s right to even exist. Any serious and legitimate view of what is happening must consider this context. Yet, how often do we encounter views that do not even consider this? A sound bite terrorist can make any false statement – which in any thoughtful exchange would be immediately dismissed as shallow – but will still thereby reach any audience which does not know better than to accept the faulty, often fatuous, one-liner. This is so because many on the internet are not interested in honestly pursuing a matter and so choose to remain with this one-liner. And this is precisely what the sound bite terrorist wants. He/she knows that if one actually pursues a matter, even just reads further – the original post, other comments – his/her views would be discarded as they should be. The target, though, is the one who will only read the one-liner, who can thereby be manipulated into buying the soundbyte terrorist’s simple dogma.

This was my concern in constantly postponing this post. I had an important message to impart but I also saw so many ways that my post could also be manipulated into allowing a venue for destructive comments on many matters including Israel. In this case, I eventually thought it even best to set the post aside. This, though, is also, actually, what led me to develop this post for United With Israel. I could herein share my thoughts on Yad Vashem and the Holocaust without concern for malicious comments. Moreover, I could also express my thoughts on the dangers of the sound bite terrorist. We must still voice our thoughts as necessary but we must also be concerned about this enemy and proceed accordingly.

Article by Benjamin Hecht

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht is the founding director of Nishma, which fosters the critical investigation of contemporary issues. For further info, see nishma.org and nishmablog.blogspot.com. You can follow Rabbi Hecht on Twitter @NishmaTorah.