In the summer of 2014, I had my very first personal, upfront encounter with anti-Semitism. I heard that there would be an anti-Israel rally held at Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto on the occasion of al-Quds Day. I wanted to attend, to lend my voice to those who would be speaking out against what I thought would be lies and smears directed against the Jewish State.
What I encountered at that rally would shake me to my core. Our voices were drowned out. Our small group of counter-protesters were vastly outnumbered by several thousand demonstrators, many of whom were screaming “Death to Israel”, adding hateful words and threats directed specifically at Jews.
As the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, I could never truly internalize what my Zaida must have experienced. But at that rally, I was reminded of something he had repeatedly communicated to me, that bothered him to the end of his life – that nobody was around to speak up in defence of the abandoned Jews of Europe, and that the few who did speak out were drowned out by the cries of millions calling for their extermination, while millions more stood by in silence.
It was on that day that I had truly absorbed the meaning of that cautionary phrase, “Never again.” In my own small way, I wanted to do something to contribute to the fight against anti-Jewish defamation, but I wasn’t exactly sure how.
As a businessman with online marketing experience, I knew something about setting up social media platforms. So I went on to create a Facebook page, called it Never Again Canada (NAC), and then extended an invitation to a couple of people to come in as administrators to post content.
Within two years, the popularity of that page grew well beyond anything I could have possibly anticipated. Perhaps it was a combination of factors: the growing presence of social media, the enduring popularity of Facebook, the evocative name, and the proverbial elephant in the room: that Jews are news, and even more so when a page is dedicated to defending against anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement, a predominant amount of which in our day just happens to come from extremist Islamist sources and from the mainstream media in Muslim majority countries.
It has been a mere four years since this page was launched, and a sobering realization has gradually dawned on me, one that my Zaida never had to contemplate, but that our generation must come to terms with: that those who lend their voices to the global fight against anti-Jewish incitement from Islamist sources will invariably come up against a wall of mainstream media critics who will seek to smear us with the unfair charge that we are the offenders, the purveyors of hate, and the proponents of Islamophobia.
It is a smear that has both vexed and frustrated me as NAC has grown well beyond my ability to control its content and direction. As of 2018, the NAC Facebook page has over 200,000 followers, with thousands of comments posted daily, in response to an endless series of daily postings from nineteen other administrators, all of whose administrative privileges are equal to each other and to my own.
As a result, NAC has become something of an unwieldy platform for a great many diverse voices, all of whom share a common interest in fighting against anti-Jewish incitement, but none of whom have the capacity, or interest, in monitoring the content of one another’s postings. The sheer hourly volume of posted comments renders it a fruitless enterprise for anyone to step up and edit out offensive commentary. NAC is nobody’s day job, and nobody is truly at the wheel. Such are the vagaries of sharing administrator privileges with multiple people – many of whom barely know one another – on a hugely popular Facebook page.
But that’s not the story that the mainstream media wants to spin. As can be expected from a hugely popular social media page that engages the interest of those who feel passionate about the subject of Jews, Israel, and Islamist incitement, there will be no shortage of trolls, provocateurs, and keyboard warriors looking to stir up resentments by posting offensive commentary. If the media is looking to cherry-pick from this vast menu, it will have absolutely no problem painting any picture it desires.
But in doing so, the mainstream media has been complicit in playing into the hands of the mischievous trolls who – let’s be frank – ultimately undermine and obscure the anti-defamation message that I had hoped would come through when I had originally named this page: Never Again.
In its short and explosive life on the Facebook platform, NAC has outgrown the bounds of any one person to control its content, to stay “on-message.” It’s not a problem that is particularly unique to NAC. In fact, any massively growing Facebook page with multiple administrators will experience similar issues.
But what exactly is the message, beyond a general and shared interest to fight against anti-Jewish incitement? Some have dubbed NAC a “Jewish social media page,” even though its various administrators and followers comprise a diverse pool of ethnicities and religions.
Some have dubbed NAC as an “extremist Zionist” page, overlooking the fact that those who seek to fight against anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement do tend to be passionately and positively disposed toward the Jewish State.
The main charge, however, is that NAC is primarily “anti-Muslim,” a smear that particularly hits its mark when the inevitable array of cherry-picked trollish comments are conflated with postings and comments that genuinely seek to call out anti-Jewish incitement from radical Islamist sources.
Against all this noise, the mainstream media has sought to pick me out as the face of NAC, when in truth, I am little more than a person who initially set up a Facebook page and hoped for the best.
And I still hope for the best. Despite the mainstream media’s ongoing efforts to pin down this young and growing social media page as something that it is not, I find it ironic that it is excruciatingly difficult for me to try to ensure that my own voice and goals are not drowned out by all the followers and other administrators who contribute content and who feel equally entitled to share their own thoughts and opinions on this page that I started.
Have I achieved my initial goal of creating a massive online presence – a safe space – for all Canadians to come and speak out against anti-Jewish incitement from all sources? I believe I have. The next step, however, is that much harder: as just one of many administrators among a virtual sea of online commentators, to make the plea that we move forward in a spirit of mutual tolerance so that all Canadians – including, most especially, the vast majority of Muslim Canadians – feel welcome to join as followers of NAC, to contribute their valuable voices in the common fight against anti-Jewish incitement.
Toward that end, I had crafted a mission statement for NAC that I hope will inspire NAC’s commentators and posters to be mindful of the goal that is called for by the phrase Never Again. In this uphill fight against anti-Jewish incitement from extremist Islamist sources, I hope that my voice will not be drowned out in this page that has since grown beyond me. As I see it, to truly succeed in its mission, NAC must effectively call to our side as many allies as we can, to make this social media page a welcome space for our fellow Muslim Canadians to stand with us in solidarity, to call out those from among their ranks who would do the Jews harm, and to fight against the smears of the media which seek to paint NAC as something that it is not.
And when that day comes, I hope that I will have honoured my Zaida’s memory – that we will never again feel ourselves outnumbered in the crowd.