A photograph of an Arab-American woman kissing her Jewish boyfriend has boosted a social media campaign under the hashtag #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies. But can love on the web bring peace on the ground?
She’s half-Lebanese and he hails from an Orthodox Jewish family. She says she calls him habibi – “my love” in Arabic. He responds with neshama, Hebrew for "darling".
When Sulome Anderson posted a selfie of her kissing her Jewish boyfriend shortly before the July 17 launch of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza, the photograph soon went viral under the hashtag #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies.
Soon, photographs of interfaith couples – including some with their children – began trending on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, adding a message of tolerance in a viral space that has predominantly been occupied by a discourse of hate.
In many ways, Anderson has the poster child credentials for such a campaign. The 29-year-old US-based journalist is the daughter of Terry Anderson, the former AP Middle East bureau chief who was kidnapped and held hostage by Hezbollah from 1985 to 1991.
Her boyfriend Jeremy, who has only supplied his first name to the press, comes from a family of Orthodox Jews who are “decidedly uncool” about their relationship, Anderson told ABC News.
When two New York students get together...
The hashtag #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies was launched by Abraham Gutman and Dania Darwish, both students at Hunter College in New York. Within weeks it was trending on social media sites with posts from an Iranian-Jewish couple as well as Jewish-Arab gay partners.
The decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seen several NGO-led interfaith tolerance programmes, including theatre workshops between Israeli and Palestinian children from the West Bank.
They have had no impact on the situation on the ground, which has continued to deteriorate with Jewish settlements destroying the dream of a two-state solution, no peace process in sight, and the death toll mounting on both sides – alarmingly so on the Palestinian side.
According to Gutman, the campaign was an attempt to balance the vitriolic dialogue on social media sites over the latest Israeli offensive into Gaza.
“The last month-and-a-half my feed was full of hateful comments. People were hiding behind keyboards and saying really rough things. And we thought that maybe there's a way to change the way that we talk about things,” said Gutman in a recent Skype interview.
While the campaign has attracted posts from across the globe, there’s little indication that tolerance on one virtual campaign is making any difference in the real world of Middle East politics. In the aftermath of the 2011 so-called Arab Spring, the international community has come to grips with the limitations of social media activism.
But that has not stopped the push for peace and tolerance in one corner of the virtual world.
Date created : 2014-07-24