Paul Pillar

Ad Hominem Tweets and Israel

In a story that was reported in a Spanish-language publication earlier this month and made it into the New York Times on Tuesday, the Israeli foreign ministry has purchased in a five-figure deal the user name @israel on Twitter.  This replaces the ministry's former use of @israelMFA.  The seller and former user of @israel is Israel Melendez, who lives in Miami and operates a pornographic website.  Melendez had used @israel as a personal account since shortly after the advent of Twitter.  He says--in explaining why, apart from the money, he was motivated to give up the user name--that he was receiving many abusive replies from people who mistakenly thought the account already belonged to the State of Israel.

I don't know what the writers of those replies were ostensibly replying to--the foreign ministry already has deleted Mr. Melendez's tweets--but this seems to be another all-too-common instance of reactions not to substance but instead to a disliked (and in this case, mistakenly identified) source.  Makes me wonder what the Israeli foreign ministry thinks it is accomplishing here, given that it will now be the recipient of as many abusive messages as Melendez was, in addition to a bunch more from people messaging in the same spirit but knowing that @israel now really does belong to the State of Israel.  But then again, Israel at least as much as any other country has combined strong efforts at public relations with an inclination to dismiss criticism effortlessly as just more of the usual abuse.

That's another unfortunate pattern at play here: the co-mingling of legitimate criticism with unthinking (or outright prejudiced) abuse, leading to the undifferentiated brushing aside of all of it.  I suspect Israel Melendez deserved his share of criticism (although maybe that's just my stereotyping of porn site operators), and the other Israel does things that certainly deserve it as well.  

Perhaps none of this matters much, since it's hard to be very profound with a 140-character limit.  Come to think of it, though, much of what passes for argumentation about conflicts involving Israel (i.e., the one in the Middle East) isn't any more profound than that either.