Attendees at the pro-Israel rally in New York City on May 23, 2021. (Ben Sales)

    My sister and I were driving around Omaha, wasting time, when we got to the intersection of 72nd and Dodge, trying to see how much of Crossroads Mall was demolished. Instead, we saw a “Pro-Palestine” demonstration occupying all four corners of the intersection. At red lights, they would walk across the streets waving their flags and touting their handmade signs “Israel is Apartheid”, “Free Palestine”, and “Stop Funding Hatred”.

    Nothing is inherently wrong with a peaceful demonstration. But when Rachel and I stopped at the red light, we got scared. We have both been conditioned to fear those who criticize Israel because of our experiences online. Since the latest flare-up of violence in Israel and Gaza, neither of us have had a single day when we didn’t encounter a post containing misinformation, oversimplification, or outright antisemitism.

    I don’t need to explain how Hamas is a terror organization that uses children as pawns, or how Israel has attempted to make peace with the Palestinians countless times. I don’t have to explain that just because Israel has the Iron Dome doesn’t mean that it’s not at risk from the rockets, terror attacks and bombings. These talking points and arguments apparently do nothing on the internet. “Israel is occupying Palestinian land, murdering innocent Palestinians indiscriminately, and committing ethnic cleansing” has turned into an impenetrable argument for unswaying “pro-Palestine’ supporters.

    Hearing Israel called “apartheid” and “genocidal” and claims that it is committing “ethnic cleansing” gives me pain in my chest. Seemingly every other comment under a social media post about the Israel/Gaza conflict says it. Celebrities and organizations with more followers than there are Jews on Earth are posting anti-Israel infographics, leading their fans - most of which are uneducated on the situation - to believe that Israel is an “occupier” that wants the Palestinians dead. And when there are people who believe Israel is evil, there will be people who believe that Jews are evil, unable to separate the Jewish people from the Jewish state.

    Rachel and I have always known there are groups who want Jews dead, but the anti-Semites had mostly been abstract, thousands of miles away, on the news, or in the past. We have both experienced very little in-person antisemitism in our lives outside of the occasional Holocaust joke, swastika in yearbook or errant slur. But now, thanks to the internet, we are starting to see the full extent of antisemitism.

    Rachel has a “friend” who claims that Hamas isn’t terroristic. Advocating for an organization that mentions the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and encourages violence against Jews kind of makes you a bad person, in our opinion. Rachel, quite level-headedly, tried to address the “friend’s” arguments to no avail.

    I interviewed the owner of an Instagram page called “Jewish Pride Always” and learned that after she’d uploaded a post titled “Antisemitism is not going to ‘Free Palestine,’”,she was bombarded for days by people sending her direct messages quoting Hitler and containing other antisemitic messages.

    I contacted my friend Aviv in Israel. She lives in the north and is safe from the rocket fire. She posted that anyone who feels the need to leave their homes during the rocket fire can stay with her. When I told her about the media coverage and antisemitism in the United States, she told me that she was very much aware of the misinformation and disinformation.

    “But we’re used to it,” she said.

    All these thoughts came into my mind at the stoplight on 72nd and Dodge. Passing cars honked in support of the protest. Rachel and I should’ve had no reason to fear demonstrators at a peaceful protest, but we did. Here were people not hiding behind screens. Rachel and I had seen so much antisemitism connected to anti-Israel/anti-Zionism. As hurtful as the posts online are, much more hurt could be done in person.

    I was relieved when the light turned green. A protestor threw up a peace sign, and I wondered how likely it is that peace will ever happen.