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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Clubhouse, Harry Potter, and the Problem With Magical Thinking

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In the debate over Israel in America, many on the left (of which I am a proud member) are completely misguided. And the new frontier of this debate is shaping up to be the sticky new social network Clubhouse.

Last week I was invited to join Clubhouse, an audio drop in app where you can tap in and out of live podcasts at all hours of the day and night. The app is phenomenal, like the pre-cesspool-of-hate days of Twitter, with strict guidelines that support community inclusion. Since I joined, I found myself spending way too many hours of the day listening to everyone from Eric Weinstein to Elon Musk to musicians and shamans to people sharing their deepest, darkest secrets in the most beautiful ways. Being a proud Israeli-American, I also searched for chats about Israel, and I was horrified by what I found.

True to liberal values of open mindedness and inclusion, I looked for contrarian conversations. One was called something to the effect of “demystifying Zionism.”  The conversation was passionate, in the usual anti-Israel way I learned to know so well.

At some point the moderator interceded. In a somber voice, she announced: “Guys, I am sorry to stop you, but it looks like we have a Zionist in the room.  So naturally, I raised my hand to speak. After much back and forth of me getting kicked off of stage (turning off my mic)  and put back on, I was finally able to address the crowd.

I started by thanking the moderators for getting me on stage. I acknowledged that I was an Israeli-American-Zionist. But I added I am also pro-Palestinian and would like nothing more than to find a way for both our people to coexist. I told them nothing in life is black and white and we should always aim to have nuanced conversation to understand the other side.

That did not go down well. I was immediately kicked off of stage for my peace-nik views and became the punching bag of the rest of the mods. “There is no conversation to be had” started one of them. “There is no other point of view, there is no grey area, and it is all black and white.” “I will not be talking to anyone who holds your views, nothing to talk about until there is no more Israel and the Zionists repent for their sins,” continued another. “I am unwilling to have a conversation with you.” I wanted to reply to these accusations, but I didn’t get the chance to do so. Since I was already kicked off of stage, I couldn’t speak anymore.

Clubhouse is just the new flashy manifestation of our current reality, but it is obviously not unique. So many in the cancel culture generation are unwilling to engage in any conversation which they deem triggering. I remembered a story I read in Haaretz a while back about that entire cancel culture generation, who grew up reading Harry Potter. Their absolutist attitude may have been somewhat inspired by the black-and-white world created by JK Rowling, (who has been also cancelled for her comments against trans individuals). To this generation, you’re either team Dumbledore or team Voldemort. End of discussion.

Clubhouse is just the new flashy manifestation of our current reality.

This is, of course, absurd. Critical thinking and nuanced debate is called for in life, and more so when it comes to Israel.  If you want to have a debate about Israel, you need to know at least some basic facts, like that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has been an uninterrupted democracy since its founding in 1948, after the United Nations granted the Jews a state following the horrors of the Holocaust. The Arabs were also granted a state at the time, but they chose to refuse it and start a war. People on Clubhouse constantly call Israel a colonialist state, which is absurd, as it is a refugee state that was literally decolonized from British rule. Israel is also called an apartheid state, which is also absurd if you know that the third largest political party in Israel is an Arab party.

In the real world, as on Clubhouse, some people are not willing to even have that conversation. There is never going to be a perfect solution in the middle east, but we should all aim to find a good enough one. And call me a Gen-Xer, but I still think conversations and facts are a must.

Stirred not shaken, I went back to Clubhouse to find people like me, and so I did. I cohosted my next room with Shani Suissa and Danielle Ames Spivak, and we brought onstage Rami, a third generation Palestinian from Lebanon, to discuss the Right of Return and Muhamad from Egypt, where we all joked about who, exactly, reappropriated hummus from whom.

I love Clubhouse, and I intend to keep doing my best to speak about what I know, listen and learn from others. I am going to be back every Thursday at 12:00-2:00 PST to host a room and find people who are also willing to have intense, thoughtful and fact-based conversation about Israel, the Middle East and life at large.

This is after all, the liberal thing to do.


Noa Tishby is and Israeli American producer, actress, activist and writer and the author of the forthcoming book “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth (Free Press).”

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