Israel Loves Iran (On Facebook) – The New Yorker
My Facebook page was hit this week by what can only be described as a “status deluge.” One by one, my friends in Israel began sharing, “liking,” and posting a single message: “Iranians, We will never bomb your country, We love you.” I was as moved as I was surprised: one would be hard pressed to find a more sarcastic bunch than my fellow Israelis. But there they were, my friends, and thousands of others, spreading a saccharine message of peace at a time of rising hostilities.
The Israel-Loves-Iran campaign is the brainchild of Ronny Edry, a graphic designer from Tel Aviv who posted the message online next to a photo of him and his daughter. “I didn’t think of it as a campaign until it just became one,” he told me. “At first, some of my friends who saw it told me ‘Are you crazy?’ because it’s very uncommon for people in the Middle East to talk about love, especially about loving the Iranians.” But after a few hours, he said, he started receiving messages from people asking him if they could add the graphic to their profile pictures.
Within forty-eight hours, Iranians heeded the Israeli call—on Facebook. Majid, a thirty-four-year-old landscape architect from Iran, launched an Iran-Loves-Israel campaign that reciprocated the message. “Our main aim is introducing the Iranians to the Israelis and the Israelis to the Iranians,” Majid (who asked not to be identified by his last name because he fears for his safety) wrote me by e-mail. Asked what propelled him to respond to the Israeli initiative, he replied, “While the leaders threaten war and they want to bomb our countries, we (Israeli and Iranian citizens) are already bombarding each other—with love and peace.”
In a statement published on the Iran-Loves-Israel Facebook page, Edry wrote, “To the Iranian people, To all the fathers, mothers, children, brothers and sisters. For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other, we must hate. I’m not afraid of you, I don’t hate you.” Striking a lighthearted tone, Edry went on to write, “I never even met an Iranian…. Just one in Paris in a museum. Nice dude.” He ended his statement by calling for like-minded people to share his message of peace.
Despite the flowery words, some in the media were quick to point out that the two campaigns are hardly on equal footing: the Israeli version has by now become a cultural phenomenon, with Edry appearing on all the major television networks and narrating a YouTube video in English that ends with a plea for donations. In Iran, the call for dialogue with Israel is more dangerous and therefore more muted as people like Majid say they are afraid of recrimination by their government. And, while many Israelis have plastered the Israel-Loves-Iran meme across their smiling pictures, the Iranian equivalent is largely faceless and appears to be mostly disseminated by Iranians living abroad. Predictably, after the first rush of positive responses came a backlash of spoofs (“Iraqis, We will never bomb your country, We love you” reads the meme under a picture of George W. Bush) and suggestions that the campaign smacks of “slacktivism”—lazy, couch-surfing activism—of the kind that is said to have propelled the by-now famously infamous Kony 2012 video.
It’s easy to see the flaws in this social-media experiment. The Israel-Iran group, apart from the colorful photos and catchy slogans, really hasn’t said much so far; its organizers haven’t put forth a cohesive agenda nor have they lobbied the Israeli or Iranian governments to tone down their threats. Yet to ignore the campaign would be to sadly, gravely miss the point: a new grassroots force seems to have found a unified voice in the unlikeliest of places. (A major anti-war demonstration in Israel is planned for Saturday, though not by the campaign organizers.) And, at least in Israel, the campaign has managed to tap into the disconnect between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who just this month signaled Israel’s willingness to strike Iran, and the majority of Israelis who say they oppose such an attack. “I want to tell people across the world, ‘Look at us, from Iran and from Israel. We don’t want war. We don’t want this shit,’” Edry told me. “The only ones who haven’t responded so far are the ones who will push the button. This campaign forces them to see us.”
During a Facebook chat, I asked Zohreh, a twenty-six-year-old Iranian woman, why she decided to share the Iran-Loves-Israel slogan on her Facebook profile. “War is the last thing I wanted to hear,” she replied. “I don’t feel hate for Israeli people, and I don’t remember that the history of my country had a problem with Jewish people.” It’s hard to predict what will become of this joint campaign; it may yet end with a whimper. But it could also have a surprising outcome. The fact that two women, an Iranian (Zohreh) and an Israeli (me), were able to cross the barriers set by their governments and speak to one another, however fleetingly—call it naïve, but it felt pretty great.