On the morning of one of the worst days of my life, I was studying Torah and received an urgent WhatsApp message from my neighbor. The message was a video of a man being stabbed outside a supermarket. The reason the message was marked urgent was not immediately clear, but after watching the video a few more times and seeing the face of the victim it became so.
The victim in the video was a childhood friend of mine. My neighbor worked in the security establishment and had early access to the video. The world had yet to hear the news of the attack. My emotions were already in freefall. I was furious: The victim of this attack was a father, a soldier and a community activist. How dare anyone cut his life short?
To stay civil, many who post prolifically on social media develop a set of principles. These are generally self-imposed rules like never posting when angry or upset. They try not to write with nuance, no matter how confident they are that they’re right. They try their best to present both sides of the argument. Most importantly, they never aim to insult or offend.
On the morning of the attack, many people broke all of their rules. The terrorist who killed my friend was a teenager, and many believe it takes a village to raise a teenage Palestinian terrorist. The terrorist’s village had ample opportunity to teach tolerance instead of terrorism. In the fury following the attack, many believed the entire town was collectively responsible for the terrorist attack and the death of an innocent Israeli.
In a moment of fury and lapse of judgment, I posted that the IDF should raze the entire village. While I wasn’t calling for the residents’ deaths, it’s obvious that had the IDF attacked the village, there would’ve been heavy resistance and heavy casualties.
The backlash of criticism over the post was overwhelming. Many anti-Zionists and Palestinians posted hateful replies, calling me the worst names. And it wasn’t just them. Zionists also criticized me for assuming all Palestinians are terrorists and advocating a policy of collective punishment. People took screenshots of the post and spread it across the internet.
Trying to maintain composure over the loss of my friend, I watched as my pristine social media reputation went down in flames.
But my anger prevailed in those first few hours, and I wasn’t open to hearing other viewpoints. In my mind, the post advocating the destruction of the Palestinian village was justified.
As the day moved on, more practical matters took priority. Feelings had to be put aside to help several dignitaries make plans to attend the funeral late that night. A certain calm took over. Anger turned to mourning and depression.
I began to contemplate my post and the comments it received on social media. I recognized that I had written out of emotion, which caused me to generalize about Palestinians. Nuance had been set aside and the post had been written to upset people. While it wasn’t written outright or explicitly, the post had called for murder, collective punishment and the abandonment of Israel’s commitment to justice.
Many in the Palestinian community, especially its leadership, educators and those who set the tone and culture, bear collective responsibility for the terrorism that is endemic in their society. Palestinians use multiple means to incentivize terror attacks against innocent Israelis. The Palestinian Authority’s dastardly “pay-to-slay” program spends more than $300 million on monthly stipends to Palestinian terrorists. The more Israelis they kill or injure, the more money they get. Palestinian school textbooks are full of hate and glorify terrorism against Jews. Palestinian society honors terrorists by naming schools and city squares after them.
This makes certain sectors of Palestinian society collectively responsible for Palestinian terrorism. Terrorism is different from crime, in that it isn’t committed by a lone actor. It is a systemic problem incentivized by the community.
But collective responsibility doesn’t require collective punishment for justice to be done. It requires the community to recognize their erroneous ways and change.
I don’t think my post made me a bad person. It reflected my emotions at a moment of intense grief and anger. The post was wrong, and I deleted it after a few hours and replaced it with an apology. It taught me that in today’s polarized society, one’s political opponents will use whatever they can to disgrace you. After years of repeatedly apologizing for that post, people still post the screenshot of it and claim it reflects my true beliefs.
I’m not the only person who has posted something they’ve later come to regret. It’s a common mistake. An important aspect of Judaism is forgiving people who genuinely regret their actions and words, and I try to forgive others and hope others forgive me. It is easy to condemn and harder to forgive. When reading harsh-sounding social media posts, it’s best before condemning to check for regret and accept the apology.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.