When a supportive Facebook group for moms turns toxic over Israel

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Back in 2012, I invited about 30 of my friends to join a Facebook group I started called Healthy Moms Toronto. Almost a decade later, that number is around 20,000.

It’s a non-judgmental, supportive space to ask questions related to parenting, natural health and sustainable living—and receive thoughtful and helpful advice in return. And it’s more than a virtual community now.

I’ve launched a discount card program and organized annual marketplace events. A month ago, I opened my first retail store in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. 

Last week, I shared some thoughts about the rise of anti-Semitism in Canada and around the world. I discussed how certain words being thrown around—like “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing”—aren’t just factually incorrect but extremely hurtful to Jewish people who suffered this fate in recent history.

I encouraged the group members to do two things:

First, I asked them not to believe everything they see or read when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I recommended that they learn from both sides, particularly those who live in that region.

And second, I urged group members to think before they share things on social media, because there’s a lot out there that’s perpetuating anti-Semitism, and words matter. 

Posting this message was a big decision, and I expected there to be some backlash. But I couldn’t have imagined what happened next:

“So Israel is committing genocide and all anyone on this thread can do is cry about anti-semitism? There is no other ethnic group on earth that has a special word for people not liking them… We just sensationalize the Holocaust because Hollywood is full of satanic Zionist pedos who have pumped out endless Holocaust movies to make everyone so sensitive to the Jewish suffering they can never be called out for any of their crimes… ”

“I see so many Zionists in this group unfortunately including an admin. Israel is committing a genocide against the Palestinians, they killed many kids and women. #ISupportPalestine #IsraeliCrimes Don’t silence us!!! The whole world knows the truth. Israel is an apartheid state. This is not a war between religions, enough lies.”

“You showed your true colour, this is a pure Zionist tactic… ”

“You are an islamophobe you use your Facebook group to spread hatred and racism… Don’t act like a Zionist just because you are Jewish and you feel the need to defend Israel… #freepalestine.”

“Just so anyone knows, her very COMPLAINING about so called ‘antisemitism’ is false. It’s gaslighting. She’s not a victim… Please stop gaslighting palestinians and disguising it as antisemitism.”

With each new disgusting comment or hateful private message, I felt like I was being stabbed in the heart. 

I’ve seen social media do a lot of good, but it can also be very toxic. People hiding behind their computers feel like they can say whatever they want without consequence. I’ve been accused of censoring, bringing politics into the group where it doesn’t belong, and on multiple occasions described as “complaining about anti-Semitism.”

One person even commented on how they “couldn’t stand listening to my voice” despite having never heard me speak.

If I told you that these statements didn’t bother me, I’d be lying. My husband asks me regularly, “Why do you care what mindless people on the internet think or say?”

The truth is, I do care. I care about what they think of me as a leader of the group I built. I also care what they think about Israel and the Jewish people. 

What worries me most is what these moms are teaching their children: the hate they feel; ignorance when it comes to history; and how easily they believe what they see posted in places like TikTok.

I’m witnessing a new generation of moms who clearly do not understand the meaning of many of the terms they’re using. Moms who cite articles from Teen Vogue as credible sources of information. Moms who respond in hashtags. 

Last week, I was sitting alone in my newly opened storefront when a woman walked in. “I’m looking for Aviva,” she said in a serious tone. My heart stopped. In the five seconds before she introduced herself as one of my sales reps (we hadn’t met in person yet), I thought she was an angry group member coming to confront me. That’s where I’m at.

Some have asked me if I regret posting, and my answer is no. Has it taken a toll on my mental health? Yes. Has it opened my eyes to the anti-Semitism hiding in plain sight within my own community? Definitely. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely!

In a time when it seems like the whole world is against us, if I can’t speak up and defend my people on my own Facebook page, then how can I expect others to stand up for us? I know the majority of members in Healthy Moms Toronto support my position, as many reached out with personal messages. 

This is what I want to teach my children: respectfully listen to and acknowledge the struggles of people who share a different perspective. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t allow anyone to bully you or make you feel like your voice is unimportant. I refuse to stay silent. I refuse to be silenced. 

Aviva Allen is the founder of Healthy Moms Toronto on Facebook, and the owner of Healthy Moms Market.