The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has torn apart Chicago’s biggest Facebook moms group

Mothers groups on Facebook typically focus on baby gear and parenting advice. But they sometimes erupt into conflict.
Photo by Julie Corie/flickr/ Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

By Philissa Cramer

The tens of thousands of Chicago mothers in a private Facebook group called MamaHive typically post about sleepless babies, strollers and playgroups.

But on May 16, with the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza entering its second week, a post went up that broke the mold.

“We, the admins of MamaHive Chicago, take a strong stance against the terroristic acts being committed against the Palestinian people,” the post said. “Anyone appearing to justify the occupation, genocide and apartheid that is taking place will be immediately removed. If you feel in any way supportive to those committing these heinous acts, please feel free to remove yourself.”

Within minutes, tensions flared in the comments. In one heated exchange, after a Jewish mother compared the group to Hamas and said she would quit, another mother called her a “genocide lover.” In response, the Jewish mother wrote “go f–k yourself terrorist!” followed by an emoji of an obscene gesture.

Within hours, two of the founding mothers, one Jewish, had been ousted and dozens of other Jewish members were kicked out or quit in protest. And within days, the woman who posted the comment faced professional consequences, while online, the 42,000-member group had effectively imploded, making MamaHive the latest Facebook community to collapse spectacularly over political issues unrelated to its stated purpose.

“This group was about having a safe, supportive, resource-rich forum for parents to talk about their experience of parenting,” said Alina Slotnik, one of the group’s founders. “It was meant to be inclusive and always welcoming, and it breaks my heart that somebody would create a politically or religiously based litmus test for this group.”

Slotnik, who is Jewish, found herself at the center of the conflict in the moms’ group as tensions around the Middle East conflict ran high in Chicago. Earlier on May 16, a major pro-Palestinian march drew thousands of protesters downtown, and a smaller group gathered in Skokie, a heavily Jewish suburb. There, two people broke a synagogue window and affixed a Free Palestine sign to its door in an incident that police have labeled a hate crime.

That night, Dana Hamed, a Palestinian mother and makeup artist from suburban Chicago who is one of the moderators of MamaHive, gave a heads-up to the rest of the moderators that she had an idea for a post. She shared a post that she had published on Jan. 7, the day after the Capitol siege, declaring MamaHive to be unwelcoming to supporters of treason, and wrote, “Hey guys, I would like to make a post like this but for the genocide occurring in Palestine right now. Just giving a heads up in case it ruffles some feathers.”

Six fellow administrators, about half the group, soon “liked” her post, and at least one wrote, “I support you,” according to screenshots from the group. Shortly afterward, the post to the complete group went live.

Hamed was thinking not just about the Jan. 6 insurrection but about another episode when MamaHive had turned uncharacteristically political: during last year’s racial justice protests.

“This group stood strong for our black brothers and sisters and we stand strong for our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” she wrote. “We don’t do selective activism here.”

The first responses were ones of relief and solidarity. “Thank you for this!” one woman with a Palestinian flag overlay on her profile picture wrote. “I was completely shocked at the lack of mention about this topic in this group.” In short order, the post had racked up 350 likes.

But Jewish members of the group, sensing that the post contained an implicit invitation for them to leave the group, quickly responded with concern. “This is a diverse group of Chicago mothers,” one wrote. “There are many Jewish mothers, Israelis, and those who support Israel in this group. There are also many who support peace for ALL people. I don’t understand this stance or statement at all.” Multiple mothers endorsed her comments.

From there the conversation intensified. Echoing debates about the conflict that have raged across social media, some mothers pressed the case that Israel is a colonizing nation committing genocide against Palestinians, while others argued that Israel is acting in self-defense when it fires missiles into Gaza. One heated exchange ended with one member writing to a Jewish mother, “Oh shut the heck up with your Hamas excuse bulls–t. Hamas was started looooonnnggggg after Israel started killing Palestinian people. That argument is so old. Find something else.”

Slotnik soon weighed in as a founding administrator, saying that Hamed’s post “does not speak for me” and arguing that the topic did not belong in MamaHive. (The group was called MamaTribe originally but changed its name last year in a bid to distance itself from language that could be offensive to Native Americans.)

“There are loads of groups for those discussions. This is NOT IT,” she wrote. “I am also deeply against any political litmus test for participation in this group. We are a welcoming community.”

Slotnik’s post drew more than 100 likes, but in private, administrators were disparaging her interjection.

“Her fellow Jewish friends got on her case about it and she came out to be the savior,” one moderator wrote in a chat only visible to the group’s administrators. (Moderators in Facebook groups have the power to remove and block posts and members, while administrators can also change the group’s rules and remove or add moderators. Both have access to a shared chat for group managers.)

“Trying to silence me. Typical Zionist move,” Hamed wrote in the administrators’ chat. “Exactly why I posted, so people could know the truth.”

The administrators were also busy policing the comments in the group. The chat shows that at least one person posting pro-Palestinian comments was censured for her tone and set to have her future posts require approval before other group members could see them. But more frequently, scrutiny appeared to be aimed at those who challenged the premise of Hamed’s original post.

“I’m removing her and everyone that liked this,” one administrator posted about a comment she had deemed in violation of the group’s rules. But it wasn’t clear to which comment she was referring. Another asked for details: “The murder of Jews comment?” The first administrator clarified, saying she was referring to a comment that said, “Please stop supporting terror.” That post also included the words “Free Gaza from Hamas!! Stand with Israel!” At the time, it had been liked nine times.

For now, MamaHive has been “archived,” meaning that it doesn’t appear in Facebook searches, existing members cannot add posts and no new members can join. The ousted administrators and mothers say they are holding out hope that their vision for the group can one day be restored.

“I was shocked, disheartened and angry to see a moderator of this 42,000-person group use her position to advance her political views. As a Jew I felt targeted,” said Rebecca Kristall, a group member since 2015 who said she was removed from the group this week. “The only litmus test for being a part of the group should be that you’re a mom in Chicago.”

—JTA News and Features

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