It’s 2017, and Israeli teens are into whatever their peers in New York or London or Paris or anywhere else in the world find cool. This summer, it’s Sarahah, an anonymous gossip app you had probably not heard of if you’re older than 23 and to which you’re utterly addicted if you’re younger. But there’s something remarkable about Tel Avivi teens idling away their afternoons sending each other incognito messages, often racy in nature: Sarahah was developed in Saudi Arabia.
Its creator, Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, had originally intended for his invention to allow employees to share feedback with their bosses without repercussion, no easy task in a strictly hierarchical society like his. But the internet being what it is, teens soon appropriated the app and turned it into a platform for expressing their best and their worst emotions, with little in between. “The messages are usually either really nice or really mean,” one American adolescent Sarahah addict told New York Magazine.
This dynamic, it turns out, is particularly appealing for Israelis, for whom really nice and really mean are often the two cultural defaults. Sarahah—the name is Arabic for “honesty”—has caught on strongly in the Jewish state, engaging not only teenagers but also users in their 30s and 40s and making the app the hottest trend of the summer.
Not that everyone is pleased: Some of Sarahah’s Israeli users, the Israeli media have reported, are using the application to warn that it’s all a trap. Sarahah, these trolls warn, is an “app by Arabs” designed to hack Israeli phones and steal sensitive data. For now, most Israelis ignore these fevered conspiracy theories, opting instead to post the anonymous messages they’ve received on Snapchat. And when Jews and Arabs come together to idle away their days on their smartphones, can peace really be far behind?
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.