How to Talk to Your Jewish Friends About Israel
I'm posting this article because it reminded me of our struggle to get through even the most 'reasonable' Israeli commentators.
by Ira Chernus
“I can talk to my Jewish friends about anything -- except Israel. When that subject comes up, they just shut down.”
I’ve heard this complaint from so many people, so many times, that I want to offer a few suggestions about how to talk to your “pro-Israel” Jewish friends. I hope this will be helpful to everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, who is critical of Israel’s war policy and wants to move public opinion toward peace.
First, you can think about your own reasons for raising the subject. Are you just trying to express yourself -- to bear moral witness or vent moral outrage? Or do you want to help your Jewish friends think about Israel’s actions in a new, more peace-oriented way? Let’s assume it’s the latter.
That means you aren’t just trying to score points and win the debate. So there’s no reason to go on the attack. Even though you may have most of the right and justice on your side, take it slow and easy. If you put your Jewish friends on the defensive, they are likely to close their ears, eyes, and minds. That’s what we all do when we feel defensive about anything.
And many of your friends probably feel defensive when it comes to Israel. They are defending themselves against the voice of their own conscience. They are morally sensitive people. That’s what is so frustrating. They care deeply about social justice in every other arena. But there is something peculiar about this Israel thing that seems to throw their normal ethical compass out of whack.
That “something” is a very complicated mix of factors. Part of it is a lifetime’s worth of socialization. They’ve been raised in a community that assumes -- without question, as an article of faith -- that Israel really is fighting for its life. They’ve been taught to see Israel as an innocent victim, surrounded by irrational, barbaric anti-semites bent on destroying it. So all Israel can do is fight back.
Your friends have been told this so many times, by so many people, in so many ways that it will take an immense mental shift to begin to question it. Imagine someone trying to convince you that the sun rises in the west, and you’ll begin to understand what an effort you are asking them to make.
At the same time, your friends still have that ethical compass. They are bound to be disturbed by the pictures they see on television. They know that the Lebanese and Palestinians are suffering far worse than the Israelis. They don’t value Jewish life more than Arab life. (If they did, they wouldn’t be your friends, right?)
So they are in a deep bind. They feel sure Israel is an innocent victim. Yet they can see the clear evidence that Israel bears some responsibility -- and, they’re beginning to suspect, culpability -- for the violence. They know two things that seem obviously true yet can’t both be true, because they contradict each other. Psychologists call that cognitive dissonance.
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