With my hand on my heart I can say that I am blessed with a number of Jewish and Israeli friends; relationships that are frequently put to the test by current events and frank discussions. After growing up in the south west of Scotland (a place with considerable sectarian divisions) I have learned that friendships need not always be relationships of perfect agreement – and nor, do I think, they ought to be. Difference is one of the great spices of life and provides an avenue for learning. Yet in the real world friendships do not exist in a vacuum. They develop over time in a world of political realities which all too often impact upon friends. Israel – the State of Israel – is one of the more potent political realities of the world that poses a challenge for friendships. People have their opinions and ideologies, and – sadly – sometimes these are incompatible with friendships.
During the summer of last year, during the Israeli invasion of Gaza, this political bombshell took its toll on my friends list – not to mention the many real and more tragic losses. A number of Jewish and Israeli friends made the decision to unfriend me on social media because I decided to speak out against the disproportionate violence of Israel against Hamas and the people of the Gaza Strip. Israel won that conflict – Israel was always going to win that conflict, but a number of friendships were among the casualties. One Jewish friend went so far as describing my opinion of Israel’s behaviour as anti-Semitic. This was a wakeup call, and it has had me thinking for months.
Between condemnation of certain of Israel’s actions and anti-Semitism there is a very fine line, and one which many people prefer to keep as blurred as possible; the fog of war. Not everyone in Israel is Jewish, and most of the world’s Jewish population is not Israeli. Not all Jews or Israelis are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews. Not all Zionists are in favour of conflict with Palestine, and not all those in favour are Jewish or Zionists. So it is never easy to see clearly into the Israeli side of this awful and unjust conflict, and still it becomes both a source of anti-Semitism and a reason for some to discount and discredit others as anti-Semites.
@Rabbi_Debbie Something about this gives me a migraine. Antisemitism upsets me, but so does Israel. Bibi is keen to make all Jews "Israeli."—
Ùr-Fhàsaidh (@urfhasaidh) January 14, 2015
@urfhasaidh very dangerous to conflate the two. And yet the two are affected one by the other.—
Rabbi Debbie Y-S (@Rabbi_Debbie) January 14, 2015
While many Jews in Israel and around the world choose to distance themselves from the violence and even add their voices to the condemnation, the State of Israel works very hard to create a perfect fusion between Jewishness and its own state ideology as ‘the Jewish State.’ Understandably this creates a confusion; Netanyahu’s words often act to cement in people’s minds the identification of Israel with Judaism, and when non-Jews (and sometimes Jews) make this connection the trap of accusation springs. That much is premeditated. Our task is this – to know when comment is unnecessary, but when it is, to be able to distinguish between people (with their religious and ethnic identities) and the designs and actions of state – bearing in mind also that it is unjust to assume that one state is always in the wrong.
* May I add that Rabbi Debbie did not unfriend me, and neither was she the person who called me an anti-Semite. Just to save everyone from that possible confusion.