Imagine you are talking to me

A View from the Diaspora

Since October 7th, many Jews in the Diaspora have been shocked, felt let down, abandoned, even betrayed by people they thought of as friends, colleagues, family. Many have found it hard to know how to respond. What do you do when someone you regard as a friend tweets about Rafah using the language of “genocide,” “state terrorism,” “white colonialism” repeatedly asking people to not look away? Do you ignore, make excuses, cancel, write angry drafts of responses that you don’t send? I wrote him a letter.

Imagine you’re speaking to me

Thank you for leaning in. I too value relationships and friendships. But there are parameters. You’ve consistently and rightly asked people to not look away; something we both believe underpins our craft as teachers. We’ve wanted to bring kids and adults out from the corner of their rooms to shine a light on things bigger than themselves. We’ve also wanted people, including ourselves, to look inside in an attempt to figure out who we be. But it’s always been based on a deep dive.

What confuses, angers me and many Jews is how since October 7th, people have wanted to speak about a conflict that has caused generational suffering. These are intelligent people who have never spoken about, engaged in a conflict that’s existed way before either of us were born. The world’s been on fire all our lives.

Even saying the words “October 7th” or “Hamas” seems hard for people. I may be mistaken but I think you’ve found it difficult to say the words. It cuts deep. I don’t recall in all of the hundreds of conversations we’ve had or the numerous things you’ve written about in depth ever talking about the history, the pain both peoples have suffered. So there is something morally repugnant about what sounds like a kind of feigned moralizing over things that strike at our very existence, who we are.

Maybe I’m asking too much but if you are intent on speaking about Israel, the Palestinians (don’t avoid the Arab world in the conversation, a complex, distinct but interconnected number of countries who are unavoidably involved) then perhaps a more empathetic, nuanced, balanced, informed way is to imagine you are talking to me. The Holocaust is within our living memory. It’s live. The way Hamas went about the massacre, the recordings, the embracing of death as opposed to life is to pick open the psychosis many Jews experience. My parents were refugees, fled the attempted systematic slaughter of every Jew that walked the earth (genocide) arriving in England with nothing except PTSD. Very little of either family survived. That’s the home I grew up in, it impacted all of us. My siblings and I learnt to survive it. I’m just glad that my children are the first generation in my family untouched by it. So when you write you are speaking to survivors, children of survivors. Tread carefully is all I ask. Empathy, humanity starts here, one to one.

The censoring, omissions in a paradigm that only talks about western oppression is false.  The lens of white supremacy doesn’t fit in this context. You don’t say the word Israel but I presume you mistakenly label it a white colonial power, accusing it of state terrorism. Please read and reflect on a rebuttal I’ve copied for you. Jews have been ethnically cleansed throughout much of the Arab world dominated by genocidal doctrines intent on killing Jews, murderously homophobic, misogynistic. Those concerned with their own humanity have to fold this into their world view. Don’t look away. But as the post explains it takes you much further.

Social media is hugely problematic; it’s bringing what should stay on the periphery as unacceptable into the mainstream. Just look at what they’re shouting, look at who is doing the shouting. The moral compass has been shattered. (The scariest thing you wrote is you’d stand with anyone, really?) So if you want to join in the shouting about Rafah and the evil Jews also shout about Egypt’s complicity in allowing an autostrada of weaponry and terror tunnel construction materials pass into the hands of a genocidal organization through a network of tunnels on both sides of the border making huge sums of money, an industry. Look where that has got both peoples. Follow up on Rafah. Don’t look away from the horrific footage found on a captured Hamas terrorist of the kidnapped young Israeli women, probably now held in the dungeons of Rafah. Follow up on the mass movement of people, over a million people, and how this has been achieved despite being told by the world it couldn’t be done. Don’t stop because you’ll arrive at the weaponizing of aid, who has blocked it, stolen it, supplied it. I won’t look away from the tragic deaths in the refugee camp but follow up on why Hamas continues to embed itself and its armory amongst its own population. Follow up on the internal debate, divisions within Israeli society. I sent you a thread. Put it out there. Don’t look away. Because one thing is clear: people are shouting about things they have no idea about, they haven’t done the work. As David Olusoga, someone I know you admire, tells us, “History doesn’t care very much about our feelings…(Gaza) is not a soft play area.” There are people on both sides who have and are doing the work, a lived experience.

You know better than nearly any teacher I’ve ever met about the necessity to ask questions, educate rather than judge, put across different viewpoints, things people dare not say, to do the work so you can contribute. Otherwise keep clear because ultimately in the name of your humanity you’re not doing the cause for justice any good at all. You’re actually collaborating with a coalition of people who I don’t believe share our core values.

You say there isn’t a conversation to be had but there are nuanced voices to be listened to. I urge you to listen to Dr. Tal Becker or Haviv Rettig Gur on the Dan Senor podcast, “Call Me Back,” I sent you. By all means send me Palestinian voices; you haven’t so far. There’s much  for all of us to consider.

I’ll end on what an Israeli friend recently wrote to me, ‘We place ourselves in our universe based on our identity, beliefs, values, family, friends, people and ideas we admire, like, and are influenced by, and who we think like and are influenced by us right back. And then, in one swoop, those people wash their hands of us, of seeing us or hearing us, of having our back. They do it based on what’s essentially gossip and hearsay, albeit on a grand scale. It’s the worst kind of betrayal and turning and shakes the ground we walk on; Jews holding universal values in a world that excludes Jews from enjoying those values. How do we realign? I’m not sure.

How do we realign? It’s a question we both must answer.


About the Author
I'm a Jew living in Britain