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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bow Tie

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew: A Commentary

As we sit horrified at Israel’s firebombing of Palestinian’s supposed safe haven, Rafah, and Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed it as a “tragic accident” in one of the least believable quotes I have read all year (and that is in a year where Donald Trump repeatedly proclaimed he was not guilty of falsifying business records or defaming multiple women), it still remains important that we distinguish that people are not their government and a government is not its people.

If you have seen my posts, you know that I try to maintain nuance in talking about the current violence between Israel and Palestine, which is not easy given how enraging it is. I saw the horror of 10/7 in Israel, and even as Palestine has suffered, I do see the pain that my Jewish friends face from antisemitism (everything from dismissive attitudes to death threats). So when one of my friends recommended this book to me I gladly took her up on it.

Emmanuel Acho, a football player-turned-sports analyst who started a series called Uncomfortable Conversations took his allyship a step further and published this book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew. I had never watched his series or read the previous book (Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man), but he co-wrote this with a Jewish woman, Noa Tishby, and honestly it serves as a compact introduction to the Jewish historical and lived experience. It discusses the repeated persecution of Jewish folks and how antisemitism has been a permanent part of that history, and provides definitions for what Zionism is supposed to mean and how anti-Zionism can be interpreted. She is frank about Israel’s victories in multiple wars, though she glosses over their land disputes and the depth of the controversy surrounding the results of the 2000 Camp David Summit (I need to read more books for that). But it is from her that I derived my above thesis statement: people are not their government and a government is not its people.

I have never had a problem acknowledging that antisemitism exists. Just like anti-Black racism, it seems to be an ingrained part of many people’s thinking (and the book discusses the comparison of impact). I guess I’ve struggled to acknowledge it as much because, even with all the antisemitism that IS rampant and has only gotten worse in the past 6 months, institutionally America is quite pro-Israeli government. The US government’s love for Benjamin Netanyahu (who has “secretly” encouraged payments to uphold Hamas to continue destabilizing Palestine) has become one of its deepest flaws.

But just like we cannot support Hamas and its terrorism (especially when it’s thinly disguised as “freedom fighting”) even as we support the Palestinian people, we must separate governmental policies from the people they manipulate.

The Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran published a letter expressing “solidarity” for the campus protests in which he employs all sorts of antisemitic rhetoric to provoke everyone. We can be certain that, just like Hamas and Netanyahu, he does not care about the Palestinian people, only that he wants to destabilize things for his own power (h/t Yashar Ali).

President Biden has finally outlined a plan for Israel that starts with a ceasefire. The International Criminal Court will hopefully be investigating and prosecuting Netanyahu. All of it is too little too late for the people of Palestine (who, according to Biden’s plan, will return to their homes in Gaza…you know, the ones that are burned to a crisp now).

I’ll be donating to Doctors Without Borders, the World Central Kitchen, and Save the Children to do whatever I can to help the people suffering. I’ve got a book on Palestinian history coming to me soon. But I will also read Jewish perspectives and acknowledge that while they look like the oppressor here, they have suffered and continue to suffer as a people as well, even if it’s not Presidentially-backed. I will also acknowledge that supporting Palestine does not justify antisemitism and we absolutely must check ourselves to ensure that we are not playing into that bias and rhetoric.

The book doesn’t change my opinion that Netanyahu has made things worse, nor does it change the fact that, while the initial response to 10/7 may have been justified, too many Israeli officials have said the quiet part out loud to call the more recent actions in Rafah anything but genocide at this point.

But the book does illustrate the importance of remembering that:

We can be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel.

We must fight both Islamophobia and antisemitism in all their obvious and insidious forms.

Condemning Israel’s actions in Palestine does not mean condemning all Jewish people and multiple wrongs do not make a right.

Additional reading: The incredible Apeirogon, by Colum McCann, in which he talked extensively with an Israeli man and a Palestinian man, both of whom lost a daughter to the Middle Eastern conflict.

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