Talking about Israel and Palestine

As part of the LGBTQ Pathways to Jewish Leadership program

Talking about Israel and Palestine with our friends or colleagues is not like participating in a university seminar. There is no professor to set the ground rules for collegial discourse or to adjudicate disputes. Absent such guidance, discussions on the subject can quickly degenerate into hostility or hurt feelings. Knowing this, and being decent folk, I think many of us have a tendency to avoid talking about Israel and Palestine altogether. We do this to protect ourselves and our friends from experiencing emotional pain. As the crisis continues and escalates, however, I believe it is the lack of open dialogue between Jews with differing opinions about the conflict that promotes polarization and tears at the bonds of our community. So, how do we start having these valuable discussions? Perhaps we can begin by acknowledging that many of us do not know how to address the topic without hurting others and ourselves.

On March 9, the organizers of the LGBTQ Pathways to Jewish Leadership program challenged us to develop the capacity to talk openly and engage others in discussions about Israel and Palestine. They invited a speaker, Rachel Eryn Kalish, who specializes in promoting communication and collaboration in crisis situations, to give us tools with which to discuss the conflict successfully. Kalish had us pay attention to our neurobiological triggers – words and ideas that make us angry and put our brains into “fight-or-flight” mode. Such triggers can disrupt communication by stopping us from active listening and empathizing with those with whom we disagree. By acknowledging the triggers and examining them, we can cut their negative impact on communication.

During our meeting, we shared our experiences about the ongoing conflict, listened to speakers from various organizations that promote dialogue and engagement with Israel, and responded to what they had to say. Some of us expressed disappointment, disillusionment, and horror at the suffering occurring in the region. Others expressed guarded hope, genuine solidarity with Israel’s policies, and weariness with those who seem to have lost faith in them. Despite our differences of opinion, everyone shared a common grief, and it was within that grief that we created a trusting space where real communication could occur.

No, talking about Israel and Palestine among our friends and colleagues is not like an academic seminar. Not only is there no referee but, for many of us, the conflict is too immediate and personal to be easily discussed. I can only hope that the future Jewish leaders of our program can take the lessons taught by Kalish and facilitate these difficult discussions with our friends and colleagues. By acknowledging emotional barriers to communication, and expressing genuine concern for the feelings of those with whom we disagree, perhaps we can talk about Israel and Palestine without hurting each other.

For more info on the LGBTQ Pathways to Jewish Leadership program, contact Katherine Tick or visit our website.

Categories: Israel, Leadership, LGBTQIA+


April 01, 2015


David Zeeman