Just after 9/11, long before Hamas took power in Gaza, a media consultant was hired by a Jewish organization to discuss problems with Israel’s image in the world. The consultant began his talk holding up a photo of a Palestinian man holding a dead baby in his arms.
Fast forward to the present. While we know there is another side to the story, no matter how hard we try to explain it, the photos and video from Gaza this summer make it difficult to even have a rational conversation about the conflict – not just with the expected critics, but with so many people we come into contact with as we go about our lives.
I have a friendship with someone going on 40 years. He is intelligent in a sophisticated kind of way. He is, and always has been, a student of international affairs. I know him to be a fair-minded person who does not jump to emotional conclusions. He is well read and prides himself on following current events.
We had a social evening when the war in Gaza was in its second week. We spent the whole evening together and the subject of Israel and Gaza never came up. We had a great time and, when he and his wife left, I thought it didn’t come up for a reason.
When my daughter Emmanuelle’s brother-in- law was killed fighting in Gaza, my friend was someone I texted. He instantly texted back and expressed regret for the family. The next day, he initiated a conversation via text messages in which I told him I was going to Israel to be with the family. While I was in Israel, he messaged me to ask how things were going. He cared and I appreciated it.
I called him when I got back. We talked about the shiva and we talked about the family. He told me his uncle had died in the Second World War, and the family lived with that forever. We kept talking and then, for the first time, talked about the war in Gaza. We had just touched the subject in a mildly substantive way, when he said, “Let’s remember the only people in Israel who were killed were soldiers.”
Defensively and instinctively, I replied that, at the time, three civilians had been killed as well. But then I realized how silly that sounded, so I recovered by saying there were very few civilian casualties only because of the Iron Dome. But my friend had made his point, and where was I to go from there?
Because he is too good a friend to get into an argument with, and I am sure he feels the same, the conversation turned to another subject as we realized the danger of heading to a bad place. He is no less a friend, and I know he reflects what so many people around the world think.
That is the uncomfortable place many Jews find themselves in today. Our world has been shaken upside down as several of our friends, work colleagues, neighbours, and fellow students have stronger views than ever that Israel is the aggressor not the defender.
For those who think the media is largely responsible for this depiction, there is something to be said for the journalistic instinct of defending and quite consciously rooting for the underdog. It is as simple as saying, in any David and Goliath scenario, the favourite is never the big and powerful. The powerful are dismissed as bullies; the underdogs become impoverished heroes.
There were some journalists who wrote about human shield situations. They wrote about Hamas baiting Israel to kill civilians. There was extensive reporting of Hamas tunnels, and, while that side of the story did get out, it was drowned in the onslaught of those terrible images of too many dead Palestinian children and too many wailing mothers.
Somehow, this war has intensified the feeling that Jews are more challenged than ever to deal with the aftershocks of military action. It is the first time since the end of the Second World War that Jews in the Diaspora are being made to feel so universally uncomfortable and so ill-equipped to deal with the fallout.
These are tough times.