In the midst of the Israel-Hamas war, it is more important than ever to educate ourselves on the full scope of the conflict and perspectives beyond our own.
This is a difficult letter to write. Not only is the subject matter so complex, but the delicacy it takes to address an entire group of individuals—especially a group that I belong to—is immense. My intention is not to instigate, rather to share my thoughts and remark on what I’ve noticed in the wake of recent events.
Following the break-out of war in Israel, people have taken adamant and fervent stances. I have seen many members of my Jewish community sharing Zionist views—that is to say, standing firmly with Israel and advocating for the nation’s protection at all costs. In the process, this rhetoric fails to acknowledge Palestinian experiences and the full scope of the war. Though distress at the Hamas killings is more than understandable, failing to acknowledge the immense Palestinian death toll and the inhumane conditions for civilians in Gaza is not. As Jewish people, and within the context of our complex relationship with Israel, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on the issue from an unbiased perspective. We cannot use our own suffering to justify violence.
Education on the issue is an ongoing process that takes on many forms, but it includes doing research into the harsh realities of the war and the history of the ongoing conflict, seeking out and listening to Palestinian voices, and having difficult conversations about Israel and what it means to be Jewish, especially in this moment.
I understand that the Jewish relationship can vary widely. Some Jews may have been raised to believe that God gave Israel to the Jewish people and may now exist in a Zionist echo chamber. On the other end of the spectrum, many Jews are adamantly anti-Zionist yet may know Zionist community members or have Israeli relatives. I believe you can acknowledge these nuances while also condemning a corrupt government and the actions it has taken.
That being said, I also understand the frustration of constantly being conflated with Israel and being held accountable for the actions of the Israeli government. Though anti-Zionism does not equal antisemitism and one can absolutely criticize Israel without being antisemitic, these views are often used to justify antisemitism. This is in large part to blame for the dramatic rise in antisemitic hate crimes throughout North America, which is dismaying and frightening to see. Yet again, we must not use these heinous examples of violence to diminish Palestinian experiences. There has been a serious increase in anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim hate crimes as well, which is not to compare experiences or play games of “who has it worse,” but rather to point out a universal lack of humanity in regards to this issue. Suffering is not mutually exclusive—as Jews, we absolutely can (and should) mourn our own losses while also acknowledging the experiences of other groups and condemning all violence toward them.
Though I am specifically addressing my own Jewish community in this letter, its basic concept extends universally. Everyone is raised with a distinct set of values, which become more complicated once religion and culture are involved. However, we do not exist in a vacuum with our own people, and our perspective on the world often fails to reflect that. To stand obstinately with one’s values despite evidence from the opposition is not admirable, it is only damaging. How can humans progress if we don’t educate ourselves and make an active effort toward evolving? Every case of positive progress—civil rights, LGBTQIA2S+ rights, women’s rights—is only hindered by people who refuse to reevaluate the ideas they so firmly believe in.
We cannot choose what set of beliefs we are born into, and we cannot control the information we are raised with. What we can control is the information we seek out, and what we choose to do about it.