Over the past few weeks, while we were writing papers and basting turkeys, rockets were falling in Gaza and southern Israel. I was lucky not to have family or friends in danger, so during this most recent crisis in Gaza, what stood out most was my swamped Facebook news feed. When I refreshed my browser, I was confronted by Yalies posting the same few phrases over and over: I stand with Israel. Copy-and-pasted paragraphs warning Americans that our media is anti-Israel, or even anti-Semitic. Slogans in Hebrew. The knee-jerk vitriol when we talk about Israel never fails to shock me.
Although some of these responses to the escalation in Gaza might suggest otherwise, the Yale Jewish community is warm and wonderful, and I am proud to serve on the Slifka Center’s student board. My Jewish friends are brilliant, compassionate intellectuals. They are happy to play devil’s advocate when I’m looking for a debate, even when they agree with me. They can make a nuanced argument on nearly any subject, from Maimonides to Confucius, and we can happily disagree without harming our friendship. When the board meets every Sunday, we almost always discuss ways to make the building feel more comfortable to everyone who walks through its doors. We pride ourselves on being pluralistic, welcoming and inclusive.
And yet whenever the subject of Israel comes up in the Slifka building, many assume that everybody has the same opinions — opinions that are carefully fostered in Hebrew schools, Jewish day schools and Jewish summer camps around the country. Sometimes it feels like Jews only talk about Israel with other Jews. At the beginning of this year, I heard a good friend tell a freshman that she would “learn who to talk to about Israel.” In other words, this newly arrived Old Campus denizen should only seek out those who agreed with her — other Jews. Many of my friends wrote their pro-Israel statuses in Hebrew, so that only Jews (and the rare Hebrew-speaking non-Jew) could respond or even read the post. “I stand with Israel” is a standard expression, which perfectly encapsulates the shameful lack of nuanced thinking in our community’s conversations about the recent attacks in Gaza.
How many Yalies would proudly say, “I stand with America,” without any qualifications? I challenge any thinking person, even the most unabashed American exceptionalist, to stand behind every action this country takes. So how can my friends, who usually weigh both sides of any argument so carefully, make a blanket endorsement of Israel’s actions over the past two weeks?
To be fair, the Jewish community is not the only place where this deeply complicated issue is reduced to black and white. Some Yalies who disapprove of Israel’s actions were just as shameless in their oversimplified pontification about war crimes and child-killers. As Yalies, we pride ourselves on being open-minded. Let’s try to follow through.
I am not qualified to comment on the difficult political realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I am sure that neither side can be entirely in the right or entirely in the wrong. Let’s not act as though there’s any way to summarize the situation into a Facebook-ready sound bite. Instead, let’s leave the echo chamber of the Jewish world, or the self-perpetuating blogosphere, and have more difficult conversations. Talk to your suitemates, to your TA and your IM ping-pong team. Talk to someone who disagrees with you — and don’t just wait for him or her to finish speaking before you make your next point. Listen to what they have to say.
Despite last week’s cease-fire, there will almost certainly be a next time — another violent crisis for Israel and the surrounding territories. When that happens, I urge every Yalie to consider the complexity of the issue. Stop trying to boil a tremendously complex problem down to a hackneyed phrase or a quick condemnation. Stand with whomever you like, but do so with a little nuance, and a lot of careful thought.
Laura Speyer is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .