When the IDF commandos boarded the 'freedom flotilla' a couple of weeks ago, and images of the incident suddenly popped up on the large screens at the bar we were propping up in the north of Corfu, I was immediately hit by a familiar feeling of impending doom, and no, it wasn't four days of ouzo consumption catching up with me. It's what I have dubbed The Israel Effect: when an otherwise perfectly rational and well-educated friend embarks on a vitriolic anti-Israel rant in the middle of a holiday/dinner/drinks/engagement/wedding party and ruins my evening.
We've all had these conversations. Someone will mention the Middle East, and within minutes the previously funny, erudite girl on your left will come out with something along the lines of the following drivel, which I was recently subjected to at a dinner party in Chelsea.
"It's basically the same as me just suddenly deciding to move into my next door neighbour's house that they've saved for, bought and furnished, and then unceremoniously kicking them out, claiming it as my own, and living in it myself. It's just not fair. Why can't they all just go back to where they came from?"
"The Jews! I mean, the Israelis, you know what I mean."
It is vital Israel doesn’t become more of a taboo than it already is
It is at this point that there is always a choice. First, I could leap to Israel's defence with a short, sharp, "No, I'm not sure I do know what you mean, you antisemitic ****." This is the most cavalier option - something that is fairly difficult to do without causing a scene in the middle of dinner, especially when faced with a tipsy barrister. Second, I could wait for someone else to chime in (a gamble because the next person to speak has the power to either diffuse the situation immediately or reveal themselves as a closet antisemite in one fell swoop). Or third, I could laugh it off and immediately change the subject, which is always the easiest way out.
I was contemplating these various options in Corfu as my friends and I looked up at the plasma screens, having been starved of news for days.
I assumed the brace position (more ouzo, deep breaths), waiting for someone to embark on the anti-Israel rant. Silence. Then the next headline flashed up.
"What? David Laws has resigned? This is a total disaster."
But you can't always rely on a closeted homosexual Cabinet minister embroiled in an expenses scandal to pop up at just the right moment and save the day. Sometimes you just have to have the conversation.
Over the coming months, in the wake of the flotilla incident, as Iran continues to up its hateful PR campaign and antisemitism continues to seep out from cracks we never even knew existed, it is vital that we don't let Israel become even more of a taboo subject than it already is. The inbuilt British fear of 'causing a scene' makes this country the perfect breeding ground and mouthpiece for anti-Israel rhetoric (so often seamlessly drifting into antisemitic). Those that spout it at dinner parties rely on the assumption that we'll avoid social awkwardness at all costs, that we'll simply laugh it off and change the subject.
So the next time you're facing The Israel Effect, cause a scene – and if you're too drunk to mount a counter-argument, a bread roll between the eyes will suffice.