Josh Kaplan

Call me a coward, but I won’t talk to my friends about Israel

What's wrong with wanting a quiet life?


LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 13: Israel Entry Noa Kirel performs on stage during The Eurovision Song Contest 2023 Grand Final at M&S Bank Arena on May 13, 2023 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

May 15, 2023 16:25

I have an app on my phone that’s called red alert. It’s pretty simple: every time a rocket is fired from Gaza at Israel, it sends a push alert. Last week, as you can imagine, my phone was going off quite a bit. Between Tuesday and Sunday, some 1200 rockets were fired at the Jewish state, and 1200 push notifications were accordingly fired at my phone.  
When Israel is under rockets, my reaction is always the same. First, I worry for my family there: my safta on the kibbutz, my sister and her boyfriend living in Tel Aviv. But then, a more selfish thought: how will this affect my friendships, my relationships with people I like and respect and with whom I otherwise mostly agree on the affairs of the day. 
Thomas Jefferson once said: ‘I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.’ But Thomas Jefferson’s friends never posted dumb shit on Instagram, did they?  

 Last time there was a big flare up, during the second Covid summer in May 2021, my social media became basically unusable. I know, I know:  poor, poor me. But actually it was annoying that every time I logged on to catch up with my friends, or to find some memes to distract myself from the drudgery of lockdown, I was confronted by twee graphics telling me I was a coloniser, that Jews around the world had a responsibility to not just pick a side in the Israel-Gaza war, but to pick the right side, and that there were no good Israelis. 
There were waves and waves of totally unbridled hostility to Israel, in a way that you never see directed at, for example China, Iran or Syria - countries with, does it need stating, evil leaders. 
But despite seeing people I cared about spread things I hated, I bit my tongue.  
I’ve never really done the politics thing with my friends. One of my best mates, an avowed Irish Republican, has remained so precisely because we never go near the elephant in the room. It’s not an out-and-out fatwa, more an unspoken realisation, a pragmatism, that it would take us down an unpleasant path. 
For me, it’s also personal - most of my Israeli family has been in the IDF, as has my British-born sister. It feels existential and so I can’t help myself taking the whole thing seriously, getting upset and potentially making someone feel bad for views, with which I might not agree, but which they are entitled to hold. 
But, I can hear you say, is there not a moral imperative to speak up for Israel? Does a little piece of Herzl’s memory die every time a Jew picks a quiet life over the path of the righteous Zionist?  Maybe, but I don’t really care.  
Who wants to inject conflict into otherwise pleasant friendships? If your world views basically align, if you agree on the day-to-day stuff like how you treat people, talk to waiters in restaurants, why would you ruin that with politics? 
So I don’t. I’d much rather have my views and my friends than lose one because of the other. Call me a coward, if you want, but if you don’t have the power to change things in a meaningful way anyway, why not aspire to a bit of peace and quiet? Frankly, the world is stressful enough as it is. 
In an ideal world, Israel would be viewed as it is at Eurovision. This weekend, as the ceasefire between the IDF and Gaza militants came into effect, Noa Kirel was on stage in Liverpool. The song was fun, she can dance and she won third place. Nothing crazy, right? And aside from the usual cranks on Twitter, no one seemed to have a problem with her simply because she’s Israeli.  
It was a refreshing change and made me think how lovely it would be for Israel to be treated just like any other country, all of the time. A country with its flaws, its foibles, and its controversies like any other. A country on which people don’t feel they need to have an opinion.  
Until that day comes – and we are some way off, sadly  --  I’ll carry on enjoying the quiet life.  

May 15, 2023 16:25

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