How do I talk to my son about Israel?

'When do you try and educate a teenager who is mostly interested in FIFA about the incredibly complex history of the Israel and Palestine conflict?'


Sad depressed thoughtful male boy teenager blond child outside using mobile cell phone for texting or social media

May 13, 2021 14:13

I knew the answer before I asked the question. It is only to be expected when you live in a lovely but right-on, Corbyn-voting area of North London. ‘Anyone say anything at school about Israel?’

Of course they had. My 14-year-old then told me that Israel was evil, it had stolen other people’s land and it was bombing the Palestinians as it liked killing children.

I think the worst thing was that he believed it. Not only had it been said at school, but it was all over social media. People he followed on Instagram and Tik Tok, footballers and social media stars, spewing hatred about Israel, thousands of comments agreeing with them. Virtue signalling about hating Israel is the course du jour, as many of us know.

I asked other Jewish parents from our comprehensive if their kids had encountered the issues. One’s friends had been posting – weirdly -- that ‘Israel only want the oil’ and ‘I respect my Jewish brothers and sisters but get out of Palestine.’ Another said that her daughter was almost in tears because of the horrific antisemitic and bizarre anti-Israel conspiracy theories her friends had posted.

So when his friends said it at school he didn’t fight back. ‘Why should I care, I’m not Israeli?’ he asked. ‘The people at school aren’t antisemitic…apart from the ones who are.’ I think it was the first time I really ever thought that maybe I should have sent him to a Jewish school.

A few months earlier a boy had called him ‘Jew’ and made Jew jokes that weren’t funny. He didn’t want me to tell the school because he’d be labelled a snitch – and, he insisted, he could fight his own battles.

Interfering Jewish mum that I am, I told the school anyway – without telling them who the perpetrator was – and asked them to teach a lesson about how antisemitism was as bad as any racism. They said they wouldn’t tolerate any sort of racial hatred. And here we were again.

When do you try and educate a teenager who is mostly interested in FIFA about the incredibly complex history of the Israel and Palestine conflict? It confuses even adults; each event can lead you off onto a different tangent. There is no easy arc, there are no clear goodies and baddies, just lots of frustration, death and hatred. I get about two minutes of my children’s attention to discuss any issue if I am lucky; that doesn’t even get me to the destruction of The Second Temple.  

I took advice from teacher friends who made some good suggestions. Make it a story, and make it a story that he could relate to. Use social media to show it isn’t completely one sided. Many told me that at schools today they are taught how they should always see both sides of an event, and are shown that social media and traditional media can be biased.

They advised to do something which could hook even a child, something that can provoke them. And they advised me to do something which, I guess, we should always be doing anyway and comes naturally to most Jews: advise them to always ask questions.

During a half time break in the football, when he came into the kitchen to get some water, I cornered him. Firstly I found some photographs on social media of Israeli children who were having to sleep in safe rooms, and asked him he would feel about that. Then I asked him what he thought our Government would do if Ireland started bombing London.

I showed him footage of the Iron Dome and talked about how that was the reason the casualties were so much higher on the other side, and a map which showed all the places in Israel rockets had been heading towards. We had a brief chat about the Holocaust and why Israel was important to Jewish people. We talked about numbers of Jews in the world versus non Jews and why it might seem that the narrative was overwhelmingly one sided. And I showed him a photograph of David Beckham who had posted a photograph of himself wearing a Star of David necklace on the morning after the bombings. I managed to do it all in five minutes.

Having armed him with facts – and hoping some of them will have gone in – I’ve readied him to challenge the overwhelming and false narrative. He can come at them with facts when all they have are conspiracy theories. This might be the first time we’ve had to have this particular conversation but I doubt it will be the last.


May 13, 2021 14:13

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