Having Difficult Conversations

How to: Have the Conversation

Having Effective But Difficult Conversations

If you experience antisemitism in your workplace, here is a self-advocacy guide to help.

Thanks to the ADL for being a resource for this section.

1. Establish an environment for a mutually respectful discussion.

Develop guidelines and goals for the conversation, such as seeking to build a greater understanding of the complex realities on the ground or to foster empathy for the people impacted by the current climate.

Strive for a common language based on respect when discussing complex issues. Recognize and challenge language that is meant to inspire anger and turn people against each other.

Select an article, post or video from a credible source to anchor the conversation in a shared set of facts. See “Information Sources” section for examples.

Recognize that antisemitic bias is universal, and that it can be implicit (unconscious) or explicit (conscious). Notice the thought processes or emotions that may come up for you with curiosity rather than judgment.

Consider the time and place. As violence unfolds or the conflict escalates, people may be in greater need of emotional support rather than educational opportunities.

2. Position yourself as a learner, not an expert.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has roots that predate current events, and there are a wide variety of historical, religious, political and cultural factors in play.  The situation—and the history—are complex, nuanced and multi-layered.

To discuss the conflict effectively, avoid oversimplification, which only leads to stereotyping and bias.  The best way to do that is to read a variety of informed sources from different perspectives.

Accept and expect that there won’t be closure at the end of the conversation, nor will all questions be answered and resolved. That may cause some discomfort.

3. Choose language that helps to humanize the people living in the region.

Use precise language. For example, refer to Israel as the State of Israel or the Jewish state, as opposed to “the Zionist entity,” or other dehumanizing language. Likewise, distinguish between Hamas or other terrorist organizations and the Palestinian people.

Challenge the use of dehumanizing depictions of individuals and groups of people as non-human, animals, vermin, or insects.

Watch out for stereotypes and myths that depict people as all “good” or all “evil” based on their identity.

Provide examples, images, narratives, quotes and other material that humanize people and foster empathy.

4. Make connections across history, rather than direct comparisons.

Explore the history of the Jewish people’s origins in the land of Israel and contextualize the current conflict as part of a long history of different empires and peoples asserting a claim to the region.

People will often use language and aspects of the Holocaust and Nazism to demonstrate the seriousness of discrimination or bias-motivated violence that is taking place. Making direct comparisons to Nazism or the Holocaust is painful and potentially retraumatizing to Jewish people, especially those who are survivors of the Holocaust or their descendants. The Holocaust was not a “lesson” for the Jewish people to learn and should not be positioned as such. Intergenerational and historical trauma may trigger compounded pain during this conflict.

It can cause further harm to use terms like "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" inaccurately to provoke a strong reaction.

5. Center and affirm the concerns that Jewish people express about safety.

As antisemitic incidents around the world often spike when there is a conflict in Israel, validate the safety concerns that Jewish people express.

Remember that safety and comfort are not the same. Comfort is when one’s mind is at ease, whereas discomfort can mean one’s mind is challenged. Safety refers to the absence of risks and threats of harm, and when someone feels unsafe, they may be in physical or mental distress.

Geopolitical conflicts can be uncomfortable to talk about. However, Jewish communities face specific risks when the Israel-Hamas conflict is in the news, including threats of violence, vandalism of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and community buildings—and exclusion of Jewish individuals from participation in social or community groups, events or activities.

Watch for and challenge the antisemitic idea that Jewish people are deserving of violence, displacement or retribution.

Anticipate and seek to hold space for Jewish people to feel fear for their safety.

6. Challenge language that holds Jewish individuals and groups accountable for the actions of the state of Israel.

Understand that holding a community or individual accountable for the actions of a nation and its government has a history resulting in violence and oppression.

Challenge voices that demand Jewish people condemn Israel’s policies and actions, reject Zionism (the belief that Jews have the right to self-determination in our homeland of Israel) or otherwise speak on behalf of the Israeli government. For many, Zionism and a connection to the land of Israel is integral to their practice and identity as Jewish people.

That said, remember that Jewish people hold a wide range of opinions related to the government of Israel and its actions, and treating one Jewish person or one Jewish group as representative of all Jewish people is not fair and is tokenizing.

Identify anti-Israel vandalism, attacks and demonstrations that target Jewish people or community buildings as acts of antisemitism, such as spray-painting “Free Palestine” on a synagogue.

7. Ground conversations in reliable informational resources.

Identify a text, video or other resource from a credible organization or expert to anchor the conversation. See “Information Sources” on this website for some examples.

Start or continue your learning journey about the history of antisemitism, its roots, and contemporary manifestations.

Recognize that misinformation and disinformation are widespread, especially as violence and conflicts are unfolding. Practice media literacy by assessing the quality of the sources you find and share.

Be sure to include nuanced and different perspectives and minimize one-sided points of view.

8. Center empathy by listening to the voices of those people directly affected by the conflict.

Listen to and center voices that have personal experiences, familial ties and trauma associated with this region. War and violent conflict have dire consequences for ordinary people of any or no political ideology.

Ask and listen to how individuals define their identity as Jewish people, Israeli people, or Zionists. Identity is complex and not everyone identifies in the same way.

Hold space for the distinct experiences of pain and trauma that Jewish and Palestinian people carry from this conflict. Listening to different peoples’ narratives without attempting to correct or rank them builds empathy and perspective-taking skills.

9. Acknowledge your worldview and perspective to avoid projecting onto the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Though news and social media can be informative, people living outside of Israel and the Palestinian territories will always have a limited perspective on the conflict compared to a person who lives in the region.

Center voices of those who are in the region and most impacted by the conflict.

Resist the temptation to directly compare the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to other identity-based issues in the United States or elsewhere. Direct comparisons can cause more harm and confusion rather than building understanding.

10. Conclude the discussion with next steps for learning and supportive actions.

Identify one or more questions to continue exploring beyond the conversation.

Exchange strategies for applying supportive behaviors online and in person.

Accept that violence and geopolitical conflicts can create strong emotional reactions, including feelings of despair and hopelessness; resolve to build connections and strengthen social ties within your community.

Continue to learn more about the unfolding events and how to support people in your community who are impacted. JUF and other leading Jewish organizations will provide updates as events unfold.