In Israel we are currently watching the dramatic fallout of the election of the most extreme right-wing government in its history. Meanwhile, in Palestine, elections have not taken place for nearly two decades, with an extremist government in Gaza and an authoritarian regime in the West Bank.
There is plenty of political analysis out there as to who is to blame for this situation and how it came to this. The main problem for British Muslim and Jewish people, is that they often end up finding themselves ‘answerable’ for explaining the situation in professional and social contexts. I have known colleagues and friends who have encountered questions about the political situation as if, by virtue of the fact they are Jewish or Muslim, they should have an opinion. In the worst-case scenarios, they are being pressured to either justify or condemn the actions and rhetoric of Israeli or Palestinian political leaders.
This goes against one of the points of our Avoiding Hate Speech Guide when having discussions about this topic. When talking with Jewish or Muslim friends or colleagues about Israel-Palestine, consider carefully how you will phrase addressing them in the conversation. Instead of saying: “you’re Jewish, you must have an opinion on the new Israeli Government” or: “you’re Muslim, you must have an opinion about Hamas”, offer your own opinion and wait to see if the other person is interested in the conversation or not. If they are not, then don’t make assumptions or push the subject.
Likewise, if you yourself are Muslim or Jewish, and you happen to hold strong opinions on events in the Middle East, try taking a step back for a moment and consider how you talk about this among other members of your community. Do you voice your opinion as if it’s the only one that is valid or reasonable, or do you allow space for others to offer different opinions without shutting them down or becoming angry? Be conscious not to attack or pressure others from your own community to share your position or else be condemned, particularly young people.
Ultimately, there is no single truth about how British Muslims and Jews view events in Israel-Palestine (if they are even interested in the topic, at all). The problem with stereotypes about groups of people is that they are a partial and distorted version of reality. Muslims and Jews are unique and complex individuals just like the rest of the British population. If people you know from those communities actually do want to talk about the politics of the Middle East, you may find that they have some distinctive and interesting insights to offer that sound nothing like the stereotypical viewpoint that you might assume they hold!