These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Posted on December 10, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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It's kinda funny for us to think of Megan Dyer (Spring '12)
as an alum because she's coming back to Pardes in January...

Nonetheless, here is another "alumni" guest post from Megan!

We're looking forward to her continued blogging when she 
returns home to Jerusalem!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted in this very blog about Operation Pillar of Defense. I expressed my dismay at Hamas aiming rockets towards the holy city of Jerusalem, of the continued assault on Israeli civilians without a care in the world for civilian life, my concern for my friends taking refuge in bomb shelters, and my worry about the escalation of tensions, and what that means for peace on both sides of the conflict. I also expressed my desire to be in Israel and to stand with her and the people I care about, because I’m one of those wacky people who sees Israel as an actual functioning democracy in a sea of extremism and violence, imperfect as it may be, and love it so much, that I don’t want to see its destruction. After having lived there for a year and having many friends and loved ones there who call it home, and actually possessing a non-biased education on the conflict itself, I sort of feel, you know, entitled to my opinion.

Entitled or not, I am usually pretty quiet about my political beliefs these days, meaning, I don’t bother to preach them; I just live them instead. I’ve learned that some things cannot be discussed calmly and rationally with some people, and no matter what your intentions might be, you can’t change a mind that doesn’t want to be changed. But what can I say? Every once in a while I go out on a limb and talk about the things that I think and feel to people who may not be so sympathetic, or with one of those rare people who can disagree with me without hating me. Since I’m not the best at handling confrontation (I tend to get flustered and either sound like I’ve forgotten how to speak English or I start crying pathetically once the confrontation gets tense), I bite my tongue a lot. In some ways, it’s taught me to let things go, shrug things off, and keep friends from all across the political, religious, and social spectrum. Still, I have had moments where I’ve felt personally attacked, and a bit disappointed in myself for not “saying something.” There’s something to be said for not saying anything sometimes, though. We are taught to”stand up for ourselves” so much in our culture that we seem to disregard that you can do that without starting an argument. We’re also taught to pick our battles, but for some reason, we’re never told how to actually do that; a battle is a battle well fought as long as we walk away feeling that we’ve won, and we’ve been vindicated through our perceived victory. We may walk away with one less friend or with a gaping wound in the relationship that is sure to only fester due to a lack of personal resolution, but damn it, who cares as long as you’re still so sure that you’re right?

So, I dared to discuss what was troubling me during the conflict, and it costed me a “friend.” And I endured the loss of that friend in the most insulting way possible: I was unfriended on Facebook.

That’s right! Unfriended. In this day and age, you might as well kick someone in the shins to express your dissatisfaction with them if you’re going to remove them from your friends list. And since I was sort of anticipating less than positive feedback from some people, I kept an eye on the number of people on my friends list after posting a link to my blog, just in case someone was so disgusted with my views that they no longer wanted to even peripherally be my friend via a social network site that claims that we have hundreds of friends, simply because they are on a list of people that we know really well, went to high school with, are vaguely acquainted with, or met at a party once. Sure enough, that list changed to one number less, and I was filled with that ever familiar sense of anxiousness, because I was sure that it meant that someone had unfriended me due to my blog, and because it’s pretty exciting to think that someone actually took the time to read my blog in the first place. Hey! Did this mean I had written something “controversial?” How thrilling! I felt an odd blend of pride in my rebelliousness and disappointment in what I was sure was someone unfriending me over my different opinion.

I had the culprits of my unfriending narrowed down to a few likely candidates, and pretty soon, I found out who it was. The predictability of it only compounded my sense of disappointment; I was hoping someone would surprise me, or that the unfriending wasn’t due to what I knew it was over, but instead over something like someone realizing that we had met at a drunken party three years ago and had no reason to be friends with me, because I barely exist in the fuzzy, drunken memory in that person’s psyche. But I was right, and I knew who it was almost immediately. Usually, like anyone, I love it when I’m right. But sometimes, I hate it because I don’t want my assumptions to be correct. I messaged the culprit and asked him if I’d done anything to offend him. His only response was, “I support Palestine.”

It’s an interesting response because I support Palestine, too. I would support a Palestinian state, just like there was supposed to be one during the UN partition that was going to ensure an Arab state and a Jewish state in British mandate Palestine 65 years ago, before the Arabs declared war on the new Jewish state that supported them. I support them so much, that if I could be given any kind of reliable reassurance that such a state could co-exist peacefully with Israel, I’d be the first to wish a sincere mozel tov to my new Arab neighbors in their new homeland. Since it’s been 65 years and we’ve been shown time and time again that that is not the aim of a Palestinian state as of yet, I don’t have high hopes. Hamas says it will never recognize Israel, and I believe them. I also support a theoretical Palestine so much, that I care about Palestinian safety, freedom and well being, that I don’t support Hamas, an extremist terror organization that rules the Gaza Strip with an iron fist. I support Palestinians so much, that I’d love to see them overthrow violence, extremism, propaganda, censorship, corruption and hatred in their governing bodies. I support Palestine, but nobody knows what that means in practice. You have to actually know what the reality is first before you can say that you support or don’t support Palestinians or Israelis. People are baffled when you say both, because they don’t know that it doesn’t have to be an Us vs. Them situation. So far, the Palestinians give Israel no choice. Israel defends itself, the world watches while it gets pummeled with rocket fire, and somehow, Israel is the villain. Call me crazy, but that’s crazy.

In any case, nuance is not a strong suit of a lot of people, especially in regards to such a polarizing issue, in the very polarized country that we live in. Being moderate tends to get looked down upon, no matter how moderate people claim to be. I’ve met true blue extremists who insist that they are so moderate, that they can’t understand why everyone thinks they’re crazy.

I used to be extreme in my views as well. I was very far left, and believed in ideals more than I believed in reality. I have nothing against ideals these days, but at some point, you have to take in your experiences as you grow, and understand that it is a rare treat when life presents you with such clear cut, black and white, right and wrong, good guys and bad guys situations. Life is so complicated, and yet, we seem to be unable to resist the urge to simplify things down to a yes or a no, or a right or a wrong. We’re all guilty of that sometimes. I used to live that way, too. I didn’t want any friends who could challenge my notions of the world, and because I was in my early 20s, I was sure that I knew everything, and was beyond impatient and intolerant of people who didn’t agree with me. Needless to say, I was angry a lot, and my friends started to bore me, and my life started to bore me, and I started to bore myself. Sometimes, you need someone around who will challenge and push you to question all those things that you are so sure of. Once I started to allow those views into my life without fear of being proven wrong (and those views started with an academic interest in Judaism), life became a lot more colorful and I became a lot more open, and less angry. I made more friends, and they came from all over the spectrum of human experiences and thought. I began to value disagreements, and was humbled to be proven wrong from time to time. Turns out, it can be really satisfying to be wrong. Victory is not everything, especially when you’re still angry after you’ve won.

So, why can’t we be friends? I can’t speak for the person who no longer wants to be my friend over my blog post, and it’s tempting to assume what his reasons are. Whatever they are though, it makes me a bit sad. I still hold out hope that one day, the conflict will come to a peaceful resolution for both Israel and the Palestinians, even though it, as always, looks grim. It feels even more hopeless when you realize that this is an issue that some people cannot agree to to disagree upon, and that friendships can break to pieces over it. If we can’t peacefully disagree with each other over a political situation and there are no rockets, or suicide bombers, or bus bombs or military operations standing between us, then I wonder what we can expect from the people who do have these things between them, and between conflict and peace?

This is one of those things that I’d love to be wrong about.

Originally posted on Megan's blog.