How to speak with colleagues and friends

How to speak with colleagues and friends

Discussing what is going on in Israel and Gaza with non-Jewish friends and work colleagues can be daunting. Three Jewish leaders give their tips on how to broach the subject.

Photo: Chernetskaya/
Photo: Chernetskaya/

What sort of support can you expect in your workplace?

Don’t be surprised if your employer does not realise that you are stressed, anxious or saddened by the events going on in Israel and Gaza at the moment. Unless your employer is Jewish, he or she probably won’t get how close your connection to Israel is.

So you’ll need to tell your employer on behalf of yourself and your other Jewish co-workers that things are not great. It’s pretty easy to do that. Next time they say g’day or how are you doing, rather than giving the usual perfunctory “ok” tell them straight out; explain the impact that events in Israel are having upon you. Suggest they make inquiries of their other Jewish employees. They can ask them if any of their friends or relatives have been directly impacted, or if they have been the victim of antisemitic behaviour either at work or outside the workplace.

Employers are obliged to provide a safe workplace, They must encourage staff to report antisemitic behaviour or bullying and they must then deal with it.

Suggest they ask the Jewish employees what impact the antisemitic chants and slogans heard at demonstrations is having on them. This will give you an opportunity to explain why the chants are racist and antisemitic.

Remember, your union also has a role in ensuring your safety and wellbeing in the workplace. Episodes of antisemitism and bullying at work can also be discussed with your union rep.

Take the lead in this and you and all of your Jewish co-workers will benefit immensely.

John Searle

Barrister specialising in discrimination and vilification, long-time Jewish community leader.

We are all seeing non-Jewish friends and colleagues sharing one-sided posts on social media about the conflict. How do you address that?

If it is someone you know, speak with them personally or via direct message, rather than commenting on the post publicly. We have all seen comments sections descend into tit-for-tat or abusive name calling.

In your response, you might want to ask them what they meant by their post. See whether they can explain it or whether they are just parroting a line they heard someone else use.

In explaining your point of view, speak personally. Facts, timelines and a thousand years of history are less likely to be persuasive than a personal interaction. You may like to tell them you have family in Israel who have a bomb shelter in their home that they use frequently to protect them from rocket attacks. You might know someone who has been impacted by terrorism, or explain how the October 7 massacre made you feel. You could tell them that you have been at one of the many peaceful rallies, challah bakes or vigils held in Australia in recent weeks and that all anyone at these events wants is peace. Finally, ask them to read widely on the conflict. If all of their news is coming from a one-sided social media feed, or from one media outlet, they are unlikely to be getting the full story. Suggest some social media accounts they might like to follow, or a podcast that might be helpful for them to understand the conflict more broadly.

Naomi Levin

Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) CEO, former journalist and media adviser.

How do you respond when someone says, “I don’t see how saying ‘From the river to the sea’ and other pro-Palestinian slogans are antisemitic”?

Many people who attend the Palestinian rallies or are sharing posts on social media do not have antisemitic intentions and are often attending out of good faith. Unfortunately, the chants that are said and the attitudes that are displayed do not reflect this, but the vast majority of good faith people who see these slogans do not understand how that rhetoric impacts the Jewish community. There is a difference in how we respond when someone is clearly acting out of ignorance rather than malicious intent.

Most non-Jewish Australians have not engaged with our community before and lack a basic understanding of our history, culture and the Jewish religious, cultural and spiritual connection with the land. In any situation I always recommend trying not to come across as defensive or accuse people of antisemitic intent but rather emphasise how the slogan impacts you as a Jewish person. It’s our personal stories and anecdotes which make an impact.

You can engage the person in a conversation about the two-state solution, which the majority of good faith individuals believe in and then explain how the slogan counteracts that. While the individual saying it might not have malicious intent, using terminology which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel can incite violence and excuse those who genuinely hold views that Jews have no place in the land.

Similarly many people are unaware what the first and second intifada were, so when similar chants call for an intifada, outline to them what that violence and destruction looked like. Words and language matter, and the way we use it when discussing the conflict makes a difference.

Finally, I always suggest to leave the conversation open. If you are comfortable say to the person that if they have any questions or want to learn more about the Jewish narrative and how the community is feeling to reach out to you.

Alissa Foster

National president of AUJS.

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