Having the ‘Israel Talk’


    These last few weeks I have sensed anti-Israel sentiment more acutely than I ever have, so I decided it was time to give my 10-year-old a primer on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

    The more I read about Israel, the more upset I become. Not just about what is happening there, but the narrative I see in the media again and again – Israel is the bully, Israel is the terrorist, Israel is committing genocide, Israel has no right to exist.

    These last few weeks I have sensed anti-Israel sentiment more acutely than I ever have, with the bullied becoming the bully, the terrorized becoming the terrorists. I worry of a swelling anti-Semitism demonstrated boldly in hashtags and video clips. 

    So far, all I have told my two boys about Israel is that it is the Jewish homeland, it is beautiful and I hope to take them there one day. I showed them pictures from my visit to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa in 1997, and tried to describe how moving an experience it was.

    But I have never explained the conflict that has surrounded the state since its inception. We don't discuss Israeli politics together. We watch American Ninja Warrior together.

    Then, Tuesday morning, after reading another article that smacked of anti-Semitism, I decided to give Maxon, my 10-year-old, a primer on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

    In a strange way, it felt similar to when I decided to talk to him about how babies are made. In that case, my rationale was that I wanted him to hear it from me, not from some kid on the playground with sketchy information (like the one who once told him Obama steals from rich people, which then prompted Maxon to ask me to vote for Romney). 

    When I told Maxon about sex, I explained the subject as simply as possible. I tried to stick to the facts and leave nuances out of it. There will be time for those discussions when he is older.

    And so it was at the bagel shop Tuesday morning that I dug into a different delicate subject.

    I told him that after the Holocaust, the country called Palestine was divided into a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine. It was supposed to be a place where Jews could feel safe from persecution. Israel wanted to be recognized as a Jewish state and to live in peace. But since the day it was established, the many Arab nations surrounding Israel fought against Israel, its people and its right to exist. 

    "Israel should fight them," Maxon said.

    "They do," I said. "They have an excellent military."

    "They deserve to be a state," Maxon said. "It seems unfair."

    "I agree. Do you have any more questions?"

    "No," he said.

    Then he asked to go to the comic book store. The subject didn't come up again, but we spoke in detail about Iron Man and The Avengers and how many more blocks we had to walk before arriving at the comic book store.

    Maxon is much more interested in the Marvel Universe than in the Middle Eastern one, as he should be. There will be time for those detailed and nuanced conversations about Israel when he is older. But at the very least, I hope that if he sees a newspaper headline or hears some sound byte on the news, he will understand that Israel is a special place that must be protected.