The War at Home


    He's become so fiercely anti-Israel that he wants to throw out their SodaStream, she's not willing to give up her allegiance to the Jewish state. How do couples who disagree about the conflict in Gaza talk about Israel? 

    Dear Miriam,

    My husband and I had pretty similar Jewish backgrounds growing up — Hebrew school, regular shul attendance, etc., and even high school trips to Israel. So I always assumed we were in the same place in terms of Israel, but the Gaza conflict and Facebook have shown me we have some issues to work out. He feels the need to post articles that I hate to read. We just avoid talking about Israel altogether because we're both so hurt and confused by what the media is telling us. I won't give up on my allegiance to Israel, though I'm not sure what that means these days, but he's become fiercely anti-Israel. Should we just keep avoiding this discussion? What are other couples doing? He wants to throw out our SodaStream!

    The War at Home

    Dear War,

    This is a difficult time to talk about Israel under any circumstances, but when it's with your spouse and it's contentious, difficult can become impossible.

    To address the part of your question about other couples, I decided to ask a very non-scientific sampling of people I know (main credential being Jewish and part of a couple). The answers I got ranged from, "We pretty much agree," to, "We don't necessarily agree, but we don't fight about it." In other words, not a very broad range. One friend, without going into specifics about how she and her husband disagree, said this: "We didn't talk about if for a long time! We still try to keep it to a minimum. I think that making it clear that we empathize with each other and the people in question has been key, as it's harder to abide a lack of empathy than political disagreement."

    When I read my friends' emailed responses, my first thought was, "I can't believe none of them are fighting about Israel!" which led me to realize that I should have looked closer to home, like, next to me on the couch. Over the years, my husband and I have had many, many disagreements about various issues related to Israel. However, during this current conflict, our conversations have been entirely polite. That's partly because we agree more about what's happening now than we have in the past, and partly because we've learned how to talk about it.

    Here is my husband's advice: "This is a great opportunity to learn some things about each other, because clearly there's something that you don't yet know. It's worth finding out in a slow way: Do you disagree about the facts on the ground about what is happening or about your evaluation of what is happening? So you could say to each other, hypothetically, 'If X is what is actually happening, would Y be OK?' Different people think and know different things about what's actually happening because people pay attention to different sources and have different life experiences. If it turns out you attribute credibility differently, you can also figure out why that is. You could find out how and why you each turn to different news sources and what in your backgrounds (albeit similar) have led you to the conclusions you have."

    Several years ago, my husband and I participated in the Jewish Dialogue Group, where people actively listen to each other's opinions on Israel but do not directly address or challenge anyone's position. (Sadly, the group is not currently holding dialogues, but their guidebooks and other resources are still available online.) While my husband ultimately found it a frustrating experience because he wanted to engage directly with the other participants, that style of conversation might work well for you. Maybe you could ask your husband to set aside some time where you each have 5 (or 10 or 20) minutes to talk about your feelings uninterrupted while the other one just listens. This could develop organically into more of a conversation later, but perhaps starting with the opportunity to speak openly will be a comfort to both of you.

    I would also encourage you to examine whether it is his views that you're upset by or the way in which he expresses them (posting articles online, trying to throw away your kitchen gadgets). Maybe you're upset about a communication issue more broadly in your relationship, which you can then address separately from the emotional rawness of Israel. Or maybe, as I have often felt with my husband, it's hard to disagree passionately about something with someone you love and agree with on so many other things.

    If avoiding the conversation allows you to stay sane at home, then I think there's no shame in saying there are just some things you can't talk about. If you need to block his posts on Facebook for a while, make sure you tell him ahead of time, but go ahead if that helps you. Finally, tell him that he doesn't have to drink the seltzer, but that doesn't mean that you can't.

    Be well,