A former colleague, an expert in British-Israel relations, recently tweeted a link to a moving article he’d written about what it is like to live in Israel with the threat of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. I thought for quite a while before retweeting him, because doing so would, I knew, just add to the assumptions people make about my own views on the situation there.
Lots of people think they know what I think about Middle Eastern politics, because they know I am Jewish and they assume that Jews must have a particular viewpoint. This is both wrong and rude. Wrong because, like most people, my views are changeable, depending on the information I have and the arguments I have heard. And rude because how can anyone know what I think based on assumptions they make about my cultural and religious identity.
Being Jewish is part of my identity, of course it is, as is being a woman, or a feminist, or a Londoner, or English, or British, or European, or a parent, or on the left, or an internationalist. All of these inform how I think about current affairs, to varying degrees at various times and in ways I’m not sure it is possible to deconstruct.
Even if the Jewish part was the pack leader, which I don’t think it is, Judaism is, to mix a metaphor, a pretty broad church. There are ultra-Orthodox Jews, for example, who are against the existence of the state of Israel because for them the concept of a sovereign Jewish state is contrary to Jewish Law. There are others, both on the right and on the left, who oppose nationhood for idealistic reasons, as well as those who emotionally support a Jewish state but cannot support it politically, or vice versa.
Why would a stranger know which of these, if any, I think? I don’t expect an Italian or Ghanaian or Peruvian Catholic to have a specific view on dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland despite a shared religious link. Of course, I’m sure they would each formulate a view after researching the situation, and inform that view with their own values and experiences, but I’m not sure I’d dare guess what it might be.
Do I have a view myself? Of course I do. It changes and evolves and reforms every time I read a newspaper, every time I hear about a rocket attack or a dead baby from either side, every time there’s a UN vote or a threatened ambassador recall or the announcement of a new settlement in the West Bank. But, just as you don’t necessarily know what I think about the Farc ceasefire in Columbia or the sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago, you don’t know what I think about these things either.
Ask me, sure, perhaps we’ll have an interesting discussion, but don’t assume in advance that you know what I’ll say.