Lost a friend to antisemitism during the Israel-Hamas war? Here’s what you should know

If you’re growing distant from a peer who has made antisemitic comments or have seen friends share hurtful posts on social media, here's what to know.
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Like many other college students, since Oct. 7, I’ve witnessed multiple friends make antisemitic statements and attend pro-Palestine protests that were also fiercely anti-Israel. This led me to reevaluate my friendships and address the issue with some of my closest friends.

Because I chose to delete social media a while ago, I heard from one of my Jewish friends that two people close to me shared posts claiming that Israel is “committing genocide,” a factually incorrect and hateful narrative. I faced tough questions about two of my best friends: Should I confront them or let it go? Are these friendships worth saving?

Students participate in a pro-Palestine protest outside of the Columbia University campus on November 15, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Since these friends were from different parts of my life, I decided to talk to them individually, sitting down to have two similar conversations about the consequences of their posts. And no matter how much I prepared for and stressed about these discussions, I couldn’t have predicted that one of these friendships would end as a result.

The first friend was apologetic and understanding, leading to a two-hour heart-to-heart conversation that ultimately strengthened our relationship. However, despite a virtually identical approach on my part, the second friend lacked understanding and subsequently ignored me for months. Groupthink and cliquiness within our circle led to my isolation from several members of this group due to this single incident.

I handled that conversation with a lot of openness, perhaps more than was wise in retrospect. For a while afterward, I wondered if I could have said things differently or if the friendship could have been salvaged by remaining silent, before realizing that the fallout was inevitable.

Perhaps you’re growing distant from a peer who has made antisemitic comments recently, or you’ve seen friends sharing hurtful posts on social media. Maybe you’ve already confronted them and it went awry, or you’re wondering whether you should even bother with having that conversation. Whatever the case, I’m here to break it all down, based on my experiences dealing with antisemitism both before and after Oct. 7.

Read more: We asked our university student readers how they’re feeling. The responses were harrowing

Consider the risks of confrontation

While ideally, educating your friends right away might seem like the right thing to do, it also risks making things awkward or tense in the long run.

My point of view when confronting my friends is: if they aren’t receptive and instead double down on their harmful beliefs, they probably weren’t the right friends to begin with. A person who refuses to empathize or admit to their mistakes isn’t someone I want in my life. So, in a way, you might be dodging a bullet if the relationship ends.

Jewish Americans and allies participate in the March for Israel in Washington DC on November 14, 2023 to show support for Israel in its war against Hamas. (Photo: Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

But it’s not always that straightforward. Depending on your situation, you may want to prioritize keeping the peace (and I’m not talking about the preference to avoid confrontation in general).

For instance, one of my friends recently chose not to confront her roommates about the many antisemitic comments they were making. Why? Well, these were her only connections in a new city, so she decided not to take the risk until she was more familiar with her environment and knew them better. When she moved out soon afterward, she opted to keep her distance instead.

However, by not taking action, you risk continuing to feel uncomfortable or hurt in their presence, which can impact your well-being beyond just those interactions. 

So, TL;DR: if you do decide to address the issue, be aware that your friendship may be at risk. Whether that risk is worth taking is entirely up to you, and keep in mind that unfortunately, not everyone wants to be educated. Some individuals can’t handle being wrong. Even if you approach the situation with care, some people simply don’t like being called out, regardless of what you say.

Address the personal impact 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Before diving into a discussion about the facts or trying to educate them, first express how their actions have personally affected you. They are your friend, after all — regardless of the context, they should care about your feelings. (If not, were they ever your friend at all?) 

Anyone who has studied conflict resolution knows the value of using “I” statements — now is the time to put this into practice. Share your thoughts and experiences as a Jewish individual during this time. For example, you could say, “When I saw your post, I felt sad because it felt like it minimized the real fears and dangers my community is facing.”

By starting with a personal, emotional perspective, you can help your friend understand the real-life impact of their words and actions, setting a more empathetic tone for the conversation.

Try to educate them, at least once

Once you’ve shared your feelings, you can then focus on providing education. The friendship might be salvageable; it’s likely they are simply unaware (ignorant, some might call it) of the harm they’re causing. In these cases, as Jewish college students today, many of us feel a responsibility to educate our friends — as tiring and uncomfortable as it may be.

Read more: Debunking 6 common myths about Israel

When addressing such a sensitive topic, make sure you’re well-informed and respectful in your interactions. Aim to be informative rather than accusatory. You don’t need to be an expert on every detail of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or its history, but you should have a basic understanding of why the situation is not a genocide, or whatever other claim against Israel they are making

Many people use loaded terms without fully understanding their meanings, so it can be helpful to define terms like “genocide,” “apartheid,” “settler-colonialism,” “from the river to the sea,” or any other relevant term. This knowledge will enable you to provide a more informed perspective during your discussion.

You can also share how their words might unintentionally fuel antisemitism. For instance, if they’ve spread the false claim that Israel is committing genocide, you could explain why this statement is incorrect, the significance of the term “genocide” for Jewish people, and how such claims can spread anti-Jewish hate. Or, if you’d prefer to let experts do the talking, sharing a credible article can go a long way. 

Ensure they’re also aware of the dangers of spreading misinformation, especially on social media. If they post something — even if it’s just a reshare on their story — they should be confident in every word of that message and have an understanding of the issue’s complexity. 

However, if you’ve already tried to educate them and they weren’t receptive, or if you simply don’t have the mental energy to do so right now, you don’t have to initiate a conversation. It’s not your responsibility to keep trying to make them see the truth if they refuse to open their mind.

Don’t blame yourself if this relationship ends

Photo: Getty Images

Your friend might be too embarrassed or stubborn to concede, or they might gradually distance themself from you, which can be particularly painful. If you’re someone who deals with anxiety or people-pleasing tendencies, you might be tempted to blame yourself or wonder what you could have done differently. But if you approach the situation respectfully and your friend chooses to end the relationship, that’s on them, not you.

Be proud of yourself for having the courage to address the issue. Many of us prefer to avoid debates about Israel-Palestine to protect our mental health, so taking the time and energy to educate someone is commendable. No matter the outcome of the relationship, give yourself credit for standing strong and don’t let this experience diminish your self-worth.

Remember that their reaction isn’t reflective of their entire cultural group

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Finding support among Jewish friends who can relate is not only helpful; it’s also a healthy way to cope with distress. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from making friends with people from different backgrounds in the future. Just because one friend wasn’t kind or understanding, doesn’t mean everyone else from their cultural group will be the same.

Since Oct. 7, the non-Jewish allies in my life have been a positive reminder that Jewish people aren’t the only ones standing against antisemitism. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to educate them about Judaism and dispel stereotypes, building a larger support network for Jewish people. Friends who don’t have many other Jewish people in their lives may seriously benefit from your perspective. So even amidst all of this, having a diverse circle of both Jewish and non-Jewish friends is the best approach.

Be kind and civil while setting boundaries

In college and work, we often find ourselves in the same circles as former friends, even if we barely speak to them anymore. It can be draining to share a space with someone you’re in conflict with. So, in circumstances like these, it’s all about finding a balance between setting boundaries and “killing them with kindness.”

I understand if you’re skeptical — I wasn’t a fan of the phrase either until recently. But after losing a friend due to antisemitism, I’ve found that rising above the situation is the best way to handle it in the long run. Giving them no excuse to be upset with you means they’re truly the one in the wrong, and that feels empowering.

Simultaneously, though, protect your well-being by setting boundaries. You have the right to limit your interactions and avoid getting drawn into negative conversations.

Being kind and civil to someone who has been cold or hateful to you is challenging, to say the least. But rather than harboring resentment, redirect your energy into providing much-needed support to yourself and the Jewish community around you. By choosing kindness and setting boundaries, you uphold your values and contribute to a more understanding and compassionate environment.

Read more: Self-care tips when the news gets too overwhelming

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