The Forbidden Conversation: Tensions arise in discussing Israel in the Jewish American community

Gili Getz, an Israeli photojournalist and actor, performs his one-man play in front of  the UConn community in Laurel Hall on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. The play is about his experiences as a military photographer in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Owen Bonaventura/The Daily Campus)

Actor and photographer Gili Getz performed his autobiographical one-man play in front of a multi-generational audience on Tuesday with the goal of exploring the difficulty of having a conversation about Israel in the Jewish community. This event was sponsored by Judaic Studies, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Honors Program, Middle East Studies and the Public Discourse Project.

Getz opened up his performance with the refrain “It’s been two years and eight months since my forbidden conversation.” He refers to the war in Gaza and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The skit itself was a very intimate reflection by Getz, as he told the story of being born in Israel and his parents’ life as immigrants. He shares how he enjoys political debate and how that is one of the primary connections he had with his father; a shared passion. That was, until one day during the summer of 2014, the height of the war in Gaza, when they got in a heated disagreement. They were on very different sides of the political spectrum and held different opinions on the conflict, but this one disagreement closed the conversation for them. Getz struggled to recognize what had gone wrong, until he realized he hadn’t just questioned the Zionist dream, he’d questioned his dad’s identity.

“Once you challenge someone’s identity, not their point of view, there is no conversation,” said Getz.

He says the conversation about Israel is so difficult to have because you either defend Israel and risk alienating younger Jewish people or defend Palestine and risk alienating the older Jewish community. Through a series of personal anecdotes, he details his intimate connection to the issue as a military photographer. He described this experience as essentially hiding behind his camera and distancing himself from the violence and fear around him. Getz explained that he has relatives on both sides of the debate, one cousin who thinks Palestinians are always to blame and another who believes Israel is becoming a fascist state. Getz explained how, as a young man, he had visions of an idealized future where peace was possible.

The Jewish youth...they do it much better. They understand each other better. They understand that they disagree.
— Gili Getz

Getz continues to talk about the importance of talking about Israel amongst the younger demographic. He recalls an “open conversation” he attended and photographed at Harvard, where intellectuals mingled with students to have honest discussions about confronting anti-Semitism, big donors, boycotting, the number of states and other relevant issues. Getz described this as an inclusive conversation amongst youth committed to their Jewish identity. He highlights the importance of open-mindedness and the necessity of conversation and education in order to find a solution.

His deliverance of the performance was artful and moving, as he layered in poetic repetition, onomatopoeia and emotion. Getz also included a few of his own photographs relevant to the topic. When he concluded the monologue with the same refrain he started with, the amount of time since the start of the war in Gaza, he then opened up the discussion to the audience.

He created essentially an open forum, asking audience members to come forth with their own experiences having these difficult conversations about Israel amongst loved ones.

The audience was very responsive, opinionated and initially a bit heated about the Israel versus Palestine issue. It was when the younger audience members came forward with their own struggles regarding talking about Israel that the crowd came to a consensus. After a few vocal members of the audience stood up, everyone, Getz included, seemed to be in agreement that, instead of becoming accusatory, we need to hear and understand different points of view.

“We didn’t have enough space or a culture to learn to disagree. The purpose of tonight is to learn be able to do that,” Getz said. He reiterated that to find a solution to political, religious or social issues, we need to get people to start talking.

According to one UConn student in the audience, when you have a conversation, you can’t just speak in absolutes.

“Almost everything we heard from some of the older audience members and members of the Jewish community was one-sided. These people, the Jewish people, need a safe space to disagree with one another so we can continue the conversation,” said Matt Trujillo, a sixth semester political science major.

Getz concluded that if we don’t open up the conversation, create a safe space for it and start listening, we risk causing pain, lack of confidence and further distancing from Israel. As the Jewish community becomes increasingly polarized, people are starting to reject their Jewish identities. Getz ended the discussion on a positive note, again highlighting the importance of the younger generation in getting this conversation started.

“The Jewish youth...they do it much better. They understand each other better. They understand that they disagree. They understand that they don’t think for another person. The next generation is doing pretty well,” Getz said.


Julia Mancini is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.mancini@uconn.edu.