“The Israel-Hamas Conflict is Breaking Up My Family”

I’m getting married in May to an incredible man. We’re a mixed faith couple– he’s Jewish and I’m Catholic – and we’ve had a lot of fun celebratingj holidays and sharing our customs with each other. This question concerns my sister and Maid of Honor, who is 27 (I’m including her age to indicate that she’s not in or right out of college). Since the pandemic, she’s gone down a social media rabbit hole and expressed more and more radical political opinions; we’ve all ignored her this since she wasn’t actively hurting anyone.

However, things came to a head after October 7th and the Israel-Hamas war that followed. My fiancé confided in me that he felt that some of her Instagram posts about it were antisemitic (they were in the vein of “Jews are indigenous to Brooklyn, not the middle east” and “occupation means resistance by any means necessary is justified”). I immediately had a conversation with her, and she seemed genuinely interested in hearing me out. Unfortunately, since then she has expressed full support for Hamas multiple times, once on a FaceTime call where my fiancé was in earshot. I was horrified, but in his infinite graciousness my fiancé assured me that he knew the comments were more ill-informed than malicious. We agreed that to keep the peace we would carry on as normal until the wedding, but if things didn’t improve after, we couldn’t see ourselves having much of a relationship with her.

My heart goes out to my parents; they’re in an impossible situation here. They told me that while they feel that what she’s said is wrong, they’re afraid to come down too hard on her in the event that she cuts herself off from the family and goes off the deep end entirely. I completely understand this. However, they have lashed out at me when I brought up concerns, saying I’m causing drama, my fiancé is being overly sensitive, and maybe the solution is to exclude him from family events. As you can imagine, this is very hurtful.

We are all at a loss of what to do here. I want to have a good relationship with my sister and support my husband, and it seems impossible to do both at this point. For what it’s worth, our relationship has sometimes been tumultuous but always accompanied by a sisterly closeness and understanding; the current situation feels so much darker and more sinister. I would appreciate any advice you can provide. — Frustrated sister

What a devastating, stressful and heartbreaking position to be in! I’m really sorry you’re going through this during a time that should feel celebratory and exciting. I hope you and your fiancé can still find space for those happier feelings while you navigate your sister’s support of Hamas – which is different than being pro- Palestine, an important distinction to make – and your parents’ hurtful and alarming suggestion of excluding your husband from family events because he has expressed concern over your sister’s antisemitism. And, yeah, that’s exactly what this is: antisemitism.

We can cloak the antisemitism in euphemisms – call your sister’s comments “more ill-informed than malicious,” but the truth is that if she were supporting a group that terrorized any marginalized people other than Jews or Israelis, it would be considered stunningly bigoted and loathsome. Your fiancé IS being gracious when he cuts her slack. It is a path that many Jewish Americans are navigating in their personal lives as they find their own ties threatened by others’ support of people – again, noting a distinction here between Palestinians and Hamas – who are calling for the annihilation of Jews across the world. What a tense and sad time. (Of course, it should go without saying that Islamophobia is also on the rise, threatening relationships and family ties as well).

So, how do you navigate your family’s – or, at least, your sister’s antisemitism – as you plan your wedding to your Jewish fiancé? My advice is to center your husband here. He knows, as well as most Jewish Americans, that eventually this particular Israel-Hamas conflict will pass and while the complications in the Middle East are likely to last many, many more years, those complications will no longer be the cause du jour among a certain demographic. They will move on to something else, and their Jewish friends, family, and colleagues will reassess boundaries with them going forward. Those reassessments are already happening and they are very personal and dependent on many factors.

Top of the factors your fiancé is already considering is your feelings and your relationship with your family. If he is the loving partner he sounds like he is, the last thing he wants is to come between you and your sister or your parents. He doesn’t want to put a wedge between you and he wouldn’t want to be a reason you change wedding plans or become estranged from your family. So, protect him from that. Let him be the bigger person. Let him take the high road as long as he comfortable doing so. Continue talking to him about his comfort level in all of this. Ask what he needs from you, ask whether there are any changes to your wedding plans he wants to make in light of your family’s behavior. Tell him you support him no matter what and that HE is YOUR priority.

In the meantime, I would suggest you mute your sister’s Instagram posts and stories and would advise your fiancé do the same. Keep your communication with her to phone calls or text messages that your husband can’t inadvertently overhear in case she shares more hurtful comments. If she DOES share those comments with you, tell her that the topic of Hamas or anything related to the current conflict is off limits between the two of you. If she can’t respect that boundary, follow-up with a consequence (and you need to decide what that consequence will be).

This has been one of the most challenging responses I’ve ever crafted, to be honest. I really feel for you and the position you’re in. There’s no easy solution here. There’s no resolution where everyone feels great. The best thing you can do, as I said, is to continue centering your fiancé and prioritizing his feelings. And the best way to do that is to continue checking in with him and making sure you are both on the same page. The silver lining here is that this is wonderful practice for your marriage. Communication and mutual respect are the bedrock of a healthy and satisfying union. If you can successfully navigate the conflict you’re facing now together as you plan your wedding, you should feel confident that your marriage will be built upon the strongest foundation. Good luck!

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

19 Comments

  1. Thanks Wendy for this thoughtful reply. I’m Jewish btw. I had a moment of panic on seeing the headline – I seen so many ill-informed comments on this terrible situation – but Wendy’s take truly is a wise, compassionate response. I really hope it helps the LW and her fiancé.

    1. Thanks, H. I feel you. My husband is Jewish and we’re raising our kids Jewish and so I come with that perspective. It’s a tense time all around and the situation is truly horrible. Hope you’re doing ok.

  2. Wendy, thank you so much for such a kind and constructive response. I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders reading this. It’s a relief to hear that we were justifies in being and hurt by my sister’s comments; I get the sense that my parents really, really need this to not be a big deal. Thank you for making the distinction between supporting the Palestinian people and supporting Hamas as well.

    We’re incorporating quite a few Jewish traditions into our wedding, and my parents are enthusiastically supportive of this. That’s a silver lining, at least.

    1. golfer.gal says:

      What an incredibly kind and thoughtful response. I can only imagine how difficult this situation is, and the conflicting desires to protect your fiance and denounce hate while also wanting to keep your family ties and prevent your sister from falling down an ever deeper pit of extremism.

      Unfortunately, it’s an extremely common dynamic that when one family member is being hateful or hurtful to another family member, instead of rallying around that person with the support they deserve, the family puts pressure on them to sit quiet and smile because they’re the reasonable and sane one. It’s clear your parents are terrified of losing their daughter, which is an awful place to be. But I think if they suggest again in the future that your husband is unwelcome at family events, it’s ok to calmly but firmly tell them that you would also stop attending and they are running the risk of losing their *other* daughter. I also don’t love the gaslighting that you’re somehow overreacting or making trouble. It’s ok to set some boundaries or have some respectful but firm conversations around that if you want to.

      1. Thank you for this. You articulated my family situation very well–I appreciate the term “gaslighting,” because I was starting to question whether I was in fact overreacting. In terms of my fiancé being excluded from family events, I think my parents were trying to say “we can’t cut your sister off, so removing him from her line of fire might be the least bad option,” which is still not great. I will absolutely hold firm and not attend anything family-related without him, since he’ll soon become my immediate family and immediate priority. I’m about to get up in front of our loved ones and vow to always support him and stand by his side, and I intend to do just that.

  3. LisforLeslie says:

    Wendy that was an incredibly and thoughtful response. I’m Jewish as well and for the most part, the people (also many Jews) that I spend time with are of the opinion that Palestine has the right to exist and Israel has the right to exist. We believe in a two state solution.

    We are aghast at what Hamas (not Palestine) did and we in no way support what Netanyahu is doing in Gaza.

    However, we also can see the growing antisemitism and the actual day to day impact it has on people. People’s kids and grandkids are not wearing any jewelry with Jewish stars, they aren’t wearing their kippot if out on campus. Not because they are ashamed of being Jewish, but because they are immediately targeted by people who have made the leap from Israel / Netanyahu to “all Jews”. It is the same hatred for “all blacks” or “all Muslims”.

    While your sister is entitled to her opinions, it does seem like she’s gone down into an echo chamber and she’s forgotten that an act by Israel, a country, does not represent the perspective of all Jews. Just like how the government of Syria or Yemen do not represent the perspective of all Muslims around the world.

  4. I wonder if your sister is doing anything of substance to actually alleviate the plight of Gazans given that she feels strongly enough to alienate her own sister. I ask this because I find that a great many of these people are mob type mentality looking for a cause to rally around and currently this is The Cause and they will dissipate on to something else in the future. It makes them feel good about themselves – they are Good and anyone that doesn’t agree with them is Bad. I wouldn’t be able to maintain the same kind of relationship with my sister knowing that she put something like jumping on a bandwagon ahead of a relationship with her own family. That at her age she fails to see nuance or that an ethnicity is not the same as a country and seems to not care one wit that she is hurting her sister just for the sake of being able to get out her pitchfork and spout off some hateful comments since it’s now safe for her to do so shows who she is inside. Did she fight for the Ughyurs when that story broke? What about the Ukrainians being assaulted by Russians? What about Afghan women trapped by the Taliban? I’m sorry to say that for myself I would never be able to look at my sister the same way knowing she is capable of going this low. Im not Jewish but I can’t stand people who care more about echoing their opinion than seeing the humanity in people. She is doing to your fiancé what she is accusing all Jews of doing to all Palestinians – dehumanizing them and equating them with the actions of a political party. If you can move past it more power to you. I mean how many people lose touch with family members when they found out they voted for Trump (or vice versa in Republican circles). Without a really heartfelt apology I would never be able to look at my sister the same way. I am very sad for you – this is terrible.

    1. You really hit the nail on the head here! My sister does not have a background of activism/charitable giving. Her expressions of concern for the plight of others are limited to tweeting about how much she hates capitalism and we should kill the rich, while meanwhile she loves going to my parents’ country club and has Christmas gift lists a mile long. She has not uttered a word of concern about what’s happening in Sudan/Xinjiang/Ukraine at all, so I think you’re right that she’s jumping on a socially-acceptable reason to be hateful and part of a mob.

      My sister has struggled with depression for a long time and lives a very isolated life. She lives deep in the suburbs with her partner, works remotely, has no local friends, and basically never leaves the house. She doesn’t really ever get a chance to interact with people who have different backgrounds than her. I guess she has coped with that loneliness with social media/placing her brain in a Chinese propaganda vat. I have no idea what the solution is. I cynically think this could be solved by my parents just cancelling her phone bills, but maybe that’s not realistic.

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  6. Thank you for this wise and kind response, Wendy. Similarly, my friend group has gone through a division of sorts due to differing opinions on Israel/Hamas conflict.

    One side seemingly endorses Hamas and conflate the Israeli government/Netanyahu with all Israelis and Jewish people while claiming they’re not antisemitic because they have Jewish friends that agree with them. The other side (the side I’m on) want peace and healing for all and compromise to establish a 2 state solution and think it’s absurd to ever conflate an entire country or ethnicity with governments and politicians.

    It’s very tough sharing spaces with those on the other side because them bring up the horrible conflict constantly. Meanwhile they don’t say a peep in defense of Sudan, Ukraine, Congo, etc. despite my being half Ukrainian. It’s truly crazy and disheartening and I agree with above that some people are enjoying taking part in a socially acceptable pile-on.

    1. It’s frustrating and I’m sorry it’s affecting your friendships.

    2. THIS^^^^ “they don’t say a peep about sudan, congo, etc” === exactly!!!!

  7. LW, you and Wendy (and your husband) are about 1,000x more compassionate than I am. If I were your husband I would cut your sister off until she gets her head out of her ass and realizes she is supporting and promoting evil, and apologizes and does something of substance to improve the well-being of the Jewish people. I understand there are factors contributing to your sister’s choice to take up this banner but I no longer have patience for it (read the op-ed Dear World, I don’t care anymore). If someone can’t independently figure out that it it’s wrong to kidnap, torture, and murder innocent People (including babies) because they are Jewish, assumed to be Jewish, or accused of “colluding” with the Jewish state is wrong, Im not sticking around until they figure it out.

  8. Hey everyone again. Don’t know if anyone will see this in time but I have a bit of a situation and would appreciate your thoughts. I’m supposed to be seeing a friend tomorrow to go to a gig.
    But I was checking Facebook the other day and saw she’d reposted a meme saying that Israel got what they deserved back in October, that they’d bought the terrorist attack upon themselves.
    I felt sick to my stomach. To be clear, I’m not a fan of the Netanyahu govt, I feel that the Israeli government’s response is disproportionate and I believe in a two-state solution. And I also feel very strongly that Israel did not deserve the attack in October, that there is never any justification for terrorist attacks full stop.
    Anyway, I messaged my friend yesterday morning to say that although I was looking forward to seeing her, I was upset to see what she had posted and couldn’t let it pass, and there is never a justification for terrorist attacks.
    It’s been 36 hours since she read the message and she still hasn’t replied. I don’t know whether to message her again or just leave it and see if she gets in touch. My husband asked me what I wanted to achieve by messaging her and if I’m angling for an apology. I’m not after an apology. I just felt I had to call it out.
    I’m actually now tempted to message and say I’m not going to go tomorrow but that feels pretty childish. All thoughts appreciated.
    PS and hello from England where my kids (who go to a Jewish school) have been advised not to wear their uniform on the way to and from school, so they’re not identifiable as Jewish. And where my daughter has had other teenagers come up to her at the local shops and do a Hitler salute at her. This is the not the world I imagined I’d be bringing my kids up in. Hope you’re all doing OK x

    1. I’m sorry. That was a terrible thing your friend shared and I don’t think I’d want to meet up with her after reading it. See if she reaches out to you and if she doesn’t even bother to let you know she hears you and can empathize with your position as a Jewish mom, well… I’d skip out on seeing her.

      1. Thank you Wendy, much appreciated.

    2. Good for you for calling out your friend – her comments are horrific. This isn’t about politics, this is about humanity. If she’s offended (!) by your message, so be it – you are better off without her. So sorry to hear about what your kids are experiencing. Stay strong – am Yisrael chai!

    3. An update from me. I waited until the morning of the gig (48 hours after I’d sent the message) to see if my friend would get in touch. She didn’t, so I messaged to say that I wouldn’t be going.
      Within ten minutes she’d texted me back to apologise for her post on Facebook; she said hadn’t really thought about the meme or read it properly when she reposted it, and that she didn’t really understand the situation in Israel. She said she wouldn’t post about it again. She also apologised for not getting back to me sooner, she’d been unwell for a few days.
      It seemed to be a really sincere apology, so I decided I’d go to the gig after all. It was a nice evening, in the end. Thanks x

      1. Oh, I’m glad it worked out! Thanks for the update.

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