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  • Writer's picturePTA Team

Tough Conversations: Discussing the Israel/Palestine War at Work

In recent weeks, we have seen a surge in protests, mainly on college campuses, speaking out in support of the Palestinian people. These protests are calling for university divestment from Israel as well as for support for a ceasefire in the region. Since Hamas’ attack on Israel in October, over 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military forces. Many more have been displaced and face famine and disease. At the same time, as a result of the conflict we've seen an increase in antisemitism and agitators taking advantage of the situation to call for violence against Jewish individuals. While the recent events have brought the conflict into the public eye, there has been violence in the region for decades, especially against Palestinian people. 

A large group of college students on Virginia Tech's campus protesting and holding signs.

Recent events weigh heavily on those here in the US for a variety of reasons. Some have family in the region, others feel a strong connection to the state of Israel, and others are alarmed at the humanitarian crisis taking place. As we spend a large amount of our waking hours at work, questions have arisen on how best to have conversations about this conflict at work, especially given the intense emotions that can surround these conversations. 

At Plan to Action, we do not claim to be experts on this conflict or any others. However, we do have expertise around creating organizational environments where everyone feels that they are seen, heard, valued, and respected. For that reason, we wanted to provide guidance on 1) how to have conversations at work surrounding these topics in a way that prioritizes respect and empathy and 2) how to support those colleagues who may be most affected by these events.  

Best Practices for Difficult Conversations 
  1. Understand your own emotions.

One of the most important skills to have when interacting with others, especially at work, is emotional self-awareness. One way that you can prepare for difficult conversations is by taking the time to acknowledge what emotions you feel around a subject. Before you ever talk to anyone else, determine what it physically feels like in your body to discuss a given topic and how you will know when you need to take a break or walk away.  

2. Lead with empathy and respect. 

When prioritizing inclusion, it is essential to come from a place of empathy and respect. This topic can be very difficult for people to talk about, given the long history of the conflict and the current level of harm we are witnessing in real time thanks to social media. Before having a conversation at work about the conflict, it is essential to acknowledge that others’ perspectives may differ from yours and that the goal of the conversation should not necessarily be changing their mind. And throughout the conversation, try your best to practice active listening, that is, listening to hear the other person's perspective rather than to respond.

3. Take the time to learn. 

This conflict is one that has a long history and a multitude of perspectives. While you’re not expected to be an expert before discussing the conflict, one important step is to take the time to learn what you can from a variety of sources. We have provided some sources below that are a good starting point: 

A large banner from a college campus protest that lists, "Our Demands".

Combating Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism at Work 

As events in the Middle East have become center stage, there has been a corresponding rise in both Islamophobia and antisemitism. Hate of any kind should be condemned at the organizational level. Below are some steps you can take to ensure that neither islamophobia nor antisemitism take hold in your organization: 

  1. Ensure policies and practices are inclusive. 

Review and update organizational policies and practices to ensure they are inclusive and respectful of religious diversity. Specifically, implement zero-tolerance policies against Islamophobia, antisemitism, and all forms of religious discrimination and harassment. Provide clear definitions around what will not be tolerated, procedures for reporting incidents of discrimination or harassment, and ensure that complaints are handled promptly, confidentially, and that all incidents are handled equally. You can even consider securing an ombudsman for your organization. These steps are essential to ensuring your organization is safe and inclusive. 

2. Implement religious diversity and inclusion training. 

Providing baseline information on both Islam and Judaism can help to combat discrimination that comes from a place of misunderstanding. Further, training should focus on inclusive behaviors that can enable individuals to feel seen, valued, and heard in their organization. For example, an inclusive behavior for your Muslim colleagues is ensuring that they have access to a clean, quiet, safe space to pray. For Jewish colleagues, organizations can acknowledge and provide space for celebration of key religious holidays. These are small steps that can go a long way to ensure individuals feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. 

3. Organize community discussions on the topic. 

In times of crisis, individuals often seek out community with others who are facing similar struggles to them. An optimal venue for that community at work is an employee resource group. ERGs provide identity-specific support for individuals and can be an important way for organizations to signal their support for the various communities represented within the company. However, if your company is not ready for an ERG tied to religious identity, you can also simply organize community discussions on the topic. We recommend bringing in a facilitator to help guide the conversation and ensure it remains respectful.  

Remember, while we would like to think of the workplace as existing in a bubble, it does not. Things that happen in society will impact your employees and cannot always be ignored, nor should they. And while the conversations may be uncomfortable, creating psychologically safe environments for these conversations is critical. You also do not need to figure out how to do this on your own. Whether you partner with our team at Plan to Action or utilize another resource, there are people available to help you navigate tough conversations in the workplace.  

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