How My Love for Israel Uncovers My True Friends

by Ines Astrug

At one time or another we have all lost a friend, I suppose; they don’t need to die, G-d forbid. Sometimes we move to new countries or continents, move on with our lives, marry, and get estranged. Seldom is the reason for losing a friend love of one’s country.

It was during the last war in Gaza that I lost one of my best friends, after ten years of friendship – we studied together and lived together, and remained close. She was a non-Jewish girl from my native country, Bulgaria. Still, it didn’t seem to matter. I showed her Jewish movies and shared with her my enthusiasm for Israel, which she accepted. This acceptance came to abrupt halt, however, during Operation Cast Lead almost two years ago, and with it, the reactionary demonization of Israel.

Our friendship did not manage to provide enough of an antidote to the malicious and emotionally charged media reports and propaganda and she would not listen to any arguments from my side. I was biased, she claimed, because I had made aliyah many years ago (though now I live in Munich) and she was “objective” listening to the English-speaking television broadcasts while she was teaching at the American University in Tokyo.

I admit I was no saint in this story: I was angry. I took her criticisms of Israel personally. I wasn’t tactful. I told her that posting something like, “Oh you poor children of Gaza, why do you die on TV?”, even if it came from an official media source, is ridiculous and pathetic, and it’s unbelievable that she can fall prey to it after having studied journalism with me at the American University in Bulgaria. The statement by the Pope who blamed Israel and, in turn the Jews, was the turning point in our friendship. She adamantly took his side and didn’t disagree with his position and re-posted it on Facebook as the ultimate truth. My friend of ten years deleted me overnight not only from Facebook and Skype, but blocked me out of her life. She didn’t even quarrel with me. Hers was a break-up of silence: she never replied to any of my emails, not one, single word. She simply deleted and blocked me from her life.

Do I regret getting into an argument, reacting at all? Many times. I have tortured myself over many nights. I have accused myself of intolerance, impatience, tactlessness.

As time goes on, however, and while trying to hold myself back from arguments with non-Jewish friends, with no success, I realized that it is very hard for me to be best friends with non-Jewish people. Remaining silent is the best way to avoid the subject and to maintain friendships. Can I be best friends with someone without being able to speak about one of the most important things of my life?! This was a turning point, after which I started losing friends quietly and secretly, deep in my heart. Only I tried to keep the secret to myself.

And to my deepest regret, this is not at all the worst part. Worse still is that even some of my family, still living in Bulgaria, believe that I am ‘extreme’ in my defense of Israel. And this is an extremely important point I would like to make – not only the most tolerant and educated non-Jews are not immune to the brainwashing propaganda, but even the Jews of the Diaspora themselves are not immune!

Every era has had its illnesses and probably the deadliest disease in our times is cancer – a surreptitious evil, eating up healthy tissue from the inside. In Tfilat HaDerech, the Traveler’s Prayer, it says: “May it be Your Will, to protect us from open and hidden enemy (or ambush).” An open enemy may be hard to fight, but at least we know to beware. But more dangerous is the hidden one, causing secret decay from inside.

The cancer of media propaganda is not only affecting our so touchingly ‘politically correct’ non-Jewish friends, worse still, it is affecting us Jews, as well. The Jewish body is probably still looking relatively healthy but we have to beware. I wonder if we will became aware on time, but I am hopeful.

Ines Astrug lives in Munich, Germany and is a leader of the Mifgash Program at Janusz Korczak House – bringing together Jewish/Israeli Young Adults for socialization, education and awareness.

Ines recently attended the Jewish Agency’s student conference in Weimar, Germany, that brought together German-speaking young adults from Germany, Austria and Switzerland on the 150th anniversary of the birth of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl.

Ines’s story, and her connection to the Jewish world, is just one of several we are bringing to you this year.