I walked out of a staff meeting Thursday, so upset I didn’t dare open my mouth to say anything. I overheard two coworkers chatting about how horrible it was that Israel was bombing Gaza. They were cheering the Hamas militants as if they were underdog revolutionaries. At first, I couldn’t believe what they were saying. I sat in shock and then walked out on rubbery legs.
The Hamas are not heroes. They burned babies, beheaded children and want to kill every Jewish person — which means me. I left all my tasks and papers on my desk, didn’t shut off my computer and drove home.
Before this, I liked my coworkers, and felt aligned with them. We took similar positions on Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ and abortion rights, and against racist people. But now I see them as racist —against me as a Jew. Two hours after I left, my boss texted, upset that I’d walked out of an important meeting. When I didn’t respond within the hour, he sent another text, asking for my status on a project I left unfinished that is due today. He sent two more increasingly angry texts about the project.
I need to pull myself together, plan to return to the office after everyone has left the building and finish the project. I texted him, saying that. I struggle with what else say.
Tell your boss the truth. You felt blindsided by your coworkers’ comments on an issue deeply personal to you.
Your coworkers aren’t necessarily racist, nor against you. They may have picked the Hamas as the underdogs, given the recent deaths among Palestinians. They may not understand how incomprehensibly horrid Oct. 7 was, nor what Hamas militants intend for Jews.
I hope you’re incorrect about your two coworkers being antisemitic; however, Pew Research reported last year that nearly two-thirds of Jewish employees witnessed workplace antisemitism that made them feel less safe at work. In 2022, antisemitic harassment reached the highest level since the Anti-Defamation League began keeping records in 1979. The ADL further reported that antisemitism increased by 388% since the first Hamas attack.
Here’s what you can let your manager know: Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, including Judaism. Further, some treat Jewish people as a racial or ethnic group, giving them these Title VII protections as well.
Tell your boss workplace bias against Jewish employees includes fleeting, subtle remarks that reflect ignorance and leave their coworkers feeling alienated, unwelcome and unsafe, as well as more openly hostile comments. As just one instance, NBA star player Kyrie Irving tweeted a link to a film alleging the Holocaust was a “major falsehood.”
Your boss and coworkers have much to learn. Unless you’re a problem employee, your boss should have picked up the phone, called you and asked, “This isn’t like you — how come you left the meeting?” Although he likely didn’t hear the comments, he made the situation worse by firing off increasingly angry texts. He owes you an apology. You may need a few days of personal leave so you can process your thoughts and feelings. You might decide to educate your coworkers, so they realize what Hamas did, and realize they need to have empathy and compassion for the people of Israel as well as Palestine.