Friendship, not allyship
August 11, 2023
(JNS) — Recently, seated in a cold Washington, D.C., conference room, I listened as speakers spoke of allies who support Israel and the Jewish people. The word “ally” is commonly used these days. Everyone wants to be allies of the cause du jour.
While I was sitting there, however, the word “ally” brought me back to history class. Its connotation felt more military than I think any of the speakers intended.
The Jewish community and Israel have a special place in the world. There are those who love them and those who hate them. Now antisemitism is on the rise in the United States and around the globe. According to the most recent report by the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitism last year rose 33 percent from the year before. Not only are we seeing an increase in antisemitic incidents, but Israel continues to be demonized from college classrooms to the halls of Congress.
Some would argue that the solution to uplifting the Jewish people and Israel is allyship. Respectfully, I disagree. I believe friendships and relational advocacy are the only path forward.
I’ve worked in the Israel education and advocacy space for over nine years. My journey began while I was in college. I am not a member of the Jewish community, but a Christian friend of it. I intentionally use the word “friend” because I’ve built relationships, cultivated strong partnerships and shown up. That is what friends do: show up in good times and bad, support and stand alongside each other.
So why do I choose friendship over allyship? Allyship comes off as a transactional relationship. I do something for you, you do something for me. It’s conditional. There are strings attached. Alliances shift based on the political climate or the goals of a movement.
The language of allyship is used in many training sessions. It’s not wrong, but it isn’t strong enough. The things you do for a friend are done out of love, admiration and respect.
In contrast, you can say you are an ally and do nothing. “Performative allyship,” a phrase that is often used in social justice conversations, does happen. In the case of friendship, however, it’s simpler. You are a friend or you’re not. It can be argued that allyship can lead to friendship. Once that is the case, you are now motivated by the relationship you’ve built.
There is a whole community of Christians who are ready to be friends with the Jewish community and Israel with no strings attached. We have shared values from our faiths and identities. We can see our differences yet find the beauty in our similarities. Many of us feel so passionately about this that we’ve dedicated our lives and careers to the mission. The Hebraic roots of our faith are crucial to who we are as Christians and we want the Jewish people to know they aren’t alone.
In my current role at the Philos Project, I mobilize these Christian friends to show up in solidarity with our Jewish friends and neighbors any time antisemitism or anti-Israel sentiment appears in the United States.
This network is called the Philos Action League. With a growing community of members, we have shown up over 200 times for our Jewish friends and neighbors. During those times, we’ve stood alongside incredible partners in the Jewish community who work on combating antisemitism and supporting Israel. “Philos” in Greek means “friend.” That’s what friends do: We show up.
I’m back in that Washington, D.C., conference room, listening to incredible speakers talk about how the people in this room can support Israel and the Jewish community. When I look around, I don’t see 400 allies—I see 400 friends. Jewish and Christian friends with differing political views, who live in different states, who speak various languages, all working together towards the same goal. I see friendship with no strings attached.
Hannah Garces is an advocacy associate at the Philos Project where she writes frequently on topics related to Israel and mobilizing Christians to stand up for the Jewish people.