Why Israel is losing support from Jewish students in US
If citizens, supporters and lovers of Israel don’t want the country to be characterized by racist statements and immoral attacks, it is so important for them to say so.
Columbia University graduation ceremony Photo: Keith Bedford/Reuters
Several times this past year I have had the opportunity to join student
club-sponsored trips to Washington, DC, to lobby members of Congress on behalf
of Israel. Each time I chose quietly not to go.
I questioned why being
asked to support Israel in Congress made me feel vaguely yet deeply
I am a poster child for just the type of student who
should be enthusiastically lobbying Congress on behalf of Israel.
connections to Israel are deep – I celebrate on Independence Day and feel real
pain on Remembrance Day, have studied in Israel for a year and plan to come back
and work in Israel this summer. When choosing a major and career path I made
sure my education would be transferable in Israel.
So why could I not
bring myself to spend a day urging my elected representatives to financially and
politically support Israel? I began to face the answer reading about the recent
Yitzhar shooting. I noticed the headline “Settler shoots Palestinian” and
cringed, wishing I could ignore it, wishing the article contained information
exonerating the shooter. But the rest of the article was worse, describing
residents of the settlement of Yitzhar setting fire to Palestinian fields,
unprovoked, and then shooting and binding a Palestinian man defending the
Even if the Yitzhar residents’claims of self-defense – that it
was Palestinian youth who began setting fire to Israeli fields, that the man who
was shot was carrying a knife – have merit, it is hard to argue that
self-defense requires tying up and beating a man after he was
Reading this article was jolting enough. But the real problem is
not this article alone. The problem is that there are too many of these
articles. Reports of “price tag” attacks against Palestinian property and
Politicians making veiled and not-so-veiled racist statements
about African migrants, such as Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s baseless claim
that untold numbers of Israeli women are being raped by African men (Jerusalem
Post, May 31) and his description of African migrants as “infiltrators”
(Jerusalem Post, May 20).
MK Miri Regev’s statement that “the Sudanese
are a cancer in our body” would be cause enough to squirm even without her
subsequent (insufficient) apology to Holocaust survivors for the pain they might
feel at such language and imagery, which failed to address the insult Sudanese
asylum-seekers might feel at being the target of such imagery.
of language has effects. Discussing people as if they belong to homogenous
groups, referring to “the Africans” as infiltrators, or to “the Palestinians,”
“the Arabs” or “the Muslims” as evil or brainwashed to hate influences the
ethos, culture and actions of our community. A central component of the
definition of prejudice includes seeing members of other groups as homogenous,
rather than as individuals. We need to move our language away from stereotypes
and broad generalizations.
Because crimes like the recent arson attack on
an apartment where African workers live don’t occur in a vacuum. Tolerating
discussion stereotyping “the Africans” or even “the Arabs” just might lead us to
think it is legitimate to loot African stores or beat up Arab men.
I could assume that these incidents reflected the views of a only marginal
section of Israeli society. I wish I could ignore painful articles about price
tag attacks and settlers shooting Palestinians, and simply write to American
politicians and newspapers about Israel’s commitment to the security of its
citizens, its medical and technological advances and aid to third world
countries. But I can’t.
Not when mainstream politicians make racist
statements and are tolerated. Not when price tag attacks occur with alarming
regularity without being investigated aggressively or raising outrage among the
general population. Of course no country is perfect, and many important
politicians as well as ordinary citizens have deplored recent xenophobic
statements and incidents.
I believe almost all would agree with the
foreign ministry’s characterization of the arson attack as “a heinous crime”
(The Jerusalem Post, June 4). But even one racist slur is a problem, even one
unprovoked price tag attack damages Israel’s claim to have the moral high ground
in its relations with Palestinians.
And when it is not just one racist
slur, but many, not just marginal extremists involved in the melee, but Knesset
ministers, it becomes harder, even for someone with a deep love for Israel, to
advocate for Israel as the most democratic country and most stable American ally
in the Middle East.
As someone who loves Israel deeply, this trend is
extremely saddening. In addition to coming to visit, working in and studying in
Israel, I want to be proud of Israel, too.
If citizens, supporters and
lovers of Israel don’t want the country to be characterized by racist statements
and immoral attacks, it is so important for them to say so.
recognizing that as much as I love Israel I do not yet live here or experience
the country day to day, I want to do my part and emphatically and publicly say
that those who wish black people would “get out of their neighborhood,” people
who set fire to African apartments or vigilante perpetrators of price tag
attacks do not represent me, or what I hope and believe Israel and Judaism stand
The writer is a second-year student at Yeshiva University in New