Dialogue or demonization?

By Noam Bedein
October 2010 was my fifth tour of college campuses in the United States. This tour was facilitated by CAMERA and the ZOA. It has been ten years since Kassam rockets started raining down on Sderot and the Western Negev, and almost five years since I moved to Sderot.
For the first time, a visit to US has left me somewhat shaken. The scene: A standard campus presentation at the University of Texas, in Austin.
I had never been to Austin before, but had heard about the Texas State Capital and its blend of 19th and 21st Century architecture, Universities and high-tech industries with its rolling hills and forests surrounding the city that, according to a friend in Israel who once lived there, are remarkably similar to the hills and forests that I travel from Sderot to Gush Etzion and Hebron.
The campus event was titled ‘Iran in Sderot’s backyard.'' The presentation focused on the human side of the story, relating the daily reality of living in Sderot under the constant threat of aerial attacks from Gaza.
My talk concentrated on the the two years since ‘Cast Lead’, the massive build up of bomb shelters, and the moral dilemma of fighting terrorists who launch their rockets from behind the collective human shield of Gaza''s civilian population.
Entering the building on the Austin campus where the presentation was set, I was met by a number of pro-Palestinian protesters holding signs reading "NO OCCUPATION = NO  ROCKETS," "How is Gaza not like Warsaw?," and "1417 Palestinian killed in Gaza vs 13 Israelis."
It isn''t the first time I’ve encountered protesters demonstrating against me just because I’m an Israeli Zionist. In Austin, the protesters  entered the auditorium and tried to provoke me with demonizing questions and comments, which they attempted to disguise under the slogan "We want to open a dialogue."
I wish they had been sincere about wanting a fact-based discussion, but unfortunately this was not the case.
After four years of public speaking for Sderot and for Israel, I am not afraid of genuine dialogue and debate and know how to answer the distortions and misrepresentations of the Palestinian-Gaza Narrative.
However this time, no one wanted to dialogue. This was the first time that I was called a ‘Zionist propagandist‘ and where I was literally turned into a demon by the University of Texas representative of the pro-Palestinian PSC (Palestine Solidarity Committee).
The PSC representative filmed my Sderot audiovisual presentation, and pared it down into two 9-minute videos, showing their protests against my appearance on campus and disfiguring my face from a normal human being into something of a monstrous demon, with glowing red eyes. Not one word from the actual presentation appears in the video. Take a look at this video (students in Austin made a video response).
I was born in Israel, served in the IDF and have been working as a photojournalist since 2006. This was my first encounter with virile antisemitism, meted out by Palestinian protesters in Austin.
Such an experience gives me a deeper connection to Jewish history, making me aware that there really are evil forces in every generation who work to destroy us, exactly as the Passover song, Vehi She''amda, says:
"But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, saves us from their hands."
The Austin experience should not come as any surprise. It was bound to happen at some point. Elsewhere on US campuses, visiting Israeli soldiers are called fascists and war criminals.
At the University of Michigan, an Israeli soldier who was invited to talk about his experiences watched the entire audience leave the lecture room in a planned protest, simply because an IDF soldier was speaking. Instead of a dialog, he found himself alone, with no audience( watch Students Protest IDF Soldiers Campus Visit).
What is most bothersome in this tour was realizing that the majority of well-educated college students have never even heard about Sderot, let alone the ten years that witnessed 12,000 Gaza attacks on the civilian population of Sderot and the Western Negev, and the continuing trauma wrought on the residents of the area, affecting children as young as three years old.
The plight of Sderot and the Western Negev residents represents a grotesque injustice, and clear violation of the human rights. Yet it has been downplayed by the mainstream media, UN, EU and Non-Government "humanitarian" organizations.
After this recent experience, I am more determined than ever to continue speaking about a reality that the world may want to ignore or to dismiss as irrelevant.
Noam Bedein is a photojournalist, lecturer and founder/director of Sderot Media Center . He has conducted briefings and tours for government officials, diplomats, foreign press, and students from around the world.