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 370 (photo credit: Keith Bedford/Reuters)
Columbia University graduation ceremony 370
(photo credit: 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 uncomfortable.
I am a poster child for just the type of student who should be enthusiastically lobbying Congress on behalf of Israel.
My 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 fields.
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 shot.
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 people.
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.
This type 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 wish 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.
So humbly, 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 for.The writer is a second-year student at Yeshiva University in New York.