published at Times of Israel
In spite of the many biases, phobias, anti-"isms" and micro-aggressions studied at universities, anti-Israelism does not seem to be a familiar term in most academic settings.
When, at a rally, Israelis are called “Nazis”; when Israel “apartheid” weeks set up on campus; when there is a performance piece about “Israel/Palestine” involving simulated blood, or amplified shouting that Israel should not exist, as in “from the river to the sea/Palestine must be free,” these are simply referred to as free speech.
Students cannot expect that there will be allotted time for Israel’s perspective, or a sharing of “competing narratives” or that Jews will be considered a minority.
As a first world, successful, capitalist, democratic, progressive, multicultural, open society, with a strong military, a starting point for academic discussion of America is often its responsibility for most of world’s problems and its racism. Imagine trying to argue on campus for what is wonderful about America.
Arguing for Israel, students often need to counter claims that are not based on facts but are supported by a view of facts as simply agreed-upon interpretations. For example:
Anyone spending even a few days in Israel can tell that the apartheid label doesn’t apply (and that this slander diminishes the experiences of people who lived under actual apartheid in South Africa). But present the overwhelming evidence of Arabs and Jews going about their everyday lives in shared shopping malls, restaurants, buses, and trains; point out that all Israeli citizens are subject to the same laws or that Israeli doctors, professors, Knesset members and Supreme Court judges are Arabs as well as Jews, and your comments may simply crash against the chant of “apartheid wall.”
This stalemate occurs in part because, as a supporter of Israel, you naturally think the argument is about Israel. But creators of Israel “apartheid” week focus on only one state and it is called Palestine.
The separation barrier (the 95% chain link fencing/5% wall that reduced suicide bombing by more than 90%) stands, for them, as an arbitrary intrusion into the country of Palestine – a hoped for territory covering all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza -- from the river along the Jordan border to the Mediterranean Sea at Tel Aviv.
When you realize that they actually mean No Israel, you may find yourself free falling through an Alice in Wonderland space where up is down and the one progressive country of the Middle East is the only one called out as oppressive. (At least, this was my experience.)
The more you know about Israel, the better, but this knowledge will not be persuasive to boycott advocates or apartheid week promoters.
Facts will be useful if you are talking about specific events. Like this. How have the lives of Palestinians and Israelis been impacted by the Jews unilaterally leaving Gaza in 2005? If you are in a setting where the people with whom you are speaking know that there are no Jews in Gaza and accept that Israel is a sovereign democratic Jewish nation then, yes, facts will be valuable to share and debate. This setting may hard to locate in public campus forums.
The facts are also valuable because knowing them will help you keep some equilibrium when you are going though that Alice in Wonderland free fall.
But facts will not help you argue against ideologies.
Anti-Israel voices on campus have a great deal of ideological support. For starters, there’s the ideology of post-modernism within which there are no impartial facts-- only narratives open for interpretation.
However, your interpretation, because it appears to privilege the oppressors (Israelis) over the oppressed (Palestinians) is not credible.
And your objection that Israelis are not oppressors, even if you also voice your disapproval of particular Israeli policies, likewise is not credible because Israel is Western and first world; it has a powerful military, a high standard of living, a thriving economy, and so on. It is, necessarily, an oppressor.
Because you are standing up for Israel, the one Jewish country of the world, you too are supporting an ideology: Zionism. Knowing that Zionism is the belief that Jews, like the other peoples of the world, have a right to their own country, or even if you simply appreciate the reality that Israel is a democratic Jewish state, you can count yourself a Zionist. It’s not an especially valued ideology on campus, pretty much like American patriotism isn’t especially valued in these post-nationalist times.
Like any other workplace, a university is a cultural setting in which some values are valued over others. Power relationships impact, if not our real freedoms, at least our sense of freedom to say what we believe. It can feel scary to stand up for a minority opinion in any setting.
When, in spite of it all, you get out there with an Israeli flag and say that you support Israel you are doing something important for yourself and for your campus. Most students on campus are not concerned or knowledgeable about Israel but may be open to learning about it. Because of your presence other students learn that there is more to this story than what they have been hearing. You’ll influence some of these students. You can impact boycott voting even if you can’t expect to influence boycott activists.
And take pride that as a pro-Israel student you are demonstrating one of the longest running and highest campus values: speaking truth to power.