Anti-Semitism masquerades as anti-Israel critique across college campuses nationwide. It has therefore become increasingly important for Jewish students to understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the impressive realities of the State of Israel. From February 16 to 24, 35 highly motivated high school seniors – eight from HAFTR High School – traveled with the “Write On For Israel” program to see first-hand how to advocate for Israel in the collegiate forum. The HAFTR delegation included Jamie Beer, Rachel Hamburger, David Lederer, Jonathan Lederer, Matthew Nathan, Benjamin Perl, Shoshana Reichmann, and Jeffrey Wolberg.
Students learned to combat uninformed, biased criticism of Israel on college campuses among their peers. To illuminate the intricacies of this protracted conflict, students conversed with people of diverse perspectives, including Israeli-Arabs, an Ethiopian Jew, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, a Jew living in the disputed territories, and former Member of Knesset Ruth Calderon.
Unfortunately, the debate about Israel tends to cluster groups of Palestinians into categories to which they don’t necessarily belong, leaving behind many key details of the conflict. Students learned that there are Israeli Arabs living in Israel with full citizenship (some of whom identify as Palestinian), Palestinians in East Jerusalem who have residential status but not citizenship, Palestinians ruled under the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the disputed territories, and Palestinians from Gaza ruled under Hamas. Each group has a different history, grievance with, and quality of life in the State of Israel, which can’t be ignored. Understanding these intricacies helps combat false generalizations and misinformation that may be present on college campuses.
There were many heartwarming moments on the trip that brought everyone a greater appreciation for the land’s rich history. We heard the story of Eli Cohen, who sacrificed his life as a spy in Syria to provide critical intelligence that helped Israel win the Six-Day War. We were welcomed into an Arab-Israeli school in Baqa Al-Gharbiyya with a song that included the lyrics, “You are my brother, you are my sister, we are family.” As we ascended Har Herzl, we heard the stories of venerable heroes such as Alex Singer, Royi Klein, and Michael Levine, who sacrificed their lives to protect Israel. We saw how Israel is a “light unto the nations” when we visited the “Peres Center for Peace and Innovation” and “Save a Child’s Heart.” Ruth Calderon, a former Knesset member, and Eginsu Meyer, a Jewish Ethiopian woman, recounted the remarkable progress Israel has made to include women in the workforce, army, and government. While many critics attempt to dehumanize the State of Israel through movements such as BDS, this trip illuminated the humanizing moments that make Israel one of the most liberal, generous, and free states that the world has ever seen.
Like many other democratic countries, however, Israel is not perfect. Some Israeli Arabs expressed their frustration with the discrimination they faced in the workforce due to the fact that employers prefer applicants with army service (many practical and collaborative skills are honed by working in the Army). Since there is a stigma in the Israeli Arab community against enrolling in the Army – many express solidarity with the Palestinians – they often get left behind in the labor market. Moreover, many considered the Nation-State Law – which declares Hebrew as Israel’s official language and designates Arabic as a secondary one – as an affront to their identity. Others felt that Israeli officials discriminated against them in security checks. Their grievances are valid, and there should be attempts to rectify them. However, the incredible freedoms enjoyed by Israeli Arabs, especially women, should still be acknowledged. After all, the speakers were aspiring doctors, lawyers, and teachers, and many acknowledged that the opportunities presented in Israel are far greater than those offered in much of the Arab world.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears perpetual. Few can offer a fair solution that appeases both sides. Some even say that it is impossible. Yet there are far too many people who put the majority of the blame on Israel while overlooking significant mistakes committed by the Palestinians and their leadership. Israel is both a Jewish state and a democracy; and yes, it does struggle to balance the two. But that is a part of the nation’s unbelievable, improbable, and ongoing story. It certainly does not deserve the dehumanization and unfair disparagement that many college students engage in. By taking it upon themselves to uncover the subtleties of this conflict, “Write On” students will be well-prepared to combat these unjust criticisms and be the next generation of pro-Israel leaders.