According to The Hill, incidents of Israel-related discrimination on college campuses more than doubled from 2015 to 2017. Students who are supportive of Israel face event disruption, exclusion, verbal abuse and destruction of property, even here at Stony Brook.
“It’s when I first came to Stony Brook that I actually encountered pushback for my Israeli identity,” Neil Dasgupta, a junior applied mathematics and statistics and philosophy double major and president of Seawolves for Israel, said.
Last spring, the Hillel office hosted a high tech fair that showcased Israeli business and technology professionals. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) protested the event and likened Israel to Nazi Germany with a sign that read “Would you invest in a Nazi company? Why then would you invest in an Israeli company?” They harassed Gal Malka, the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at Stony Brook, calling her a “baby killer,” and intimidated students that came to participate in the event.
It’s well accepted as wrong for someone to be harassed based on their identity, ethnicity, nationality or religion. But unfortunately, some didn’t “get the memo,” and push an anti-Zionist ideology rooted in ignorance and misinformation.
“There is such widespread hate against Israel on college campuses in America because of ignorance and anti-Semitism,” Eilona Feder, a junior biochemistry major from Israel and vice president of Seawolves for Israel, said.
Feder argued that organizations like SJP and Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) spread more hate instead of trying to promote peace. BDS boycotted SodaStream, an Israeli company that had a factory in the West Bank, because they felt the factory’s location made it “complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.” The boycott caused SodaStream to move their factory out of the West Bank, and 500 Palestinians lost their jobs as a result. By believing and promulgating misinformation about Israeli companies being occupiers, instead of worrying about the welfare of Palestinians they claim to fight for, BDS harmed the Palestinian people.
Another serious example of anti-Zionist misinformation is the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. Apartheid is legal inequality — systemic segregation and discrimination on the grounds of race. But Arab citizens can vote in Israel, own any business and work in any profession, including politics. Not only is Israel not an apartheid state, but Arabs in Israel have more freedoms than they do in neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, where women can’t open a bank account without a man’s permission.
When studying at Bar Ilan University last year in Israel, I volunteered as an EMT with an Arab Muslim Israeli. We worked side by side, something that would never happen in an apartheid state. Calling Israel an apartheid state is simply incorrect.
People are more likely to support whoever is portrayed as oppressed and are quick to form radical opinions in the face of perceived injustice, even with little information to back them up. Justifiably, it’s appealing to support a side being portrayed as oppressed, until one realizes that Muslim Arabs in Israel are not oppressed.
The media and academia has perfected appealing to viewers’ and students’ emotions to promote their agenda. Marc Lamont Hill was recently fired by CNN for using the phrase “Free Palestine from the river to the sea.” Hamas, an internationally-recognized terrorist organization, uses this phrase as a call for Israel to be wiped off the map. Temple University stood by Hill, despite his hate speech. This inherently disadvantages Israel by portraying it as an aggressive oppressor when it is the most liberal country in the region.
There are still many things you can do to educate yourself about the topic. Madeleine Doerr, a sophomore political science major, took this mission upon herself and chose to study abroad in Israel next semester. Since studying abroad in Israel is not an option for everyone, she recommends people watch documentaries — that’s how she got started on her path toward educating herself.
“I wanted to see what it is actually like for citizens living there. I also want to learn about the rich history and culture of the Jewish people,” she said.
Many people can learn from Doerr, a non-Jewish student, who is a perfect example of someone without an initial personal connection to Israel who took it upon herself to become more educated.
Anti-Zionism has become increasingly trendy, but only because many students do not look past their Facebook feed and do the bare minimum of their own research. Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, also engages in humanitarian aid. In addition to sending medical supplies to Gaza in lieu of shortages, Israel also treats thousands of Syrians injured in the Syrian Civil War.
Having spent last year in Israel, I can attest to the complexities of the Israeli statehood issue, but Israel is a thriving liberal democracy where its citizens have full and equal protection under the law. The rest of the world can learn from Israel’s dedication to freedom and democracy, and I hope you can too.