Coming to Israel from California, I’m used to everyone assuming I lived in Los Angeles. I’ve gotten quick with clarifying that, yes, back home there are quite a few Jews living outside of New York and L.A. It just so happens that I am one of them, most recently from a little suburb of Mexico called San Diego.
It doesn’t bother me that Israelis know almost nothing about U.S. geography. Few Americans, including almost every person who weighs in on the Palestinian conflict, knows anything significant about Israel’s. Maybe I’ll venture into those dark waters another time.
Unlike people’s general inability to know where a place they’re talking about is actually located, what does surprise me is that people are unaware anti-Semitism exists in California. I’ve had a lot of conversations with Israelis (imagine that, talking to Israelis in Israel) who look confused when I describe some of my experiences growing up, and in college. Hate and bigotry toward Jews is not central to Israel, and I find that it polarizes in places that most people don’t realize – the most liberal (by population) state in the U.S.
“Mate, no offense, but you’re fucking crazy – leaving California for here,” said one particularly interesting fellow. Though he took a different approach after realizing I am a volunteer and plan to return. The ‘you left the Garden of Eden for this place?’ is what I’ve come to expect though. Many teenagers and 20-somethings aspire to ‘visit’ America, thinking everything is like the movies. There are a number of reasons I can’t wait to get back, but Israel is pretty cool too, and the U.S. can suck a lot sometimes.
College life in America’s classiest city was fantastic; a vibrant Jewish community that I really didn’t involve myself in as much as I should have, and one of the most culturally diverse places in the country. The town I grew up in (Fresno) was the complete opposite. About one percent of the students in my school were Jewish (10th grade gym was my only class in twelve years with another a Jew in it), and culture was something I read about in my sixth grade ancient history class.
One similarity between my two home towns is that it was easy to find people willing to not like me because I am Jewish. From peers in elementary school telling me I ruined Easter (by just being in their class), to the recent professor at my alma mater distributing Middle East maps labeling Israel as ‘Palestine,’ anti-Semitism seems to thrive in my eyes. How could I think otherwise?
The recent poor choice by an Intro to Arabic professor I don’t believe was malicious, as the Stand With Us group that spread news of the incident made it out to be, but it was wrong. It shows a trend in education that undermines fact and ‘muddies the waters,’ which I believe will only perpetuate further hate. There is no excuse for a university professor, especially one who is from Jordan, to not know the difference. Aside from the issue of delegitimization being a terrorism-infested tactic against Israel, the move clearly pushed a political agenda into an introductory language course. Nobody signed up for that – it’s inappropriate, and will discourage students from learning Arabic, polarizing the classroom attendance to students of a similar political mind.
I’m happy that the university responded appropriately, correctly naming the information inaccurate and as such unacceptable to present to students, but it’s just a tip of the iceberg of anti-Israel demonstrations in California. I wouldn’t feel safe wearing a star of David on campus, or any other item identifying me on campus, because of the vicious nature I have witnessed at SDSU and other California State / University of California campuses.
And when I first realized that was my feeling, I knew there was a problem.