Shkoy. That was the first Yiddush slang word I learned from my Jewish friends. It’s a slang inspired by the word “Shkoyach” which means good job. When I first came to college, I would have never imagined that I’d befriend a Zionist. As someone who was a born and raised Muslim, I was taught to view Israel in a negative light. I was once an activist for Students for Justice of Palestine and absolutely despised Zionism. As I’m typing this blog now, I’m talking to my Jewish friend regarding the Rosh Hashana dinner tomorrow night. During a period of self-discovery I had a serious change of heart about my view of Israel. I refused to stand by the status quo of hatred towards the state of Israel by my fellow Muslims. I refused to be just another variable of over a thousand year old conflict between Jews and Muslims. I stand with Israel because in Islam I was taught to stand with what’s right even when it’s unpopular among your fellow Muslims.
My Jewish friends are the inspiration behind my support for Israel. I support the existence of Israel because I want my friends to have a Jewish homeland. I’ve never traveled to Israel yet through my friends I’ve gotten glimpses of the beauty of Zion. Israel is the only country in that region where religious minorities are awarded equal legal protection. My Jewish friends showed me immense support through waves of Islamophobia here in the United States similar to how Israel stands with Muslims. In Israel, Muslims are doctors, government officials, businessmen and women, and some of them serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.
During Israeli Apartheid Week, I saw the pain and anger among my Jewish friends when strangers slandered and dehumanized the country they love. Had strangers hurled insults at me as a Bengali American I would be furious. Yet, my Jewish friends deal with anti-Israeli rhetoric every day. In all my dialogues with the Pro-Israeli community, I’ve heard many Israelis tell me how they just want to be able to live in peace with the Palestinians. In my first Shabbat dinner, I saw a common value shared between Islam and Judaism: unity in worship of G-d. I was the only Muslim at a Shabbat dinner yet I felt welcomed. I ate my first challah as we shared a beautiful dinner. The interfaith dialogues between me and my Jewish friends helped strengthen the bond between me and my Jewish friends. Islam and Judaism both have similar and beautiful traits; once more of us understand that the sooner we can achieve peace.
This past summer I had the unique opportunity to attend two pro-Israeli conferences for the first time in my life. The first conference was one sponsored by AIPAC. During my Pro-Palestinian activism days, I absolutely despised AIPAC for preserving America’s relationship with Israel. To say I was nervous was putting it lightly yet as soon as I arrived at the conference, I felt right at home. My favorite memory from the AIPAC conference was when we all stood together during the Israeli National Anthem. I’ve never heard the Israeli National Anthem before nor do I understand a single word of Hebrew. As I paid attention to the music, I felt that it starts with the feeling of pain and struggle but ends with give you hope for a better tomorrow. The last conference I attended this past summer was sponsored by The David Project and it was on how to form a relationship with your fellow college students on the basis of Israel. In these two conferences, I saw the beauty that makes up the Pro-Israeli community. I saw the lifeblood of Israeli Advocacy that preserves America’s relationship with Israel. Activists of all ages and skin worked together for a common goal. What makes the Pro Israeli community so special is that we fight for a common cause from the ground up. Each conference that I’ve attended had hundreds of students who traveled from all across America to make it known to the international community that the bond between the United States and Israel is an unbreakable bond. That is why I was one of those students at the Pro Israeli conferences; I believe in that bond and I’ll always lobby my elected officials to preserve that bond.
During my time in Israeli advocacy, I have been the subject of nasty personal attacks from my fellow Muslims. I’ve been called names and some have questioned my faith. I am a practicing Muslim who is very proud of his religion. Islam has taught me to defend the truth even when it is unpopular which is why I choose to defend Israel. On the day of Judgement when I face Allah (SWT) to answer for my actions, I’m confident that standing with Israel was just. My passion and inspiration comes from my Jewish friends whom stand by Israel, while advancing their own American story. There is a significant commitment embedded in the Jewish faith and tradition: to freedom and equality; to social justice and the right to self-defense. To tikkun olam — the obligation to repair this world. As an activist for Knights for Israel, University of Central Florida’s sole Pro Israeli organization; we work tirelessly to repair this world, one dialogue at a time. It is possible for a practicing Muslim to defend Israel because the beauty of Israel transcends race and religion. As Harry Truman understood, Israel’s story is one of hope and today we stand with Israel as she writes adds another page extraordinary history. Now is the time to join together in the work of defeating hate with love.