A Mancunian Experience

I was born in London, England, but spent my childhood years living in Cambridge, Herzliya, and Buffalo, NY. One can easily surmise that at the ripe old age of 14 I was steeped in a trifecta of cultures as well as schooling practices. I thought that this worldly experience had equipped me for any future challenges.

When I completed my military service in Israel, I decided to work as a flight attendant for EL-AL, the Israeli airlines. I loved to travel, and the opportunity to meet new people and visit new places excited me no end, despite my commitment to dealing with bin-hogging passengers, unauthorized smoking, and general pettiness. When I traveled, there was a sense of freedom and happiness, which I enjoyed immensely, but the Wandering Jew within realized that my carefree days were nearing an end, and that I would have to fulfill my adult obligations to pursue a university degree.

This was how I arrived at Manchester University School of Law in the fall of 1988, sitting in a lecture hall packed with English students, including a few Palestinians, and seven Israelis. How did I know about the Palestinians? Easy, they made themselves known to me almost immediately during orientation when they proudly announced that they were from Palestine. During this introductory small-talk session, there was one girl in particular whom I remember vividly. We chatted about the usual sort of things such as housing and weather, but she had also inquired where I was from. Perhaps it was my accent that triggered the question—a mishmash of British and American I suppose—also infused with a few Yiddishisms, I can’t help it. When I told her that I was from Israel, her face fell, and on the spot she did a complete 180 and disappeared from sight. I remained standing there feeling quite disturbed by her reaction, I couldn’t believe it. However, this would become a prelude to more displeasing experiences during my student years in Manchester.

One day, I noticed signs hanging outside the student union building that advertised an impending rally that encouraged students to vote against UN Resolution 242, which established principles for setting Israeli borders and withdrawal from territories conquered in 1967. This resolution was originally adopted by the UNSC following the Six-Day War in 1967. The Palestinian students and their supporters wanted to declare the Israeli government as racist, or that “Zionism equated racism.”

At the entrance to the building, a crowd had already gathered around a television set that played a video of an Israeli soldier beating a Palestinian man who looked helpless and hurt. It played repeatedly, like a broken record, to make sure that no one could possibly miss this blockbuster event. I’m no dummy; I realize all the ugliness that is part and parcel of war and the struggle against terrorism. Equally, I’m aware and saddened by the dead and injured on both sides. But this was completely out of context. I knew that most foreign agencies reporting from Israel had the tendency to show a one-sided image of the conflict. There was always a certain anti-Israel narrative they followed, and some of those clips were finely edited to portray the IDF as overly aggressive. Some of those pro-Palestinian supporters were experts in terms of inventing mock images of blood-stained victims of the IDF and wanton murders of innocent children. And all this was long before influential NGOs had started their crusade to undermine Israel, doing their utmost best to promote a very negative view of the government and soldiers, while completely ignoring the terror prescribed by the other side. The Palestinians’ struggle was legitimate, and thus automatically warranted their lawlessness. In all my years in Israel, surrounded by military men and women comprising of family and friends, I had never heard anyone spew hatred towards Arabs, or venerate an individual for their mistreatment of an Arab.

But there I was, witnessing yet another attempt to vilify and dehumanize the IDF and Israeli society in general. I was upset by the video and disturbed by the chiding remarks around me. All I could think of at that very moment was that this was a sure way to debunk that outrages claim promoted by a number of Israel’s adversaries, or random anti-Semites, who believed that Jews have full control of world media. If that particular clip had managed to make its way into a popular university in northern England, then Jews were doing a very poor job at controlling information after all.

Finally, I stepped into the designated room where Haled, the head of the Palestinian student body took to the stage and started his rant against Israel. Beforehand, I had known him as that smooth-talking guy who would always corner me outside a seminar. The last time we met, he had stretched his arms around me, while leaning against the wall and trying his best to either, flirt with me, or intimidate me, I’m not sure. Now, as I looked around the room I felt bound by anxiety, an unfamiliar uneasiness had spread through my body, I was moved to tears, and all this before the speaker addressed the crowd. I could sense the poisonous atmosphere that had permeated the room. I wiped the tears away, afraid that anyone would notice; I didn’t want Haled to see me either. He sounded like a well-seasoned orator and his words sent shivers down my spine: “When I see an Israeli soldier breaking a Palestinian baby’s skull—I cry,” he declared and the habitually quiet English crowd suddenly roared with anger as though they were actually sitting in a Manchester United football game. “When I hear that an Israeli soldier has raped an Arab woman, I cry,” he said with a rousing tone and again the crowd went absolutely crazy.

It was too much, and I could no longer control the tears. As I sat there listening to the rest of his hyperbole, I thought about Israeli diplomats at the UN and how they must feel when they’re confronted with this type of acerbic babble. I wondered how they managed to compose themselves. So many times they’ve sat through anti-Semitic outbursts, easily done when anti-Israel expressions transgress into anti-Zionist diatribe and then just pure, unapologetic anti-Semitism. There is no difference between a Jew who dons an IDF uniform or a baseball uniform, because all Jews are painted as dangerous and conspiring. Those Arab diplomats have been known to accuse the Jews for causing both World Wars, and in many ways to breathe new life into The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And they’re not alone, as many, many have joined the bandwagon of anti-whatever critics, and they come from all walks of life, and a varied educational background and intellect. If we dare to mention the term anti-Semite, all hell breaks loose; we are routinely criticized for conveniently labeling every criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, or for exploiting victimization, or honing our warmongering skills. And sadly, it works very well in terms of keeping some people quiet.

I too sat quietly on that gloomy, dark day in Manchester, hardly able to control my emotions. I was dying to stand up and say something, but I was paralyzed with anger, not fear. I remembered my 8th grade graduation in Buffalo, NY, when I received special recognition for being “The Goodwill Ambassador to the US.” I had been the victim of a number of ugly incidents where students would blow spitballs at me during lunch and call me a “dirty fucking Jew,” and I was even beaten up, attacked in the courtyard one day, just because I am Jewish. In an effort to educate the students, I was encouraged to teach them about my life in Israel, and I guess that my actions warranted a special award at the end of the year. And yet, all this memory could not steer me to stand up and tell the students my side of the story. This was one challenge I had failed, despite my worldly experiences.

When the ordeal was over and I happened to bump into a couple of Israelis, I asked them whether they heard about the anti-Israel rally, but they shrugged their shoulders, showing a complete indifference. Later on that year, the Jewish students had organized a pro-Israel rally but hardly anyone showed up. This was a cause that no one had cared to support.

No amount of schoolwork, deadlines, and pressure could diminish the negative impact of the rally, so I was left to ponder over my disappointing reaction in the face of adversity. I had already experienced anti-Semitism as early as 7 years old when living in Cambridge, and I also recalled my father’s bouts with anti-Semitism when he was called a “bloody Christ killer,” as a young boy growing up in Bloemfontein, South Africa. I realized that the hatred of Jews was not a contemporary trend, and that it was the oldest type of hatred around. Since that day in Manchester, I had made it my mission to leverage all of my experiences and never let anyone scare me, or intimidate me, or anger me to such a degree that I am unable to stand up for myself, or for Israel.

The raining onslaught of anti-Israel, anti-Zionism, and anti-Jewish campaigns is global and terrifying, and there are continuous incidents of religious-based cold-blood murders of Jews. There is a great misuse of ideas, misinterpretation of history and fact, as well as hateful labels to describe Jewish people in general. They’re the types of disturbing falsehoods that have been attached to Jews that most people only read about in history books, but these days there is a definite resurgence of hate even though it hides behind the guise of those who say they are only critics of Israeli policy and nothing else. The haters have become a bit more sophisticated with time. And yet we still come across a collection of old-world epithets even when disguised; apparently, we’re a domineering bunch with absolute control of Wall Street, Hollywood, all media outlets, and the music industry. Israel is an Apartheid nation, so when Jews support Israel they are actually supporting fascism, and they’ve turned Gaza into a concentration camp–yes, they even use the Holocaust to shame us!

The recurring nature of all this nastiness has become a daily struggle. It’s tiring to argue or inform complete strangers of the actual facts, but ignoring widespread myths and lies about Israel is agonizing. Most of the comments that I read are infuriating and some of my friends have pointed out what a complete waste of time to engage with such individuals. Sometimes I do feel powerless, I rather not open up a platform for more criticisms and outrageous claims, but then I remember the rally in Manchester all those years ago and its aftermath, so I respond, no matter how irritated and fed-up I become. In the past, I’ve been stupidly accused of working for the Mossad and even blocked from a few blogs; the reactions have been hateful as well as ignorant, and arguments from educated individuals baffle me the most. When I go to sleep at night, I can safely shut my eyes knowing full well that I had done my part, because being Jewish these days also means having to explain and explain and explain, and there is no room for keeping quiet again.

About the Author
Ilana was born in London, England, and currently resides in Camarillo, California. She graduated from Manchester University with an LL.B in 1991. Her writings include the play “A Recipe for Hummus,” and her novels "The Diary of a Wrinkle" and "East End Dreams." "Age Schmage" is a little book intended to help women in their moments of doubt; "A Cookbook for the Woman Who Hates Cooking" is an honest, yet funny approach to cooking; "What if I Had a Different Name?" is a collaboration with her son Jack and it’s a fun exploration of some of the weird and fantastical names that Jack imagines as his own. "The Cloud That Covered My Head" is a whimsical story about a boy who preferred to stay in bed and dream rather than go to school. "Diary of a Wrinkle" is her blog where she muses on the topic of aging and beauty, and @wrinklerevolution is her corresponding Instagram account. You can follow her on Instagram at @soletseat for her daily culinary creations. Her latest children's book "Rotten Tooth Ruth" will be available for purchase on Amazon first week of December 2018.
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