“Why are you doing this?” my Jewish friends ask, when I tell them I’m involved in Israel advocacy at university.
I pause before answering. As a gentile, I often struggle to articulate my visceral sense of connection with Israel. I care about Israel as a Christian, a politics student, and a human being who stands against anti-Jewish hate.
In the wake of Professor David Miller’s dismissal over persistent antisemitic rhetoric, it’s high time that non-Jewish Zionist students became more vocal. When I raise the topic of Israel with my friends at university, those with Zionist sympathies tend to admit this timidly and self-consciously. Yet support for the Middle East’s only democracy should not be treated like a guilty secret. Defending Israel’s right to exist is key to tackling antisemitism, which is often cloaked as anti-Zionism. In the words of the late Rabbi Lord Sacks, “the virus of antisemitism has mutated” – from a hatred based on religion and race, to a hatred based on the world’s only Jewish state.
Of course, I will never experience the lived reality of antisemitism. I can never fully empathise with my Jewish peers who face verbal abuse walking to synagogue, or feel afraid to wear their Magen David necklace in public. But if I stay silent, I help legitimise an insidious culture of discrimination that ultimately threatens us all. To quote Lord Sacks, “Every society driven by hate begins by seeking to destroy its enemies, but ends by destroying itself.” It is unacceptable that, for all our anti-racist credentials, antisemitism remains a largely overlooked form of prejudice on UK campuses.
Raised by Christian Zionist parents, I had grown up being passively pro-Israel. When I was nine, my parents discovered the tragic history of Christian antisemitism. They were appalled: why hadn’t they been taught about the antisemitic theology that had justified centuries of violence against Jews? This led our family to research the rich Jewish roots of Christianity, and the incredible history of Israel’s rebirth as a nation. We came to deeply admire aspects of Judaism that the individualistic West would benefit from taking seriously: a weekly rhythm of rest, an atmosphere of blessing, and the importance of family relationships.
When the Gaza conflict erupted in May, I realised that passive support for Israel was not enough. Suddenly, social media was awash with accusations: land-stealing, apartheid, genocide. As I debated my coursemates over WhatsApp, I couldn’t help thinking of the young IDF soldiers our own age, risking their lives to defend innocent civilians. We were complaining about 9am online lectures; they were on-call 24/7, barely getting time to phone their families and tell them they were okay. While my coursemates claimed that the Iron Dome missile defence system gave Israel an unfair advantage, my Jewish friend, a lone soldier in the IDF, had narrowly missed being killed when a rocket exploded outside his bus. Three more rockets were headed for the bus itself – if these hadn’t been intercepted, he would have died.
These lively debates showed me that many students don’t hold entrenched views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they just haven’t heard Israel’s side of the story. The need to counteract anti-Israel misinformation with a factual, positive message led me to enrol on the StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship, a training programme that equips students to run Israel events at university. I want my fellow students to understand that despite its flaws, Israel is a haven for minority rights, a seedbed for entrepreneurship, and a country committed to peace with its neighbours.
As non-Jewish students, we have a responsibility to stand with Israel – not speaking over our Jewish friends, but standing shoulder to shoulder with them. Even when it’s unpopular, it’s time to speak up.
- StandWithUs UK is holding its ‘Generations For Israel’ matched fundraising campaign this weekend. For more information please visit standwithus.com/generationsuk