Ariel Bem

Brother where art thou? A call to join the defense of Israel’s right to exist

On a visited to US colleges with Reservists on Duty, I found not only anti-Zionism, but also anti-Semitism in the mainstream

In the week preceding Israel’s 71st birthday, I had the honor to participate in a delegation to fight the rabid anti-Israel rhetoric that is so rampant on the liberal campuses. We were sent to Southern California during the infamous Israel Apartheid Week that so many campuses have begun to adopt. Our delegation was comprised of Israelis, mostly ex-pats of Anglo origin, who had all served in either the IDF or in Israeli National Service.

The delegation was sent out on behalf of the organization “Reservists on Duty.” This was the second delegation that I had the opportunity to join. The organization was formed as a counter movement to “Breaking the Silence,” and strives to negate the lies and incitement against the IDF and the State of Israel that have spread on North American college campuses.

My previous delegation focused on speaking to pro-Israel students and sharing my experiences as an Israeli and a former officer in the IDF. After speaking on a number of campuses, it became clear to me that Jewish students are being targeted by other minority groups merely for being Jewish.

These students suffered verbal abuse by being asked, “how many Palestinian babies have you killed today?” Some even found eviction notices taped across their dorm room doors. These acts have been masked as anti-Zionist, when in fact they are blatantly anti-Semitic — this is due to the fact that students are targeted not for their political affiliation or outward support of Israeli policy, but for merely being Jewish.

Upon hearing this I was floored. How is anti-Semitism so rampant in educational institutions within a country that is seen as the epitome of freedom and a beacon of democratic rights? I know there will always be anti-Semitism, but for it to be committed so openly within the walls of academic institutions was something that I could not fathom.

It turns out I was very naïve.

Our recent delegation’s focus was not to preach to the choir by opening discussion with the pro-Israel students. This time, we were there to to confront the very students who were spreading lies about the country I have grown to love unconditionally.

On these campuses, I came face-to-face with the snake that masks itself behind liberal values yet is, in its very essence, pure anti-Semitism.

We started our mission at CSUF (California State University, Fullerton), which is known as a relatively quiet campus in terms of anti-Israel discourse. We were greeted by a large gray wall covered from top to bottom with “facts” about the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. It was an impressive sight to behold and the first thought that crossed my mind upon seeing this behemoth of hatred was, how on earth did students find the time to put something so time-consuming together? If they spent so much time on this then they must at least be experts on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Turns out I was wrong.

Twisting the truth at UC Fullerton.

My fellow delegates and I spent the first day reading the text on the wall and merely listening to conversations that the students who put up the wall were having with passersby. When an outright lie was said, we chimed in and asked the appropriate questions to debunk theories on Palestinian genocide and the “colonialist” history of Israel.

When it became apparent that we knew our facts well, very few of the wall builders engaged us in conversation — most preferred to hide behind their wall.

The following day, upon our arrival to the public campus, we immediately approached the wall with a sign saying “We were soldiers in the IDF, ask us anything.” We came to start a discussion, hold civil debates, let the Israeli narrative be heard and to spread the truth. These are true American values backed by the first amendment, yet we were met by college administration and were asked to step away from the area.

We did not come to the campus to provoke anyone. We did not fly halfway across the world to commit verbal abuse. We did not endure 15 hours on a plane to disrupt any pro-Palestinian student events. Yet we were barred from approaching the wall and were banned from discussing the conflict with the wall builders. This proved that the college openly supported a one-sided narrative with hateful messages instead of upholding the value of open debate that should be highly regarded in the world of academia.

Pushed off to the side, we then attempted to open up discussion with people who visibly took interest in the wall after they had passed by. We had some fascinating conversations with many students of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. We shared our personal points of view on the conflict and it was eye-opening for the many students we spoke with.

It was very important to all of us not to whitewash Israel. We made it very clear that Israel is a complicated country with unique issues that are not always handled correctly, but we emphasized that Israel always tries its best to do what is right.

To say that Israel commits genocide against the Palestinians would make Israel the world’s most incapable perpetrator of genocide, seeing as the Palestinian population has multiplied eight-fold since 1948. To say that Israel is an apartheid state would mean that Jonathan, one of our fellow delegates of Christian-Arab descent, is a second class citizen in a country which gives him full rights just like any other Jewish Israeli citizen.

An image of the UC Fullerton’s apartheid wall.

Additionally, Israel may not be perfect, but if these “righteous liberal” students cared so much for the Palestinians, then they could afford to dedicate at least one panel of their odious wall to the blatant violation of human rights that Hamas is committing against their own people in Gaza. However, through our discourse with the students on campus, we all truly felt that we were successful in spreading a message of hope and peace in the face of the hatred and incitement that the wall spewed.

Our next and final stop on the delegation was at UCI (University of California, Irvine). UCI has developed a repertoire as one of the most poisonously anti-Israel campuses in the United States. This is the third year in a row that Reservists on Duty has sent a delegation of English speaking former IDF soldiers to Irvine to combat the hate messages and calls to violence issued by extremist anti-Israel student groups on campus. In the past, delegation members have faced extensive verbal abuse and even an act of physical assault. I did not know what to expect, but I would be lying if I were to say that I was not worried.

As soon as we arrived on campus, we knew that the organization’s hard work over the past two years had paid off. What was once Israel Apartheid Week had turned into Global Oppression Week, in which each day focused on a different minority group that suffered oppression the world over.

Each day, the student group would build a small pop-up stand with a few meek billboards representing violence and oppression against a different religious or ethnic group each dayIt was all a slow buildup to the grand finale taking place on Friday — the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

When we arrived at UCI on Friday morning, the ignominious wall was already standing. It was very different from the wall which we encountered at CSUF. It was large in scale but nearly no text was written on it. No skewed facts. No outward hate messages. No calls to violence. Instead it bore Banksy-inspired street art images depicting different aspects of Israeli occupation. This was a huge win for us, but the battle had only just begun.

An image of UC Irvine’s apartheid wall.

Similar to CSUF, the area directly surrounding the wall was fenced off to any campus visitors. In order to access the vicinity of the wall, one had to display a UCI student ID card. This did not deter our work.

Courtesy of the student group which invited us to campus, College Campus Republicans of UCI, we built our own pop-up stand with signs, flags and informative roll-ups. We stood in front of the wall with our blue and white t-shirts with the words “Defending Freedom from Hate” And there we engaged students and other onlookers in an informative discussion and cordial debate.

Again, many fascinating conversations were had. I felt we made an immense impact on many students who would have never been exposed to the Israeli narrative and who were willing to listen and understand. These students were eager to hear what we had to say and even thanked us for coming to share our ideas.

Our delegation booth at UC Irvine.

I personally spoke with students of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Saudi Arabian and even Iranian descents. These are conversations I never would have had if I had not been sent on this delegation.

On the other hand, I was exposed to a more hateful and terrifying side of the rhetoric. At around noon on Friday a group of students donning kufiyahs and armed with megaphones began chanting.

“From the river to the sea Palestine will be free!” Or in other words, we support the ethnic cleansing of Jews and the destruction of Israel.

“Intifada, Intifada we support the Intifada!” Put simply, the only solution to this conflict is terror and the murder of innocents.

“Israel, Israel you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” I mentioned earlier how ridiculous such an accusation is.

These were messages of hate and were literal calls to incitement, violence and terror that have become commonplace in the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue on campuses.

Another eye-opening example of the extent of anti-Semitism on campus was embedded in one of the more commonly asked questions by students to my fellow delegates and me. We were asked why the Jewish people deserve their own state.

My immediate response, without delving into the number of Muslim and Christian states around the world, was that the Jews have suffered two millennia of persecution, and the world decided that there should be one country where the Jews can govern themselves and live without fear for being members of their faith.

The immediate follow up question was always, “So why do you think that the Jews have been persecuted for two millennia?” To this I did not have a good answer. How do I explain the existence of anti-Semitism to an 18-year-old college student?

But before I could get a response out of my mouth, the student would answer their own question with a blunt yet shocking answer, and it would always begin with, “A a Jew, I hope you don’t get offended but…” And that’s when the Protocols of the Elders of Zion would come rushing out of the gates: the Jews control the media; the Jews control politics; the Jews own all the money; and the Jews band together for complete world domination.

I was in utter disbelief.

This did not happen once, twice or three times, but occurred on five separate occasions. Anti-Semitism is no longer sidelined; it is now becoming mainstream and people are not afraid to share it publicly on campuses in the United States of America, Israel’s closest ally. Whether it is in political caricatures in the New York Times or in synagogues in San Diego, anti-Semitism is alive and kicking within the most unlikely places.

The thing that struck me the hardest as an Israeli was that we were out there standing up for Israel in a hostile place, and the only other people who were backing us were two representatives from the local Hillel and one of our non-Jewish hosts from the campus Republican group.

Where were the other Jewish students? Where were the ex-pat Israeli students? I am not blaming anyone or pointing fingers at individual groups. And I know that it is much easier to combat these messages as a visitor, whereas fighting the lies while living daily with the people who spread them could mean social suicide.

As a former combat officer in the IDF and as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I know that the day of the trodden-upon Jew is over. We have our own state, a powerful military, a booming economy and cutting edge technologies that are implemented around the world.

We are a modern-day miracle that has shaken off the ashes of the Second World War and has risen to be a globally recognized powerhouse of industry. This sense of empowerment is ingrained in every Israeli from day one. We have to fight our battles by ourselves because nobody is going to fight them for us.

Today, the Jewish people are once again under attack. Whether you are Jewish and pro-Israel or not, anti-Semitism is on the rise. If we continue to show our enemies that we would rather refrain from engaging, as opposed to sharing the truth and spreading messages of peace and hope without fear, we embolden the ones who come forward to destroy us. We can no longer be viewed as the shamed Jew with the lowered head. We are fighters and it is our duty to stand up for ourselves.

Jews of the world, please stand with me and my fellow delegates on this battlefield of truth. Combat the incitement, fight off the hate, and show the world that we are proud of our heritage and that nobody is going to get rid of us.

Israel is the modern anti-Semite’s scapegoat and if we cannot stand up for Israel and show others that we are willing to fight back, then the targeting of Jews for their faith will become even more commonplace.

Jews of the world, the citizens of Israel love you and need you now more than ever. Stand with us and do not be afraid to fight for what is right.

My fellow delegates and I, in front of UC Irvine’s apartheid wall.
About the Author
Ariel was born in Toronto, Cananda and moved to Israel at the age of 12 with his family. He is currently studying Law and Government at the IDC, Herzeliya and is a Fellow in the Argov Program for Leadership and Diplomacy.
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