It’s a daunting task to approach a conversation on politics with a view so starkly different from your counterpart. When it comes to discussing Israel, this tension doubles.
I’m a Conservative Jew from North Carolina, raised by two rabbis. I’ve spent considerable time in both Israel and the occupied West Bank, and am an alumna of Seeds of Peace and Kivunim Gap Year, programs that promote dialogue between Israelis, Palestinians and diaspora Jews. From these experiences, I’ve found that Israel and my Jewish identity are inextricably linked. At the same time, I’ve learned that my relationship with Israel is fraught and messy and extremely nuanced.
From the moment I arrived at Tufts University, I was eager to meet other Jewish students with varying opinions on Israel who could engage in conversation and lead with genuine curiosity. I heard horror stories from friends at other schools who encountered a close-minded culture within their Jewish communities. And while I, too, had experiences with peers who turned well-intentioned conversations into bad-faith debates, I strove to find a meaningful Jewish community that made me feel encouraged and seen rather than defeated and overlooked.
I was hardly alone in this desire. Many Jewish spaces on college campuses are failing to provide adequate opportunities for students to learn and grow in their relationship with Israel. Today, Israel faces a political and ideological crisis. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets for months on end, protesting Netanyahu’s judicial ‘reform’ while escalating violence in the occupied West Bank has exacted a tragic human cost among Palestinians and Israelis.
A 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of college-aged American Jews are optimistic that Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist. Nevertheless, the loudest voices about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on college campuses are those who do not believe in a future where Israelis and Palestinians can live beside one another in peace.
We must create and maintain campus communities for those who do believe in a peaceful future for both Israelis and Palestinians because if they are not able to find a home for their beliefs, students risk sliding into apathy or extremism – trends that have only perpetuated the disastrous status quo between Israelis and Palestinians.
When confronting the topic of Israel, Jewish students don’t have to relinquish their relationship with the Jewish state or express unconditional support for a government that doesn’t share their values. I prefer to embrace a critical – yet meaningful – connection to the land, the people, and our Judaism, one that allows me to explore my ideological and political beliefs, encourages questions and affirms that criticism of the Israeli government’s actions and policies is necessary to the long-term safety of both Israelis and Palestinians.
I am lucky to have found a home in the Jewish community at Tufts through J Street U. Here, I don’t have to feel ashamed of or hide my opinions. J Street U understands that Jewish college students can be a part of the solution if they are allowed to embrace both their desire for Israel’s existence and Palestinian rights. College is a place where you can interrogate your own beliefs and allow your worldview to evolve and mature, and J Street U has given me the tools to do that.
At Tufts J Street U, we’ve hosted teach-ins and discussions about different aspects of occupation and even sponsored a Shabbat for Peace with Tufts Hillel. We phone-banked during the 2022 midterms and tabled in our campus center, calling on Members of Congress to support a letter opposing the Netanyahu government’s aggressive settlement expansion in the West Bank and anti-democratic judicial overhaul. Within four days, we helped secure over 20 signers.
Now more than ever, I feel that my connection to Israel and the urgent necessity to end the occupation are closely intertwined. Meeting with my Israeli and Palestinian friends from Seeds of Peace, walking around East Jerusalem, hanging out with my peers during my gap year in the Old City and getting Arabic coffee: these are some of my most treasured memories.
Yet, the occupation and the far-right Israeli government’s actions make it increasingly hard for my Israeli and Palestinian friends to live in peace, go to school and achieve their dreams as I’m able to do in the United States. If American Jewish communities deprive Jewish students the opportunity to explore their Jewish identity, learn about the conflict, organize against the occupation and meet other students who want to do the same, they risk losing the power of a generation committed to peace.