Do Not Fear the College Campus

The summer of my junior year of high school, I debated whether to fly to Israel and enlist in the Israel Defense Forces, or join the majority of my peers and attend college. After watching videos of campus protests, of BDS votes, and of the verbal, and sometimes physical brawls between the anti-Israel and pro-Israel groups, I decided to forgo my plans to fight as a soldier and instead go to college to fight as an advocate. I came to the University of Michigan, perhaps overly optimistically, with a mission: change the conversation on my college campus and fight the misinformation, the anti-Semitism, and the hostile dialogue.

As both a proud Jew and an advocate for a country I love and regard as a light in this dark world ravaged by terrorism and evil, I felt isolated on this campus. Aware of the ideological battlefield I was about to enter, I replayed the videos of protests and aggressive shouting matches in my head as I hesitated to fasten my “Wolverines for Israel” pin on my backpack, and I feared judgment when I cautiously mentioned that my dad was born and raised in Israel. Despite this initial discomfort, I had an inkling of hope that I could affect change. Last week, however, I felt utterly helpless.

On Thursday, five innocent lives were taken, either by stabbing or by gunshot, by Palestinian terrorists. One of these victims was an eighteen-year-old Jewish American who was shot while voluntarily delivering food to lone soldiers and who many Jewish Michigan students knew. On the same day, I walked outside of my lecture hall and onto the Diag, the heart of Michigan’s campus, to see an “Apartheid Wall” and a mock checkpoint with an intimidating student dressed as a soldier, yelling at me as I walked by. Later, I attended class on Israel’s history taught by a professor who claims that Jews invented religious persecution, that the efforts and tactics of the terrorists of the Intifadas parallel those of the Maccabees, and that the recent terrorism in Israel is just a legitimate reaction to Israeli “oppression and occupation.” By the end of the day, I felt utterly powerless, afraid, and alone.

The dialogue on this campus and universities across the United States is always split between hostile accusers and defenders. The sense of pride that I see both in Israel and in my community at home is missing and hushed out of fear of confrontation. I want to be able to express my pride and love for Israel as a fundamental part of my identity, but the friends I have made in college who share this passion feel uncomfortable celebrating Israel like other religious and ethnic groups celebrate their heritage on this campus. This atmosphere of intolerance and obsession with supposed victimhood is intimidating; instead of being proud to openly support Israel, I, and many others, find ourselves either defensive or forcibly silenced.

Many college students try to remedy misinformation and bias media coverage by arguing back, but students who are indifferent to the issue only see a constant verbal, and sometimes physical clash between the periodically active pro-Israel students and the constantly loud and accusatory anti-Israel groups. They hear one side screaming “racists” or “oppressors,” and the other side countering “self-defense” or “humane.” Any sense of love-of-country and pride is lost: the conversation now boils down to complicated political and humanitarian struggles.

Fear of celebrating your heritage, however, only exacerbates the hostility. The dialogue about Israel does not have to be built upon fear or upon frustration that others cannot see the Israel you see. Despite the helplessness I felt the other day, I cannot be apprehensive to voice my identity and neither should anyone else.

So, here is my challenge to those who feel silenced, afraid, or alone: change the conversation. Do not be scared to be proud of your identity or your opinions, and do not let adverse, loudmouthed student groups keep you from celebrating a culture, people, and history you cherish. Fearlessly wear Hebrew writing on your shirt. Fearlessly pronounce “I Stand with Israel.” Fearlessly proclaim your love for falafel, Mizrahi music, the breathtaking beaches of Tel Aviv, upbeat Israeli dances, revolutionary Israeli technology, and the vibrant Israeli people. Be proud of Israel’s glorious history dating back 3,000 years, its acceptance for all religions and ethnicities, and the many overtures it has made to achieve peace with its neighbors. If we do not let fear keep us silent, we can change the atmosphere on campus. We can celebrate Israel and redefine the country as a part of the identity of many students rather than a country that must be constantly scrutinized and defended.

About the Author
Talia Katz was born and raised by her American mother and Israeli father in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended the Weber School where she was president of the Israel Action Fellows club, and she is also a Camp Ramah Darom alumna. Currently, she is a student at the University of Michigan in the Honors Program at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
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