Living as a Pro-Israel Minority in an American University

As a young Israeli-American attending a University of California I one-day dreamed of the day that I would be living in the holy land, the great country of Israel that I have tirelessly and relentlessly been advocating for since my junior years. The good fight as they call it, has never been easy and has had its lawful ups and downs. The conversations and events that I have been a part of have had dramatic effects in how I view the various issues and conflicts that Israel deals with on a daily basis, and have shook the foundations and principles personally and politically with which I live my life and take with me to the holy land of Israel.

A  young freshman just starting out University, I was completely oblivious to the environment that I had just entered and the attitude that students had towards Israel because I have always been surrounded by voices and ideas that portray Israel as a shining beacon in an otherwise bleak situation in the Middle East. I knew that Israel had its share of controversies but I always figured that no state is perfect, no matter how democratic it is. Within the first few months of acquainting myself with the people I am going to spend my university years with, I made the eerie discovery that as an Israeli-Jewish-American, I am now the minority against a large Pro-Palestinian majority that because of my views towards Israel and the connection I have towards it, would have to face daily attacks to my beliefs and nature.

It was hard. Being one of the only few Israel supporters in a large anti-Israel community was extremely difficult to cope with, and made me constantly question my beliefs and what my home away from home meant to me and what I was willing to go through for it. In the end, I found the strength to endure what others around me did not – to fight for Israel’s legitimization, to stand up to those who have been so deeply brainwashed by their own surroundings and media.

I started by going to my local Hillel and expressing outrage that such an environment persists to exist without any combat or protest, and was directed to infamous advocacy organizations such as StandWithUs, AIPAC and the ICC (Israel on Campus Coalition). I was immediately drawn into the facts that these organizations put out through their brochures and after a couple of months had finally been accepted to represent StandWithUs for my school; with which they provided me funds, materials, and motivation to carry out my mission to give Israel a legitimate voice to defend itself.

Throughout the next few years, I was caught in daily arguments with the anti-Israel majority; whether it be a normal day walking to class or through their official anti-Israel events such as Israel Apartheid Week. No matter the circumstance, I always felt the urge to stand up for Israel since nobody else around me was doing it, and even though there were many days I felt as if my efforts were leading to zilch I still felt that I was impacting a small minority and more importantly myself. Let me say this though, there were more bad days than good days; mostly involved getting spit on or getting insulted for being Israeli and supporting an “occupationist regime”, but I knew that all of this hard work would pay off some day and knew in my fiber what Israel stood for myself and the Jewish people.

I realized though soon enough that living as a minority in a hostile environment, one aimed to make me feel like I didn’t belong, led me to feel connected to the Jews that have been vying for a homeland for hundreds of years. The years in history where the Jewish people have been kicked out by many countries throughout Europe and the Middle East for being a minority with different values and religion is something that I realized was an experience I am somewhat going through. Sure it wasn’t the exact same thing; my life was never in danger and I was never going to get kicked out of a university for being Jewish, but the feeling and constant emotional stress that I felt from my community was what I felt those same Jews felt when they were walking around in their respective communities.

The culmination of my experience at my school was in my senior year when the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) movement finally made its way to my campus. I was terrified of the idea that this movement was most likely going to claim victory in my school as it had in many others, and it would become another headline for the anti-Israel movement to be proud of. By this time, I worked incredibly hard to establish a pro-Israel movement by founding the official pro-Israel organization and motivating students that Israel needs a voice no matter the situation, and how important it is for the school. For every BDS meeting and debate that took place before the official student government vote, the pro-Israel side was exceedingly outnumbered by Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students that have proved to be extremely organized. The closer we got to the voting date, the more the school debated about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was thrown into the school spotlight.

When it was finally the day to vote on the BDS movement, which was near the end of my senior year, the voting room was packed full of pro, anti, and neutral students and faculty. I had no words, speechless at the idea of this movement passing before I leave, and strikingly worried for what would become of the school after I leave in regards to Israel and the Jewish community. To my utter shock and awe, the movement failed to garner a majority vote and was shot down by my student government. For the first time in all the years that I have attended my school, I felt not a victim of circumstance that could not change, but attitudes towards Israel changing. A shining beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak situation, all of the pro-Israel supporters were jubilant with the verdict. I finally understood not only what it felt like to be a minority as a Jew in a hostile environment, but what it must have felt like when the community supported the Jewish people, in the case of the international community voting to establish the State of Israel through the United Nations. Sure, it wasn’t a 100% vote and there is still strong opposition to the verdict, just like Israel faced and is facing today, but it nonetheless was a momentous achievement in my collegiate career.

My experience living as a minority on an issue that identifies who I am, the subject of Israel defined my collegiate career, and looking back would not have had it gone any other way. My trials led me to appreciate what it means to live as the majority. Now interning in the Civil Society Affairs Division of Public Diplomacy in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ideas and newly found principles through my experience living as a minority and constantly having to fight for what I believed in, is something I take with me towards my future.

My message is simple and might sound a little clich√©: don’t give up hope, no matter how dire of a situation it might look like, because if the history of the Jewish people give any indication of the will power to fight through anything, it’s that no matter the environment, your ideals and beliefs can prosper if you are willing to stand up for them.

About the Author
Eidan Schahaf is a 24 year old Los Angeles born Israeli who completed his bachelor's for Political Science & International Affairs at the University of California, Riverside and has worked with StandWithUs, AIPAC, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Recently released from the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, and currently pursuing a MA in Government, Diplomacy and Conflict Studies at the IDC.