Making Sense of the Irrational

Why I went to defend Israel – on an “Israeli Soldiers Stories” speaking tour

A 24 year-old Israeli going to the US not to travel, shop or even study – but to educate about Israel.  In my hotel room instead of new  shoes, chocolate or show tickets – I had informational brochures on Israel and I brushed up on my facts.  After two weeks speaking in college campuses in the U.S. and listening to false accusations of Israel as an apartheid state or that the IDF is a militia full of  monsters, I realized how important it is to challenge lies and to let people know how much Israeli society does want peace. In what other country in the world is there such a real need to explain the obvious truth of the reality? This hateful rhetoric accepted as fact on many college campuses in the States made me question sanity.

Is this normal??

hotel room

I traveled the United States as part of the “Israeli Soldiers’ Stories” tour, a program run by StandWithUs, a non-profit, Israel education organization. It is an innovative program featuring a diverse group of reserve duty Israeli college students. We discussed our backgrounds, interests and life in Israel.  We shared personal experiences about our service in the Israel Defense Forces, upholding the IDF’s strict moral code in the face of an enemy that hides behind its civilians. We put a human face to the IDF uniform.

I originally signed up because I felt that Israel was being misrepresented, and therefore delegitimized and even demonized, on various American campuses. It was an honor and a privilege to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It is by far the most moral army in the world and has a unique framework which upholds abnormally high standards, that we enforce upon ourselves. Its existence is necessary, due to our less-than-friendly neighborhood in the Middle East. But our extraordinary army has taken upon itself to do more than defend in military operations. In practice – it educates, instills values and ethics, and teaches us to be moral adults. It is a commitment where we Israelis pause the normal course of our lives for two to three years so we can do something for our country, and we’re proud of it. That is why I felt the need to speak out when this institution, which raises us young Israelis according to a beautiful moral code we have succeeded in implementing in practice, is disproportionately attacked.

During my tour, one of the StandWithUs staff members showed me a flyer of two young Israelis who also happened to be touring the United States speaking about Israel. However, this pair had a completely opposite agenda: they were apparently roaming around the country speaking about awful acts that have been allegedly committed by Israel.

I would have absolutely supported this, if its sole purpose was raising awareness of negative situations in order to better them. Except this is not the case for one simple reason: their tour is not about these negative cases as bad apples in the batch, this is a demonization of the whole bushel. Instead of running these cases through the appropriate Israeli legal system in an effective way, they choose to theatrically air their dirty laundry abroad.

Can I even begin to explain how hurtful, how unfair that is? I spent three and a half years of my life in the IDF working to help underprivileged populations. I was in charge of the welfare of combat soldiers. I later on became an officer, voluntarily, wanting to continue this meaningful work. I identified difficulties these disparate people were dealing with, and provided them with the necessary support, regardless if they were Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Bedouin, Druze and more. I dedicated myself to community service, to caring for others, to putting them before my own needs. My service was meaningful, moving, and emotional. I am a better person for it. Raised in a stable home, I never experienced real hardship. Serving in the IDF taught me to put others before me, to fight for the rights of others, to care deeply and to do something about it. All this, I will take with me in the future.

I have been asked many times why I bothered to fly 15 hours to a different country to teach people about Israel and its army. I am asked if this is because I feel guilty. This is a brilliant question, and it signified an eye-opening moment that really clarified for me what I was here for.

I went for the exact opposite reason. I am so PROUD of what I have achieved in the army that I came to share it. If I felt there was anything to feel ashamed about, I would never put myself in a situation like that. I was exposed to young students who passionately spend their academic years claiming that Israel is a baby-murdering state. I could not for the life of me find one other state that had student groups established solely to condemn it. Where would I ever have the confidence to fly to a different continent to face and answer honestly any question that was thrown at me? Or, the audacity to speak about my feelings, my personal story, in such a public way? You only get that kind of bravery when you know you have the truth on your side.

Do I believe blindly that the IDF is automatically perfect in every single decision it makes? No. Is Israel the most perfect country in the world? Maybe it should be, by the unique standards that it hopes to achieve. But I could never call myself an independently thinking person if I didn’t exercise my democratic right as a citizen in the Israeli democracy to criticize. I do, every day. The IDF makes mistakes, as any military might do. Mistakes should be remedied and rectified in the strictest way possible. But, is there a huge abyss of a gap between healthy criticism on specific cases – and the disproportionate massive attack on Israel as a whole? My answer would be yes.

This is definitely not normal…

For more info about the speaking tour:

About the Author
Ilana Sherrington was born in Israel, to parents making Aliyah from England. Currently a student in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studying International-Relations and Media, she has led many initiatives in Public Diplomacy and Advocacy. Serving as a First-Lieutenant (Ktzinat Tash), in charge of the financial, social and medical welfare of soldiers and an instructor in the officers’ course, she still volunteers for IDF Lone Soldiers. She headed the English-speaking team in her University's Situation room during operation Pillar of Cloud (battling Israel de-legitimization) and heads the #BringBackOurBoys Jerusalem Center, is a Model UN Vice-President and studies in the Jewish Statesmanship Center. She has led many Jewish Agency educational programs. She graduated the Israel StandWithUs fellowship, and participates in the MENA Leaders for Change program, joining Israelis and Palestinians in studying negotiation skills.