It’s my last year of undergraduate schooling in the United States, and my spring break starts March 17th, but I’ll spend vacation working. I’m going home to Israel, and while I will be enjoying the beaches and cafes and visiting tourist sites, I’ll primarily be acting as a guide for 50 University of Chicago Masters in Public Policy students.
None of the students have ever been to Israel before. Trips like these are intended to build a “greater understanding of and appreciation for Israel among present and future leaders.” The trip will explore multiple facets of Israeli society, including the settler narrative, through a visit to Ma’aleh Adumim.
When I go to Ma’ale Adumim, I will not be spending any money. In fact, if I weren’t leading this trip, I wouldn’t be going to the settlements at all. A part of my personal pro-Israel, anti-occupation politics includes not buying goods from the settlements — a choice made by many who believe that the settlement movement is endangering Israel’s future and perpetuating an unjust occupation.
Now, thanks to a just-passed Israeli Knesset bill restricting entry visas and residency rights for foreign nationals who call for a boycott of Israel, or of “areas under its control,” including Israeli settlements in the West Bank, other people like me may soon be banned from any travel to Israel at all. I am leading a pro-Israel trip with the purpose of producing future pro-Israel political world leaders, but if not for my ability to enter on an Israeli passport, Israel might try to keep me out of the country entirely. All because of my anti-settlement views.
I’m leading this trip because I’m a Hebrew-speaking sabra, born in Ramat Gan. I come from a proud line of Jewish Israelis who fought for the establishment and preservation of Israel. For my family, this has meant lovingly supporting our country, while simultaneously working to improve the state and help our suffering neighbors.
My great-grandfather fought in Palestine for the British Jewish Legion during WWI, with the conviction that establishing a Jewish presence in Palestine would aid in the creation of a Jewish state. He was also a proud socialist involved in Poalei Zion in New York. My great-grandfather did not see any contradiction in his pro-Israel and left-wing beliefs, and neither does my family now.
During the Gaza 2014 war, my aunt helped in an effort to provide baby formula to children in Gaza, and now she is proudly watching her sons enter the IDF. When I was 6-months-old, my parents brought me to a rally celebrating the Oslo Accords, the rally where Rabin was assassinated, and afterwards continued to raise me in leftist spaces. I am involved with J Street U and other pro-peace groups in the US because through pro-Israel, anti-occupation work, I can love Israel the way I was taught, in a way consistent with my values and political beliefs.
Thanks to this bill, many American Jews and pro-Israel, pro-peace activists in the United States around the world may not be as lucky as I am. As an Israeli citizen, I won’t be banned from my own country — at least not until some other, far more restrictive bill is passed. Moreover, as someone who is not a Palestinian living under occupation, I am not at risk of losing my life or my livelihood because of nonviolent resistance. I do not wait for hours at checkpoints to enter Israel for work, sometimes being turned away.
I am a proud Israeli, I support a settlement boycott, and I am not alone. If Israel is keeping out non-citizens who object to Israeli policy through nonviolent means, what’s next? Deporting much of the Israeli left? This bill isn’t actually about defeating the BDS Movement or countering delegitimization of Israel: it’s about defending settlements while silencing voices like mine.
The bill equates being pro-Israel with being pro-settlements, and implies that critics who understand that settlements put Israelis in serious danger are not welcome. We’ve seen the Israeli left threatened and slandered for trying to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, all while settlement expansion continues to threaten the only Jewish state. This bill continues the trend.
I am bringing 50 future world leaders to Israel in a week, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell them about the state of Israel’s democracy. I want the students to love Israel like I do, but I can’t hide that the current government values settlements over peace, or lie about my fear that Israel will one day declare I’m too left-wing to be an Israeli.
I need to show them that Israel is more than this bill, that there is a thriving, pro-Israel pro-peace community working to make sure Israel is the best that it can be. I need other liberal Israelis to work with me on this, because we are all under attack — and none of us can succeed alone.