A couple years ago, I got involved in what is now my life’s passion and what I am convinced, it’s purpose. I began the process to start an Israel advocacy group here at the University of Vermont. Two years on and Catamounts Supporting Israel is up and running, sticking up for the tiny yet influential Jewish state. Throughout the first semester of the club’s active life, after being recognized by the Student government, we faced some massive conflict. After the horrific massacre of Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I thought it appropriate to show some Jewish presence, and have the school stand in solidarity with its massive Jewish population. I submitted a request to the school to hang the Israeli flag outside the student center as the most recognizable modern symbol of Judaism.
Once the flag was up, things heated up. A J-Street petition attempted to get the flag removed, and Students for Justice in Palestine attacked us, accusing that we only put up the flag as a political statement, an attempt to springboard off a tragedy to get more support for Israel. I faced a week of sleepless nights as I answered email after email, text after text about why I did what I did, and if I would take the flag down voluntarily. I was blamed by professional staff, who said that I fueled more conflict, even though my intentions were good. I was villainized for standing up for Jews.
It showed what getting Israel’s name involved with anything does on a modern liberal campus in America. Allegedly an “apartheid state,” Israel is routinely demonized as an oppressive, racist country. Bashing Israel with false or vastly exaggerated claims is intersected with being a democrat, alongside progressive movements like Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo emergence, both of which have demonized Israel supporters. The Women’s March even banned Israeli flags at past events and the Israel-supporting feminists who held them. These movements and their values are massively present on campus, and for good cause of course. But so strong is the baseless hatred of Israel that I often find my fellow Jews joining in promoting the same sort of anti-Semitic tropes that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was called out for in recent controversy.
I’m graduating soon, and it has been a wild ride for me here. I find myself weighed down by the stress of having to be on the defensive all the time, rarely finding myself in the same room on campus as someone else who sees the true light that Israel brings to the world in its technology, beautiful zest for life, fairness in democracy and strength. Rarely are the common American values that Israel holds recognized by my fellow students.
But there are breaks. For the past two years, I have been able to take a needed vacation from the madness and travel to the AIPAC policy conference in Washington D.C. I get to see the contrast in attitude towards Israel, and I am able to appreciate the great things that are being done at a legislative level to ensure the United States and Israel maintain a strong alliance, and benefit from each other’s shared desires to be free, democratic states. It is refreshing. As three Democrat and three Republican congresspeople spoke in united support for Israel on the AIPAC stage in the grand convention hall that hosts AIPAC’s 18,000 attendees, I was filled with an indescribable pride. The bubble of anti-Semitism that is the modern liberal campus was far away at that time.
Israel will be just fine and there will continue to be brave young Jews who stand up for the Jewish state on campus. My four years here have hardened my debate skills, forced me to back what I believe, and made me stronger. Fighting for Israel has given me a career path, I am a better person because of it, and I wouldn’t have done it any differently.