Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Many Colors of Israel

The other week was a hard one for me. Back in the States it is known as “Israel Apartheid Week” on many college campuses. At UCLA, Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group, usually sets up a giant cardboard wall on Bruin Walk, the main thoroughfare through campus, listing statistics on Palestinian deaths and talking to anyone who stops about Israel’s crimes against humanity. This year, being in Israel, I didn’t have to walk past that huge wall and all the hatred, misrepresentation, and outright lies it presented to me.

Instead, I was faced with a new Facebook group “UCLA Divest”, which served to rally students around a new divestment resolution it was putting to a vote with USAC, the UCLA student government.

This post is not about that resolution, or the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I posted on that group’s Facebook page, and my own, my opinions about that.

This post is about something a friend of mine, a strong supporter of UCLA Divest, said on her Facebook page that really hurt me. Well, honestly everything she said really hurt me, and I can’t see our friendship lasting if she believes those things about me and my people. But after USAC voted down, 7 to 5, the UCLA Divest resolution, she responded on Facebook by saying she was glad to see all the black and brown people supporting the resolution against all the “white Zionists” who opposed divestment from Israel.

“White Zionists.”

Apparently all Zionists are white. Everyone who supports Israel and thinks the Jewish people deserve a country of their own are white. Well I’m here to tell you what should come as no surprise—Zionists come in absolutely every color under the sun.

From what I could see of the discussion happening at UCLA around the resolution, pro-divestment people were talking about it in very racial terms. The black and brown people against the white “privilege-blinded” students. Divestment from Israel was linked with supporting minority rights of every kind. Linking Palestinian rights with other minority groups is not new, and I don’t think it’s uncalled for, as they are a minority whose rights need to be protected.

But by calling all Zionists white, this girl and everyone who agrees with her are negating the rich cultural heritage of Israel.

Israel is a country of immigrants. Yes, initially from Europe, especially after the Holocaust and the few, weak, Jewish survivors of concentration camps had nowhere else to go. But also from all over the Middle East, including Yemen, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria…basically anywhere you can think of. And let’s not forget the huge Ethiopian Jewish community of Israel.

Jews are found all over the world. And they are not just white.

Israel is full of restaurants selling food from all these various exotic places. There are Sephardi synagogues and a Sephardi religious political party (Shas). Just last Saturday night I was at a music venue in Talpiyot with some Israeli friends to listen to a Yemeni band (who were amazing, might I add. I hugely recommend Ensemble Yemeni to all—a personal endorsement by the way, not related to the Ministry).

Tonight after work I’m meeting up with a friend from my program to try an Ethiopian restaurant nearby that gets good reviews—my first taste of Ethiopian food!

Ethiopians celebrating the Sigd Holiday in Jerusalem last year

Everywhere I go, everything I do, everyone I meet and everything I see shows me how wrong these people in Los Angeles, and around the world are, who say things others tell them without reflecting on their veracity, or their true consequences.

The “whiteness” of Zionists is just one of the many points this girl made that are just flat-out wrong. Not arguable. Wrong.

When I lived in America and attended UCLA I was scared to speak up against these people with their big wall and their statistics and their passionate hatred. I thought—maybe I’m wrong and everything they’re saying is right. But after living in Israel, visiting the West Bank, speaking with Palestinians and Israelis in both places, politicians and civilians, I know that I have seen for myself. That my opinions are based on information much more real than their pamphlets. These people, the people shouting about racist Zionism, these people have nothing to do with the peace talks going on right now. They have nothing to do with the Palestinians I spoke to who just want to work and live their lives with their families.

And now Israel Apartheid Week is over for another year and the divestment resolution got voted down again at UCLA (although the University of California regents have already stated they will not divest from Israel, even though other campuses like UC Berkeley and UCSD have approved such resolutions). UCLA campus climate is in tatters after the vitriol of the 12-hour debate surrounding the resolution.

And I am off to enjoy some Ethiopian food before going to a free salsa dancing lesson, with my friends from all over the world. In Jerusalem. And that is all I have to say about that. 

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