I’m an Israeli Jew. Yes, someone named “Yinon” who’s never used his real name at Starbucks finally admitted it. My parents raised me speaking Hebrew, I put ketchup on my rice and I sometimes argue with inanimate objects because I’m so used to arguing. So yes, I’m biased, and yes, I have a vested interest in the Israeli-Palestinian discussion on campus, and yes, I’m hairy. And I’m here to talk.
Before I set out to college, people tried to warn me about UC Davis. They told me that it’s virulently anti-Semitic and that I’d be harassed or threatened for supporting Israel. I was undaunted. I told them I couldn’t wait to leave my heavily Israeli town in the Bay Area and meet people with different backgrounds and perspectives. I was excited to have my opinions challenged.
This past Monday, I helped coordinate a speech by George Deek, a Christian Arab Israeli citizen who grew up in Jaffa, Israel. Organizing this event was part of my job at a pro-Israel campus organization. Deek is a grad student at Georgetown University who previously worked as a diplomat for the State of Israel in Nigeria and Norway. I expected an anti-Israeli presence there. I expected there would be students who held different opinions than my own. I didn’t think we’d all sit on the floor after and hold hands and sing songs together, but I did expect the kind of mature, civil discussion you’d find at a world-renowned university.
A mature, civil discussion did occur. But not before 30 protesters interrupted the speaker by standing up, screaming at everyone in the room and at the speaker, and invoking the murder of Israeli Jews in the name of political struggle. When kids your age call for an “intifada,” it’s triggering. An “intifada” means a violent uprising, and refers to the First and Second Intifadas – terror waves against innocent Israeli civilians. Suicide bombings of cafes. Stabbings of pregnant women and elderly grandparents. That’s what they were chanting before leaving the room.
For a second, I didn’t care about their reasoning. They called for my family to die. Their intentions didn’t matter. Their actions did.
But what hurt most was what they didn’t do. They didn’t go back to their seats. They didn’t stay to ask questions. They just walked out of the room. It’s not even a question for me: that was by far the most hurtful thing they could have done to my community.
Say what you will about Israel. Seriously. Say it: to me, to members of my community, tell us how you feel about Israel. And we’ll tell you how we feel about your perspectives. And just like we listen to you, we want you to listen to us. Not to agree with us, but to process what we have to say, to understand our narrative just like we want to try to understand yours.
No one is claiming that Israel is perfect. I have a lot of feelings on what can and should be changed in Israeli society. But there’s such a huge difference between criticizing an entity on an intellectual level and stepping into another community’s space and screaming for their murder. Neither side grows from that. Both sides regress. We all lose when one side plugs their ears, stamps their feet, and throws a temper tantrum.
But, you know what?
I want the protesters to come back.
In his speech, George Deek said that one of his biggest frustrations so far was that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been seen as, “a zero-sum game, where one side has to win and the other side has to lose. History is not a football game. When one side loses, the other side loses, and when one side wins, the other side wins.”
I didn’t plan the event thinking anti-Israel activists would leave the event shouting “Am Yisrael Chai!” nor did I want that to happen. I planned the event because I welcomed a conversation, so my community could grow, so their community could grow and so both sides of the most divisive issue in the UC Davis community could grow. So we both could win, for once.
I’m not giving up. The invitation is still waiting.
YINON RAVIV is a second-year communication major and the Grinspoon-Morningstar Fellow for the Israel on Campus Coalition. He welcomes discussion, feedback and compliments at firstname.lastname@example.org.