Smolani and Me: Unpacking our University Image Problem

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My beautiful campus, full of intelligent people who may mean well, but are dead wrong about the Middle East.

You know what I hate? Talking politics with my roommate. I love her to bits – she’s a wonderful person and we get along swimmingly – but she and I disagree on politics, to put it mildly.

Don’t get me wrong – we are both disenchanted with the American and Israeli political systems. We both think that none of the politicians that are up for election are going to bring us any closer to peace. We are both staunch Zionists who want the same thing – a secure and thriving Jewish State. We are both filled with both love and pride for our brothers and sisters in the IDF who do a necessary job of defending our people against legitimate threats. I even watched in awe as she outlasted me in a Middle East debate with a leftist friend of ours from dusk until well past dawn, passionately arguing the same talking points of the Zionist cause I based my Hasbara Guide on, while I lay passed out with exhaustion on the nearby couch.

Our agreement stops there. We both disagree with how we can achieve our common objectives, which are to build and maintain peace and security in a thriving Jewish Israel. She has caught the Bibi-hating fever that has become endemic among Jews in America. I myself am petrified to admit publicly that I see him as the lesser of evils, fully aware that I would immediately become a social pariah in the New York Jewish community. Not too keen on ruining my relationship with my roommate for the rest of the year, I brought up the two things that really bothered me about Bibi. First, his racist comment about Arabs voting in droves (I mean, come on, who says that out loud? That wasn’t smart!) Then, the fact that he made supporting Israel a partisan issue in the United States, putting left-wing democratic voters who support Israel in a really awkward position.

When we were walking to class today, we overheard a group of people speaking Hebrew, clearly Israeli. My roommate made a comment about there being so many Israelis here, wow! I made a joke that every time I think I’ve made an Israeli friend, I find out they voted Meretz. She laughed, but said that it’s true, all her Israeli friends in America are Meretz supporters, many going so far as to return to Israel in the middle of the semester just to vote Meretz. I asked her why she thinks this is the case, and she answered that those who are happy with Bibi stayed in Israel, those who aren’t come to America where they will be under the more left-leaning Obama, whose party’s views are essentially equivalent to Meretz. Likudniks don’t want to leave a country whose government they are happy with to study in a country where Obama rules. Those who wish Meretz was in power are happy to go to America where an equivalent of Meretz is in power.

This explanation made sense, but there was something missing: “But what about the world-class prodigies. The brilliant Israelis who are too smart to limit themselves to the Israeli university system, who are clearly Ivy League material?” A friend of mine, Avi Dorfman, falls into that category. He went to UCLA after turning down offers from all the schools he applied to (MIT and several ivies among them) due to family ties to UCLA, and was ostracized there by his fellow Jews and Israelis, unanimously Meretz/Jstreet supporters. Baffled, horrified, and hurt, he lasted two years in the U.S. and fled the country after his sophomore year. Despite excelling academically and making it on the Dean’s List, the social environment alienated him.

I asked my roommate the question about prodigies with my fingers crossed, hoping it wouldn’t upset her. My curiosity got the best of me.

She responded, “the truly intelligent Israelis know that if Bibi stays in power, people are just going to keep killing each other and nothing is going to be accomplished. The stupid people are the ones who fall for Bibi’s scare tactics, while the intelligent ones know that the only way to make peace is rapprochement with the enemy, rather than alienation.” Bibi’s comment about Arabs voting in droves was a surefire way of alienating his Arab constituents.

Her response got me thinking. Anyone who’s been to Israel knows that there is no more conflict between Israelis and Arabs on Israeli soil than there is between Blacks and Whites in the United States. Many young Israelis (especially the ones who study here before doing their military service) see their Arab Israeli friends as chill, and can’t imagine any issues that could arise with giving Palestinian Arabs the Right of Return because they don’t realize that West Bank and Gazan Palestinians are a whole different deal. It’s a naivety that comes from youth and from aggressive coexistence curricula in the Israeli school system, as well as from assuming the Palestinians who would be returning are just like their chill Arab friends as long as we are nice to them.

I’m not saying coexistence education is a bad thing – far from it! But if given without the proper context, it causes Israelis to not understand the kind of threat they are under. It gives them a false sense of security. It turns them into what we call smolanim kitzionim – extreme leftists.

In North American schools, we are taught the politically correct concept that if we are nice to people they will be nice to us. Of course, to use Plato’s term, this is a “noble lie” that is taught to placate children into playing nice. This concept can be interpreted by sheltered young people as applicable to world conflicts, especially since we are taught that negotiation is always the answer, and violence never is. What they don’t know is that it’s not that simple.

My comment about Bibi being the nail in the coffin that made Israel a partisan issue, causing democrats to feel betrayed by him and by extension the State of Israel, and consequently see Israel as an enemy of what they stand for, sparked a conversation about U.S. politics. “I have reservations about Obama, I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with him” she said. I nodded.

“But I do think he knows what he’s doing. Years from now when the present day is written down in history books, Obama will have the last laugh.”

I chuckled a little bit, asking for clarification, because I can’t possibly disagree more. Obama is already going the way of Carter, who is widely known by democrats and republicans alike as one of the worst presidents of the 20th century. Perhaps she did not notice the similarity, I posited in my head. I asked her if she means domestic or foreign policy, as I would agree with her to some extent strictly with regards to domestic matters. She said both foreign and domestic policy. I said Obama is basically sucking up to the Muslim world and selling out all our values. She said that is the point – his rapprochement is what will be remembered, how he had the wherewithall to reconcile the East with the West, using carefully-executed diplomacy that our previously racist and ethnocentric politicians refused to do. I asked her to elaborate further but, possibly in light of my reaction, she refused, snapping back at me: “I don’t want to talk about it!” Fearful of damaging the otherwise warm and trusting relations between us, I kept quiet for the rest of our walk, hoping she won’t feel any bitterness toward me. She remained silent and mildly irritated.

Later that day I posted on my school’s Israel discussion board asking if there is anyone more right wing than Buji here, and if so please stand up (or PM me if you don’t feel comfortable doing so publicly). It’s been 12 hours and not a single person has come forward, publicly or privately. I honestly don’t think it’s out of fear or shame – after all, I made the extremely brave (and most likely ostracizing) move to volunteer my own beliefs. If someone had posted this I would have been so eager to PM them in response – finally, some water in the desert! Alas, this well is completely dry. The only “Like” and response was from my friend Avi, bless his heart, who wanted to give the illusion to others that people were responding so it’s okay for them to do so as well.

Following the conversation with my roommate and my experience on the message boards, it hit me why today’s youth is so in the dark about this whole situation: because the Israelis who study here, the ambassadors of the country, are nearly all Meretz supporters. How can we expect our Jews, who look to Israelis as their window into the country, their source of truth about the conflict, to be pro-Israel if the Israelis who study here are not even that pro-Israel themselves?

Why do we wonder why the Iran Deal is so popular among today’s Jewish youth, when the vast majority of Israelis on American college campuses support Meretz and thus believe that the Deal is good for Israel?

It’s been almost 24 hours as I complete this article and I still haven’t found a single Likud supporter of the hundred or so Israeli students at Columbia. In fact I haven’t even found anyone to the right of Meretz. (Funny enough the most right wing person I met regarding politics is my roommate, who isn’t right wing at all – she’s just reasonable left instead of radical left!)

I’m still not entirely sure if this is a problem among Israel’s youth in general or a problem of the ones who choose to come to America, although my similar-age Israeli friends seem to indicate the latter. However, I can understand how today’s youth can be disillusioned with Likud.

Let’s face it: We need a new party. I know, I can feel the Israelis here roll their eyes. Another party? Seriously?

We need a party that is socially liberal. The only party that actually gives the middle finger to the rabbinate is Meretz, which is why the youth love them so much, because the mainstream youth hate the rabbinate. We need a party that advocates rights for women and gays, that looks after its less fortunate, and fosters coexistence initiatives between Jews and Arabs in Israel – sure, they might not work but you can’t go wrong with them if they make the youth happy. Of course this party also must be extremely hardliner when it comes to security and asserting ourselves as a state.

At the same time, we also need to stress why we are in this. The older generation that fought in the War of Independence, the Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War know intimately why we fight, and what we are fighting for. The youth have been pushed in the other direction for several reasons. First, they grew up around the devastation surrounding Rabin’s death, their introduction to politics occurring with the demonization of the right wing, as exemplified by the shooter who assassinated Rabin. Then came the Oslo Accords, which, although they aren’t working out now, not only brought a temporary real peace, but also won those involved the Nobel Prize – finally Israel was getting world approval! How great this feels! This must be how we do it! If only we can do something like this again, maybe we can get it right this time! We got them to accept Oslo, we can’t say they won’t accept anything less than the entire land, because look, Oslo, Exhibit A! Even if it was temporary. This means all we have to do is try harder next time.

These youngsters saw Oslo as the best way to create peace. It was done without carnage, without war, and through negotiation. That’s why this generation seems obsessed with negotiation and has an aversion to war, believing it won’t solve any problems.

Although this notion was clearly proven wrong by the time today’s youth hit teenage, their first exposure to politics likely had an impact on them. The international media, which outwardly-looking young, bright Israelis consume like candy, loves to demonize Israel’s penchant for military operations. Disillusioned by the bias against them, these Israelis are desperate to right these perceived “wrongs” and stop the wars once and for all – via what the world loves best, and via what they learned works best: diplomacy.

This demonization of the right that began with the murderer of Yitzchak Rabin and persisted when it was the Left that “solved” the conflict via the Oslo Accords, when the world was temporarily placated during the Gaza disengagement, gives today’s youth a bad taste in their mouth about anything right wing. Since the left love to guilt trip anyone who has any right wing inclinations by making them out to be bad people and misrepresenting what they actually stand for, impressionable youth are more likely to fall prey.

Hey – come to think of it, that new party I was telling you about, the one that is socially liberal and hardliner on foreign policy? That party already exists. It’s called Likud. Although you’d never know this based on how the party is demonized time and time again by the radical left as extreme right.

How do we fix this? We need to teach our youth the nature of the best: cultural awareness education! I will describe that in depth in Part 2.

 

 

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