A university student’s greatest fear should be that they get called out for browsing Buzzfeed in a lecture, not that they might be outed as an Israeli. But, in 2017, spurning somebody solely for their nationality is apparently fair game amongst the student left.
A brief introduction is necessary to explain my personal experience with this matter. My father is an Israeli and I, although having spent a considerable chunk of my life in Tel Aviv, am only a British citizen.
I do not hold an Israeli passport, have never joined the Israeli army and would describe my Hebrew as being conversational at best. Regardless, this connection to Israel has, for the entirety of my life, marked me out as being ‘Israeli’ amongst my peers.
Whenever the Israel-Palestine conflict has come up, knowingly or not, my friends have always looked at me and made an awkward grimace as if to say ‘let’s not offend the Israeli’. It was simply a case of my friends overestimating the strength of my patriotism – but it was nothing to be annoyed by.
Having grown up in North West London, and having mixed with many Jews, I never felt particularly conscious of my Israel connection and never felt a need to mask it.
However, when I arrived in Edinburgh for university, I came across the very real disdain felt towards anybody with any connection to Israel. Left-wing groups at the university openly berate anybody who so much says the word ‘Israel’ unless they immediately proceed to castigate it and call it a genocidal regime.
Tensions were particularly high in April 2016 when the student body of the University of Edinburgh voted by 62 percent to support the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israel. The university’s board of trustees refused to endorse the decision for fears of targeting minority groups. This fear of minority targeting was rooted in the actions of those who were vehemently anti-Israel. Instead of engaging with debate, the campaigners were vested in attacking and demonising anybody associated with Israel.
Why do I think this? I think this because I was treated differently for being Israeli, and this was before my views upon the Israel-Palestine conflict had ever even touched upon.
At this time of heightened tension, many assumptions were made about me based on my national heritage. ‘Friends’ in the hyper-left of student politics tried to distance themselves from me, or so it seemed, to avoid association with a ‘Zionist’. A group of Jordanian students, many of whom I had been friends with, no longer spoke to me after seeing that I had been on a trip to Israel to visit my family that year. Several offensive jokes were made about my father being connected to Mossad. On top of this, I also received a couple of anti-semitic comments on my articles about how I was “supporting the genocide of the Palestinian people”.
All of these attacks and attempts at ostracisation were harsh, there is no doubting it. What made them harsher, however, was that they were directed at me before I had even had the chance to vocalise my views on the conflict.
A national heritage which I have no control over was being used to target and undermine me, unashamedly and unrelentingly, by a so-called group of social justice warriors. I was being attacked for an identity, instead of engaged with on my political views.
What makes this even more frightening is how normalized this has become in British universities and how unevenly it is applied. Conflating nationality with an approval of government policy seems to be almost an exclusively Israeli-targeted activity.
It would seem bizarre to blame any old Brit for Brexit before their viewpoints on the matter had even been looked in to. A more extreme example – can you imagine a scenario when a Chinese student might be demonised for what is going on in Tibet before the issue had even been brought up in conversation? It seems unlikely.
Yet, somehow, this sort of targeting is fair game against Israeli students and, consequently, it has made being associated with Israel a difficult and scary position for me to be in.
You’ll notice that I am yet to take a political stance on the Israel-Palestine issue. This is because I feel as though I should not be obliged to – right now or, for that matter, ever. I should not, more so than any nationality, perpetually be ready to fight for or against a country’s government policy.
In a time when students are rightfully expressing their outrage at Trump’s Muslim Ban for dehumanising populations of certain nations and for creating unfounded monolithic and xenophobic views for them, it seems hypocritical that it is acceptable for similarly monolithic ideological standpoints to be burdened on Israelis.
Admittedly, the conflict is one of the longest-standing and most contentious conflicts in recent history and I can understand why people might be interested to know the viewpoints of people who might hold a personal perspective issue. What is worrying, however, is that there is the underlying assumption that all Israelis can do no more than mindlessly follow and support the Israeli government or, alternatively, must be aggressively and continually vocally against it to be free from castigation by their peers.
Being forced into this position – whereby I have to choose and engage in a polarising discourse – has been distressing for me. My other viewpoints on a wide variety of issues become delegitimised by an angry body of students who can’t see beyond their Zionist caricature of me, friendships have been tarnished by unfounded assumptions and something I have no control over has become an acceptable target point on me.
In a truly tolerant environment, which most university communities at least claim they aspire to be, nobody should be discriminated against for their background. As an ‘Israeli’, I do feel as though I have been discriminated against for something which is, at least to me, no more than a little part of what makes me who I am. If we are to truly engage in peaceful and productive discourse and we are to converse with each other as individuals not mindless units of a nation, we cannot, in any cases, allow our political battles to be based on deeply prejudiced stereotypes.