NOTE: The following thoughts are my opinions and I do not claim to represent any organization or individual.
“Why do you care so much about Israel?” “Most Jews don’t care about Israel this much, I don’t get why you do?” “Don’t you care about other issues?”
These are all questions I have consistently been asked by political activists of all stripes throughout my involvement in politics. I think it is a fair set of questions to ask if one is naturally curious about people with seemingly one-issue focuses. However, there are also people who ask these questions as a form of criticism. As if by asking me these questions they will get me to stop talking.
Unfortunately, for that latter group of people, I will not stop talking. But, for that first category I would like to provide some answers.
First, I would like to shatter the myth that Pro-Israel advocates are one-issue activists or voters. I did not get into politics because of Israel advocacy and I think the same is true for many Pro-Israel Americans. I got into politics because, as someone who grew up in New York City in a post-9/11 world, I believed it was important to learn about the world. I wanted to learn about different people and wanted to learn why terrorism existed. This interest would later manifest into many other interests — immigration, abortion, tax policy and healthcare policy. I would become an active follower of domestic and foreign policy issues and would join a political party to try and engage on these issues.
Israel, while it was always important to me, did not become a major part of my activism until the 2012 and 2014 Gaza conflicts. I always grew up with the belief that Israel had a right to self-defense, that Israel had a right to respond to the repeated terror attacks from Hamas, the ruling terrorist-government in Gaza. I remember hearing, when I was younger, from family members that Israel was dealing with a constant flow of terrorist attacks (including suicide bombers). It was just natural to me, someone shaped by a post-9/11 world, to support Israel’s right to self-defense.
What I did not expect to see was the amount of hostile opposition to Israel’s self-defense in the media, among young people and across the world. This bashing of Israel had always existed, but as a younger person I had not yet experienced it. This would change in college. I would meet other people from other campuses and hear how awful their experiences were as Jewish students and Zionists. I heard stories of friends being called child-murderers, having antisemitic slurs screamed at them and even being denied the right to be involved in certain student groups or events. I would also hear about people who would, falsely, accuse Israel of being an “apartheid state” that engaged in “genocide” and hated minorities. Even on my campus, my fellow community members and I had to deal with angry and aggressive Anti-Israel activists. These people tried to disrupt events and engaged in character assassination of Israel and its defenders on our campus.
While all of this Anti-Israel, and even antisemitic, behavior outraged me I realized that something new and worse was occurring. There were Jews in the Diaspora, America and elsewhere, that were siding with these bigots. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement were being given the perception of legitimacy by groups that carried Jewish names or voices. Some of these groups, like Jewish Voice for Peace, give direct support to Anti-Zionist organizations by supporting BDS themselves and by protesting outside of Holocaust Commemorations and other Jewish events. Others, however, indirectly provide aid to Anti-Israel sentiments by twisting criticism of Israel into a lethal PR weapon. These groups include J-Street, IfNotNow, T’ruah, the New Israel Fund, Open Hillel and Breaking the Silence.
Once I became aware of these groups, there was no way I could continue to sit on the sidelines. I got involved on campus through multiple Pro-Israel organizations and I would attend policy discussions and conferences focused on protecting Jews and Israel on campus.
My view about the Jewish Community’s role on Israel issues is simply this: No one should be expected to blindly support anything, but it must be known that legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government do not come in the form of armchair-quarterbacking or by aligning oneself with blatantly Anti-Israel organizations.
As Americans, we have an obligation to be highly educated on all matters of civics and politics. But, as Jews, I think my community has an obligation to also care about our history, our past struggles and suffering, and our hopes for the future. Israel is the world’s only Jewish State. It is a beacon of democracy in a region of despair and dictatorship. It is not an “apartheid state” and it does not “commit genocide.”
More importantly, even if a Jewish person chooses to walk out on Israel they should not expect to receive any special love from our haters. It is true that the world will not love us for being proud Jews but it also will not love us for being embarrassed Jews. The difference is that we maintain our spiritual dignity when we are proud Jews.
For example, Daniel Pearl embodies the Proud Jew in a Post-Holocaust world. Pearl was an American Jewish journalist who was brutally murdered by Islamic terrorists in Pakistan. While he was cruelly taken away from our community, and especially his family, it is important to remember that he left us with motivation and pride. He did this through his famous last words: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” This powerful, but simple message, showed us that even in the darkest of moments he could not be broken because he truly believed in his principles. In this case his principles was his connection to his Jewishness.
To close off this long piece, I guess I want to say that while I rather talk about so many other issues, because I do not have singular interests, I also have to remember who I am and where I come from.
I cannot sit here and live a privileged life while my brothers and sisters in Israel cry for peace and only get terrorism in response.
I cannot sit here and live a privileged life while my brothers and sisters on American and Canadian college campuses are bullied for being Jewish and being Pro-Israel.
I cannot sit here and live a privileged life while my brothers and sisters in in Europe are facing the highest levels of antisemitic violence since before the Second World War.
I cannot sit here and live a privileged life while Holocaust Survivors watch as our Communities are once again in the crosshairs of hatred.
I am David Leviev. I am the grandson, the son, the brother, the nephew and cousin of proud Jews and I feel obligated to carry on that tradition. That is why I care about Israel.
Politics And Protest