All opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position, or opinion of OC Hillel.
Luke Rodriguez is a second year political science major at Cal State Fullerton and aspiring criminal prosecutor.
My knowledge and interest in pro-Israel advocacy was minimal until October of 2017 when a group at my school called Students for Justice in Palestine put up their infamous “Wall of Israeli Apartheid.” Although I was not incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, I knew that some of the claims on the wall, such as the idea that there was no conflict in the territory prior to 1948, were absurd. It almost seemed to me like they were trying to scapegoat the one Jewish state for all the trouble in the region. I noticed Hillel had their own booth, and I took a “I Heart Israel” pin from their booth. I walked back to the wall so I could talk to people who were seeing the wall and “understanding” the conflict for the first time.
This upset one of the members, who I knew from class. She accused me of being a “racist,” and “a fascist” with “a sick [Zionist] agenda.” I had mentioned to her before in a class that I was of Jewish descent, as my great-grandfather fled the Russian pogroms that killed his parents when he was just 9. Remembering me mentioning this, she accused me of only caring about the issue of Israel because I was a Jew. This was the moment that I had a realization that the anti-Semitism of my grandmother’s era was still around. I knew I had to counter this singling out and bullying of the one Jewish state.
At the Hillel “counter booth,” I met Daniel Levine, the director of Jewish Life for Orange County Hillel. We began frequently discussing Israel, while I began to read several books on the topic, eventually becoming an activist on the issue. I even set up, with the help of Daniel, a bi-monthly public conversation about Israel which has been attended by students of all political stripes and predispositions. He invited me to come with Hillel to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and I immediately said yes. The opportunity to be surrounded by a pro-Israel community and grow as an advocate immediately appealed to me.
Given the incredible divisiveness of the issue of Israel is on college campuses, with a few exceptions, the U.S. Congress seems to be fairly homogeneous on the issue across political lines. AIPAC, in my opinion, did an excellent job recruiting speakers across the political spectrum. Few politically oriented conferences, as far as I can tell, can manage to recruit such ideological opposites as Mike Pence and Chuck Schumer, yet both delivered impassioned arguments for Israel. Although I have several political disagreements with both Pence and Schumer, seeing the two come together in defense of a cause greater than themselves gave me hope that support for Israel can remain bipartisan. Each made the case for why Israel needs to be supported across ideological lines.
During the breakout sessions, I had the opportunity to discuss with other campuses the importance of supporting Israel, and as important as it is to engage with those who we may disagree with us. It felt like a breath of fresh air to finally be in a place where on issues of BDS and the attempts to delegitimize Israel, I was surrounded by people who understood where I was coming from. I didn’t have to worry about wearing my lapel pin showing a united Israel and America, something that gives me great stress on my college campus. And as I began to hear the speeches of those whose family were killed in the Holocaust, I began to see more and more why the issue of a secure Israel is so important to the Jewish community.
And what I saw at AIPAC was not people who were there to sing praise to Israel and say nothing about the Palestinian people. Instead, I saw people who saw desperately wanted peace, and who care more about the Palestinians than the Palestinian government does.
While hopeful after leaving AIPAC, I’m also not naive. Among self-described progressives, support for Israel, the one democratic state in the Middle East, is at an all time low. As I began to walk outside of AIPAC, I was confronted by a white supremacist and anti-semite (who claimed he was merely a counter-semite). In addition to yelling anti-semitic slurs and warning me of how Jews are behind every vice in America, he laughed when I mentioned the Holocaust on part of the origins of Israel’s founding, and asked “What Holocaust?” This final act as I left AIPAC was incredibly symbolic. As wonderful as AIPAC is in bringing together bipartisan support for Israel, outside those doors wait the hard work we have still to do to fight anti-Semitism. It won’t be an easy one, but after AIPAC, I feel empowered to challenge the lies spread about Israel, education the population, and fight BDS.
If you are interested in writing for the OC Hillel Blog contact Daniel Levine at Daniel@ochillel.org