Much of political discourse on campus takes place in a vacuum: local municipal issues notwithstanding, most discussions and conclusions have no real consequence on the average student. The “Israeli-Palestinian debate” is no different. Even the most vocal proponents and opponents of whichever side go to bed knowing they will wake up to a cold Haligonian morning, not in Hebron or Sderot. Opinions are made, banners are raised, referendums are called and life moves on.
When I moved to Halifax almost seven years ago from a small city in Israel, the biggest cultural shock was the lack hereof. It was colder, water bodies more abundant, people vaguely kinder and, of course, a different language was spoken. That was about it. My slowly fading accent would attract cautious inquiries about my origin, which would lead to pleasant (albeit a bit dull) conversations about Middle Eastern weather. Despite relatively expansive knowledge of the conflict, my timid nature meant I appreciated not being interrogated about Israeli-Palestinian relations. For most people, it didn’t seem to matter anyway.
That is, until university age. Inquiries into my accent now lead to gradually more provocative opinions being shared with me about Israel and the Palestinians. In school hall discussions, I began feeling pressured to renounce my relation to Israel or, at the very least, undermine it. Sometimes, knowledge of my origin lead to an immediate chilling of my relations with that particular person, and sometimes it lead me to feel like the oddball in the room.
Suddenly, being proudly Israeli meant being proudly a monster.
Reading up on the doctrines of such organizations such as Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), which operates on Dalhousie’s campus, it is fairly easy to see where all this bottled-up hatred against Israelis is coming from. A quick visit to this movement’s Facebook page reveals a continuous trend of renouncing everything Israeli – from Israeli soldiers, settlers, academic institutions, products, to the average Israeli person. This organization has engaged in demonization campaigns against not only Israel, but against anything or anyone who associates with it.
Last year Norman Finkelstein, a prominent opponent of Israel’s activities, was invited to speak in Halifax. He was endorsed by SAIA. Lecturing at Saint Mary’s University’s McNally Theatre against Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza, Finkelstein made the statement “Israelis are lunatics” when asked about Israel’s willingness to discuss peace and referring to the ordinary Israeli voter. Finkelstein’s comment was met with laughter from the audience. Never have I ever felt more humiliated than at that moment: I am not the warmongering lunatic this person is putting me out to be! Yet here is an auditorium full of people who, if they knew my nationality, would undoubtedly hate me.
Perhaps most worrying are today’s debates about boycotting Israeli academic institutions. Recently, Waterloo University’s Student Federation held a referendum to decide whether they wished to continue relations with Israel’s major universities. For the most part, these academic institutions operate like their Canadian counterparts; without much of a political motive, but for the pure, academic pursuit of knowledge. Yet, they are targeted for boycott on the basis of them being in Israel. This undermining of intellectual pursuits for a political cause should concern anyone who considers themselves an academic. It is especially concerning for me, however: if the exclusion of Israeli institutions can be put to vote on a Canadian campus, when will the vote to ban Israeli students take place? Will there be a day I will no longer be welcome at a Canadian university on the basis of my nationality? It certainly feels that way already.
Today, when people ask me about my accent, more often than not I feel safer to say that I was born in Halifax, with a mild speech impediment. Now afraid of my origin – perhaps such is the death of Canadian multiculturalism.