Who’s afraid of young Israelis talking?

Are Israeli youth allowed to speak about their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Not always.

Some believe that the ideals of Israeli democracy and free speech stop at the border. Take the example of the young Israeli conscientious objectors — the Shministm — currently in speaking tours both in the United States and in South Africa.

Here’s Dan Klein, the North America campus director for StandWithUs, speaking to the JPost on the issue:

I definitely understand that Israelis have the right not to agree with their government. That`s fine. Every citizen in a democracy has that right. But you take that up in your country. Once you take that abroad, what does that gain you?

I do not understand the distinction he makes. Maybe Dan believes that news and information stop at the border, at any border. Or maybe he ignores the fact that the Shministim have already gathered a great deal of international attention while they were still in Israel: over 60,000 letters of support and counting, over 53,000 hits on their short film in Youtube, and a great deal of media attention in a good number of countries around the world.

Here’s Dan again,

I definitely do not agree with what they`re trying to do because I think they`re misguided.

Misguided? Now, that’s a bit patronizing, isn’t it? These young Israelis do not need ‘guidance.’ They have been smart enough to develop their own political analysis of the Israeli occupation (you can read their letter here) and brave enough to go to jail for their convictions.

The Shministim have been greeted with interest in many campuses throughout the United States (UC Berkeley, University of Arizona-Tucson, University of Southern California, Cornell University, Hunter College, Brown University, Clark University, Vassar College, and Brandeis University to name a few.)

Why the interest? Many people are past the StandWithUs propaganda, either you are with us or against us kind of thinking. The Shministim offer a view of the Israeli occupation that is both critical of the human rights abuses and compassionate towards Palestinians and Israelis. And they’ve been extraordinarily open to dialog with those that disagree with them. I’ve been to a number of their talks in the Bay Area. They opened each presentation inviting people to share their ideas — whether in agreement or disagreement — and they answered all questions with care and respect.

Not everyone sees it that way, of course. Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler referred to them as ‘renegade Jews.’ He called them,

‘non-Jewish Jews,” many with no prior involvement in Jewish life, [who] exploited their Jewish origins or Israeli nationality to defame Israel.

In hysterical terms, he starts by calling for their excommunication and ends by calling for their exorcism.

Lucky for them, they are not alone. Dr. Neve Gordon, Naomi Klein, Eve Ensler, and many others — including me! — join them in that grey space between the excommunicated Baruch Spinoza and the exorcised dybbuk.

Some South African Jews may be victims of Leibler’s hysteria. Reportedly, some Jews in Cape Town are concerned that a visit by three Shministim could fuel anti-Semitism.

Here’s National Vice Chairman of the South African Zionist Federation David Hirsch,

They are speaking out to the greater South African population, that does not really know or understand the complex issues of the conflict in Israel.

You see, only us Jews really understand it.

Hold the presses… not even Jews can be exposed to the Shministim heresy!

They have been refused a chance to give a talk in Cape Town’s largest Jewish day school. One talk. This says a lot about the level of dialog and openness in Jewish communities around the world to be able to talk about what is going on in Israel from all points of view.

The Shministim are coming to talk about the Israeli occupation, about its effects on Palestinians and Israelis, and about the nonviolent path they have chosen for themselves. In other words, the Shministim are coming to present a more complex picture of the situation, not a simpler one. This should have been a welcome development.

I leave you with Ilan Strauss, of Open Shuhada Street (one of the groups sponsoring the Shministim’s South Africa tour),

…it is important that South Africans are exposed to these courageous, non-violent perspectives, which adhere to human rights for both parties and aim to ensure a just resolution to the ongoing violence.

If you are in South Africa, you should go hear them yourself.

– Sydney Levy

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