Gil Troy began his presentation to the delegates of CAMERA’s Student Leadership Mission to Israel by asking each student to share the name of his or her favorite Israeli. Some of the names required an explanation, while others were known by everyone. Some individuals, like past leaders of the country, elicited hushed and respectful musings of “me too”. Other individuals, like celebrities or family members, were cause for some snickering. When everyone in the room had spoken, there was a different feeling in the room than when all of the other speakers on our trip presented; there was a palpable feeling of comfort and ease. We had started the conversation flowing in a positive direction, and everyone was relaxed.
One of the most important lessons that we learned throughout our entire trip was Professor Gil Troy’s insistence on the value of both verticality and horizontality. Verticality is what keeps us grounded – our roots and our values. And horizontality is what encircles us all – our community. Discussing the simple question about our favorite Israelis enabled us to achieve both verticality and horizontality. The people we respect and love share our values and our passions, and our common knowledge of these individuals and their stories unifies us as a community.
With that one simple question we discovered that we could engage in a genuine dialogue. We were able to express what values mattered most to us, and what traits we respected or admired. There was no anger in the room, and there was no harsh disagreement about political or religious ideologies. Professor Troy showed us that the discourse on campus about Israel does not have to be the negative one that has become so prevalent; on the contrary, it could be one of laughter and comfort.
Professor Troy shared many novel ideas in his presentation, but three main lessons resonated, and they all circle back to his concepts of verticality and horizontality.
The first message he shared was that it is delusional to believe that solving Israel’s problems alone will lead to world peace. There is endless talk in the media and on college campuses about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So much so, that it seems that if this problem was solved, the entire world could live in harmony. However, that theory overlooks the serious problems taking place throughout the rest of the world. If we want to achieve world peace, first and foremost we must have common values, or in Professor Troy’s words “verticality”. There is a tremendous need for a change in values in many communities in the world, and in particular throughout the Middle East. The treatment of women and homosexuals, or people with different religious or cultural values needs to change. If there were complete peace in Israel, our world would still be far from perfect. Using Israel as a scapegoat for the rest of the world’s problems must come to an end. As student leaders who are committed to peace, we need to be honest about what we stand for and advocate for change globally.
The next message promoted by Professor Troy involved the basis of the American-Israeli bond. This, too, reflects “verticality”; it comes from shared interests and shared values. And yet, what is often neglected in discussing our shared values is our shared fears. Professor Troy explained that a country’s internal actions come from dreams, whereas its foreign policy comes from nightmares. When it comes to one’s own country, a leader envisions the utmost state of perfection without obstacles. On the contrary, when it comes to a country’s relationship with another nation, a leader often acts based on the worst-case-scenario mindset. America and Israel share many common values, namely democracy and freedom. We also share common fears, of terrorism and social hardship. But we experience different realities connected to these fears. One can see many commonalities between the two countries’ actions based on our core internal beliefs. But America cannot begin to comprehend the threats that Israel faces from enemy neighbors on nearly every border. Therefore, America needs to show its support for Israel – the connection “horizontally” – to stand beside Israel and declare its support for her, rather than impose rules and policies when we cannot comprehend Israel’s situation.
The final lesson shared was the need to fight educational malpractice. This lesson was aptly aimed at the CAMERA students in the room, who deal with issues in the realm of learning constantly. Professor Troy used the word “malpractice” to demonstrate the seriousness of the educational lapses among our peers. This lesson was much more focused on the need for “horizontality”. He explained that the bias in the world of academia must be treated medically – with the right precautions, the right terminology, and the right emotion. Cutting into a patient without knowing what is wrong should never happen. Likewise, we cannot jump into a fight on behalf of Israel if we do not have the proper knowledge and appropriate defense. In our technological world, every word can be picked apart, and we must therefore pick our words wisely, rather than throw them around carelessly. A good doctor makes his or her patient feel comfortable even and especially during a time of distress. The case for Israel must be made in the same way: it must be honest, personal and compelling, and it must be a message that people can believe in. Most importantly, we need to be making this case as a community and not as independent voices.
If we pay attention to our core internal values as well as the community that unites us, act out of trust and not just fear, and band together to change the narrative, we can overcome the anti Israel pressure on our campuses and in our world.
This post was contributed by 2015-2016 University of Illinois CAMERA Fellow, Hayley Nagelberg.