Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi


Posted by alilyamongthorns on January 22, 2007

“People came up to me and called me a baby killer.”

“They laughed as we sang a song about peace.”

“My professor justified suicide bombing to the class.”

“I stopped wearing the Star of David necklace my grandparents gave me for my Bat Mitzvah out of fear.”

“They yelled anti-Semitic slurs at us on Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

“I was afraid for my safety.”

These are the stories I heard from my older sister and my friends about how horrible UC Berkeley can be. I had built up this demon in my head and was pretty nervous about my first day of school there, this past Tuesday.

Hey Hey Ho Ho

Daily Cal illustration of Mr. Happy Happy Happy

I left my house and walked through Sproul Plaza, heading to class. Many clubs had tables set up and were recruiting but, luckily, I saw no signs of protest regarding Israel. I had visited Berkeley before and met “Mr. Happy Happy Happy.” He’s an obviously hired man who sometimes stands in front of the entrance to the school with a gigantic poster hanging from his shoulders reading “Israel is the #1 terrorist … ” while repeating the words “happy happy happy” over and over again to passersby. In fact, there were no protests about Israel at all the entire week until Friday when the Women in Black came and had a giant banner about “ending the occupation and justice in Palestine” and were handing out flyers (Mr. Happy Happy Happy was also present). Oyster informs me this is a weekly occurrence.

Passing by the relatively small protest, I was surprised at how I felt: ready. Like a soldier entering the battlefield for the first time and finally appreciating boot camp training, never have I been as thankful for Hillel as I was at that moment. For the past 2 years, involvement with the Hillel of Silicon Valley has taught me Israel’s history, how to be a better advocate for Israel and most importantly, has allowed me to meet other students who were going through the same things I was about to go through. Though I walked by myself, I knew that I was not alone.

An “eduliecation”

I plan to minor in Middle Eastern Studies so I’m taking 2 classes regarding the subject. What do you consider when you decide on an area of study? Your interest level in the subject? What kind of jobs you could get with that degree?

I thought about being graded down for disagreeing with a professor’s assertion that Israelis are comparable to Nazis. I thought about what my mental state would be like after hearing everyday that my people deserve to die. I chose my classes not based on my interests but based on how much a professor hates Israel (ranging from the opinion it’s a human rights oppressor to it’s a Nazi-like, totalitarian, repressive, imperialistic state of war criminals). It’s not right. In the 21st century no one should wonder if they can take certain classes or get a certain degree because of their ethnicity.

Reading ahead in my History of the Modern Middle East class, I got to learn a whole new version of history. In Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Charles Smith writes that the Sharm al-Sheikh Fact-Finding (Mitchell) Committee found that Israel fired on “unarmed demonstrators throwing stones” (sticks and stones guns will break my bones but words stones will never hurt me) at the beginning of the Second Intifada and that Palestinians did not usually use firearms and explosives in the first 3 months of the intifada. Now what Smith doesn’t tell us when he claims that Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount ignited the intifada is that the Mitchell Committee also found that Sharon was not responsible for starting the intifada. In fact, it had already been planned by the Palestinian Authority. Beyond sheer bias, I find this twisting of the facts to be incredibly unethical. Either accept the Mitchell Committee’s findings or don’t; don’t pick and choose parts that fit with your pre-determined opinions.

Then, there is The Modern Middle East, a History by James Gelvin, one of the “dirty dozen” at UCLA who signed the divestment petition from Israel. Apparently, this man declares his anti-Israel bias to the class on the first day of school. He wrote that in Deir Yassin, “upward of 240 men, women, and children were butchered and stuffed in the village well.” Now, since Gelvin doesn’t bother to cite any of his sources I can’t really prove or disprove this ridiculous claim but if anyone has legitimate information about this accusation I’d love to hear it.

It’s not that I mind anti-Israel opinions or even books. But I do mind a one-sided presentation of opinions labeled as “facts,” especially in the classroom. While I know better, having studied the issue for a number of years, I know that many of my peers do not and will accept these books’ allegations as facts. I shudder to think how someone with a Berkeley education must react to a pro-Israeli protester. They must think we are simply in favor of murder and human rights violations, for that is the only Israel they “know.”

But all is not lost. One of my Middle Eastern Studies professors is having us read an article about another type of refugees, Jews from Arab countries. In addition, Berkeley’s Hillel has been incredibly helpful and supportive, offering advice and resources for learning about the other side of the issue, even if some of my professors are committed to ignoring it. They have very generously given me a book, Myths and Facts, a Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Mitchell Bard, a great resource for learning more about the conflict. I’ll write more about Hillel happenings in the weeks to come.

As Oyster would say, “Welcome to Cal.”


6 Responses to “Bezerkeleyed”

  1. Oyster said

    Welcome to Cal! 🙂

    This is actually a great post. Thanks for writing it.

    Does Mr. Happy really say anti-Israel stuff now? He usually focuses on the crimes of communist China (being Chinese himself).

    I’m sorry alilyamongthorns, but as you were describing to me your sudden realization of how jacked up the system is, where professors can get away with saying egregious lies, I could not but smile a sad smile. You’re now understanding first-hand the anguish that I had at Cal on a daily basis, for years.

  2. Yes, he’s all about Israel now. I’ll check just to make sure next time I see him. Maybe he has a revolving door of subjects but so far I’ve just seen the topic of Israel. I actually read an article from the Daily Cal about him (the one where I got the illustration from) and it said he protests the Bush administration. But that was written last year. See anyone we know as the writer?


  3. Oyster said

    Whoa mini-Bencuya! I wonder how his older bro is…

  4. Ish Tov said

    Lily, I’m glad there’s someone at Berkeley to stand up for Israel. (Hopefully there’s more than just you.) I moved out to Cali in June. I’ve had one Berkeley experience so far. Upon hearing that I’m an engineer, this man asked me if a plane flying into the World Trade Center could cause it to collapse.

    I wanted to respond, “Ahhmm, I think that already happened.” But instead I tried to be polite and said, “You have to understand, the WTC wasn’t designed to withstand a plane flying into it.” His wide eyed response, “Yes it was. I saw an interview with the man who built it.” Or something like that. I just kind of let it go, but there’s no way the WTC was designed to withstand being hit by a 747 full of fuel. No one designs a building thinking it’s going to get hit on purpose like that. Maybe now, but not decades ago.

    Have fun at Berkeley. May God be with you.

  5. Ish,
    Thank you very much for your response. I think the fact that there are still some people that believe we never landed on the moon stands as a testament to the difficulty of disproving conspiracy theories. I remember right after Sept. 11 happened and getting an e-mail telling me that the attack was orchestrated by Israel and that all the Jews who worked in the building called in sick that day. But I admire your attempt at reason ;-).

  6. Oyster said

    Don’cha worry my ‘good man’ :-), Alilyamongthorns is in good hands with the Berkeley Hillel and the Israel Action Committee. And me as her honorary older brother. Oh, and her being with HaShem wouldn’t hurt, either. 😉

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