During my freshman year at one of the most liberal Cal State schools, I knew to pick my political battles before I ended up as front page news for one of our campus publications.
As a second generation Mexican-American and Native American student, I was also aware that my political views were anything but stereotypical and truly contrary to the concept of identity politics. I was ostracized from ethnic social groups due to my political views and moral values. The fact that I adhered the concept of moral absolutism, believing in a distinct right and wrong (abortion as murder and murder being wrong, as a primary example), was enough to place me outside of groups that ordinarily took pride in their group’s diversity.
I joined an academic organization on campus that worked with other student groups such as the Muslim Student Association (MSA), Black Student Union (BSU), and other “culturally diverse groups” which provide students with the opportunity to hear a variety of opinions and make decisions for themselves. As the only right-leaning student on the Executive Board, I refused to adhere to the hatred and stratification of beliefs groups often encouraged and tried to ensure that each group upheld the bylaws appropriately. I didn’t want to pick a fight, but I didn’t want to feed lies to students. By surrounding myself with people who had polar opposite views, I learned a lot, namely why I rejected their ideas—usually due to their lack of basic principles of history or economics.
In my sophomore year of college I studied abroad in Israel. I didn’t study in Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, the “stereotypical” locations for foreign students. Instead, I found myself situated in the mixed city of Haifa. Touted for its coexistence and diversity among its citizens, Haifa is a center of commerce, tourism, diversity, and great beaches.
I grew increasingly in tune with my conservative beliefs in Haifa—and not because of the spirit of Zionism that supposedly courses through the streets of Israel. On the contrary, true conservatism blossomed out of an excess of leftism.
Even in Israel, a Jewish state by definition, a large wave of progressivism has a presence among an ethnically and religiously diverse community. Progressivism, however, tends to exclude social liberalism but focuses mainly on territorial aspirations and foreign policy.
Israel is mistakenly discussed as a homogenous society when in reality, it is anything but that. The city of Haifa, specifically, is home to not only secular and religious Jews (comprised of many factions and sectors), but also Arab Christians, Muslims, Druze, Russians, and Ethiopians. This yields a myriad of political beliefs and opinions. Add that mix of individuals to an international school with students all over the political spectrum, and you have yourself quite the hodgepodge of political and religious thought.
In the international school, I noticed a trend of extremely liberal students from the U.S., along with extremely liberal Europeans. I often wondered, “Why come to Israel when you don’t even think it should exist?”
During my first semester in Haifa, student-led classroom discussions were filled with defensive statements regarding Hamas and Hezbollah, false or misinformed accusations against the IDF, and demands for two-state solutions in favor of Arabs. In my second semester, I had a professor demand that “Israel give Jerusalem back,” since it was not only a religious center but also “historically significant to Arabs everywhere.” I was shocked by the blatant anti-Semitism that appeared to be coming from both students and teachers.
At the same time, I had a couple of incredibly intelligent and experienced conservative professors who began to unpack the complexities of Israeli politics, both domestic and foreign, and equipped my fellow classmates and me with the facts behind the conservative principles I had always held (but wasn’t always able to fully justify). I was also given access to a plethora of reading materials that unpacked both sides of political thought and allowed me to become not only settled in what I know and believe but also with the means to elaborate on these concepts factually and logically.
The amount of resentment towards dissenting opinions and ideas, along with the anti-Semitism and blatant lack of historical knowledge, not only fortified what I know to be true, but also pushed me deeper into readings, conversations, and atmospheres where I could truly try and test my new-found knowledge.
In the end, my conservative principles were strengthened during my stay in Israel, not because of Zionism, but because of excess leftism.
Photo Credit: Ronen Marcus