Originally published by Under the Arch, October 2014.
A few weeks ago an NYU student commented to a mutual friend that I was very “right wing.” I’m Israeli and the comment was made after a discussion among myself and other American students about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. No one in Israel had ever pegged me on the right side of the Israeli political spectrum (which on a military scale, left might mean more dovish and right more hawkish), which led me to wonder why the spectrum is different in New York than it is in Tel Aviv.
One reason is the completely different realities of the two cities. Most spectra deal with beliefs and opinions, but where do facts come into play? In Israel’s case, surely there are things we can agree on: Children and innocents on both sides should not be killed. Israelis should not be bombarded with missiles. And Hamas is not an innocent organization. But do these fall in different places on different political spectra, or do they simply rest in place as the spectrum slides around them to readjust? The truth about facts is hard to grasp without experiencing the reality of the situation first hand. Many people in New York are missing that context.
There are certain elements of Israeli reality that shift the spectrum and distort our perception of the facts, such as conscription service where most Israelis serve in the military, and “Red Alerts” that send Israelis to bomb shelters with 15-60 second warnings and bombs dropping or being intercepted overhead (both make a loud noise). And the way we view the political spectrum also has to do with who we surround ourselves with. The student who took me for right wing admittedly hangs out regularly with people of the far left. Next to them, I would indeed be considered more right wing.
I took a class last year called Israeli Politics and Society. The professor leaned left—maybe far left—much more left than me on the American political spectrum. He did not take advantage of the fact that he had five Israelis and four Palestinians in the class; he did not open the class to meaningful debate, and kept it very politically correct. And yet there were times where I felt I was graded subjectively based on our differing opinions. Out of all my time at NYU, my biggest clash came against that professor, himself Israeli.
Political opinion out of context is meaningless. Defining myself solely by the single word, “centre,” is a disservice to my beliefs. I’m Israeli and was a special forces combat soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces for five years, yet I believe my opinions are even handed. I don’t want to fight Arabs, but I want to stop terrorist attacks. I’m willing to relinquish certain land for peace, as long as it’s real peace. I don’t think soldiers who die for their country die in vain, yet the pain of loss is overwhelming. I empathize with Palestinians, yet I want to keep Israelis safe. I fought against a what is considered a terrorist organization with the acceptance that had I been born on the other side, I may very well have been part of that same organization.
That I could be perceived as right wing at an NYU study lounge but most likely not at a Shabbat dinner in Israel shows the subjectivity of political scales. When such a concept is so ill-defined, no one can truly be measured by it. So where I fall on the political spectrum will differ depending on the person asked, country asked in, and the reality perceived.