The Hillel Jewish Leadership Council hosted Lucy Aharish, an Israeli-Arab journalist and advocate, Monday evening. Aharish gave a presentation about her personal experiences growing up in Dimona, Israel.
During the presentation, Aharish commented on the recent election of President Donald Trump. Aharish shared how when she had last been in America, it had been the week Trump signed the travel ban against non-U.S. citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“It was the first time I was really scared to get to the airport and sign into the United States,” Aharish said. “When you do the visa form you are giving everything except the size of your underwear. Would they ask me to just go back?”
Aharish also shared stories from her childhood. At the age of five, Aharish’s mother told her to be proud of her heritage, to be proud of the fact that she is an Arab, a Muslim and an Israeli. It was at this age that Aharish said she started to be bullied.
“Kids are not mean, we are educating kids to be mean. No kid comes out into the world saying ‘I hate Arabs,’ ‘I hate Jews,’” Aharish said. “We think it is just going through their minds … but they are taking and observing things and they are listening.”
Aharish said she continued to be bullied in high school, where she discovered her “best friend” at the time had graffitied walls with “death to you and your family” and “death to Arabs.”
She recalled the vice principal of Aharish’s school had asked what punishment Aharish deemed appropriate. Aharish told the audience that she wanted the student to stay in school and face everything she had done.
“Four years ago she asked for my friendship on Facebook. I ignored,” Aharish said.
Aharish brought this discussion of her past into the present day with a commentary on private spaces. Aharish said she believes members of society are not listening and talking to one another anymore because of a difference in political opinions and so people retreat into “private spaces” to avoid uncomfortable conversations.
“The minute things are getting a bit uncomfortable, you are in a private space,” Aharish said. “How do you think you can solve something or interact with human beings if you are getting into your private spaces?”
Aharish closed her presentation with her experience of being invited two years ago to light the torch for Israeli Independence Day. Aharish was criticised for wanting to take part and was also sent death threats.
“My country is not perfect. It is [making] a lot of mistakes. But it’s my country. And if I’m not going on that stage I am proving that I am an enemy, and I’m not,” Aharish said.
Samantha Magnes, a fourth-year Batten student and the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, was responsible for organizing Aharish’s visit to Grounds as a part of her speaking tour of college campuses.
“Lucy did an amazing job of telling her personal story as an Israeli-Arab (this is how she self identifies) and sending a message to our audience that everyone has a responsibility to make their voice heard,” Magnes said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.
Magnes also said Aharish chose the topic and led the presentation entirely by herself without any input, aside from the location and advertising, from the Jewish Leadership Council.
“The event turnout was pretty good — around 30 students,” Magnes said. “We ran out of time for a lot of questions, but overall I thought the questions asked were very well articulated and connected to Lucy's talk.”
One of the two questions that came from an audience member asked how Aharish felt about political correctness — to which Aharish responded that she felt it was “bullsh—t.”
“The thing with political correctness at the end, and I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Donald Trump, but we are tired of hearing lies,” Aharish said. “We are tired of people that are trying to put things into a more beautiful perspective.”
Melanie Weiskopf, a second-year in the College, said she found the event “fascinating” and attended because she had previously traveled to Israel as part of Birthright Israel: Hillel, and was interested in how racism works in the Middle East.
“I think that Lucy Aharish brings an important perspective to that conversation as an Arab-Israeli and a trailblazer in the field of journalism,” Weiskopf said. “[Aharish] has a wisdom beyond her years, an incredible insight into Israel's complex social landscape, and an unrivaled commitment to prevent history from repeating itself.”
Weiskopf said she would want to attend more events like this in the future.
“Lucy's lecture was a call to action,” Weiskopf said. “She repeatedly urged those in attendance not to be ‘irrelevant’ — not to be bystanders while people across the world are oppressed and terrorized.”
Correction: The article previously misstated the official title of Birthright Israel: Hillel.