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Why Are Students Totally Obsessed With Israel?

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How do you start a blog? I guess with a little bio of yourself....

I'm a 19 year old Brit with Israeli citizenship. I speak Hebrew fluently, all my family live in Israel and I visit the country every summer. I am fascinated with Israel - I'm sadly acquainted with the entire historiography of the subject, and even work for a pro-Israel organisation on top of studying for my degree.

But I have an excuse to be obsessed with Israel. It forms a huge part of my identity. It is a country which has been central to my life.

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In Oxford where I study (and to be honest, pretty much any other University campus in the UK), it is absolutely astonishing how many students share my passion. Well err, they kind of share my interest...at least in a strangely pathological sense. To put it this way, I find it a bit weird how a middle class white kid from Sussex finds it morally incumbent to berate 'me' for 'occupying' someone else's land. 'Free, free Palestine!' 'Down with Israel!'

But who gives a damn about Tibet? Burma? Never heard of it. And Darfur? Well I did a 'swimathon' for Oxfam in primary school...

We live in an increasingly global world. We know much more about people in places we will probably never visit. George Osborne's daughter studies Mandarin(!) Yet why on earth are young people at Britain's top universities - the next generation of 'leaders' - obsessing with a tiny corner of the Middle East? Pick up the Economist any week and you'll see there is literally an entire world of political debate - but it is only the 'Israel-Palestine' question which is of any interest to anyone.

You're probably thinking that I am going to try and address the million dollar question. Why? Why is there an Israel Apartheid week in nearly two dozen campuses across the UK - yet there are no similar events drawing attention to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe or Venezuela? Why does the NUS want to send students on a 'humanitarian mission' to Gaza - yet it has refused to support a campaign fighting racism on campus? Above all, why is Israel the only country in the world which 18 year old kids believe has no right to exist (that is, when they're not stupidly drunk in a nightclub)?

It's a saddening question with a myriad of answers. A lot of university students are naive? True, but not a satisfactory answer. Anti-Semitism? A bit too simplistic perhaps - though Woody Allen has no problem with this explanation. Israel makes a good news story? It's embroiled in an iconic conflict?

The truth is, I don't know. What we should really be concerned with is educating young people that a conflict has more than one side. There has to be constructive dialogue between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students. One opinion must not silence another. That is what political debate means! Hosting Israel apartheid weeks (in sum, spreading all manner of hate-filled propaganda) does not help in this regard. And as for calling for a complete academic and cultural boycott of the State of Israel, well that is literally silencing debate.

We have to end the childish nonsense that dominates any discussion of the Middle East. 'Isra-hell is evil!' 'Palestinians are terrorists!' The usual rubbish. It achieves absolutely nothing; even if you're that middle class white kid, fresh from your gap year in Gaza which daddy paid for. It only serves to divide, isolate and offend students who are genuinely concerned with the situation in the Middle East.

So like what Israel and the Palestinian Authority are doing at the moment, why don't we sit down and try to have a healthy dialogue? Listen to what we have to say for once. Who knows? It might actually achieve something useful...

Jonathan Hunter is the UK Campus Director of StandWithUs International, a pro-Israel organisation which seeks to promote positive debate in regard to Israel and the Middle East. He studies history at Brasenose College, Oxford.

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