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Appeal — Student of Middle Eastern Studies Jonathan Keren-Klaris often stays silent about his Israeli ancestry. But he encourages students to talk to each other, even if they have different backgrounds. Because the public debate isn't sufficient in the ongoing conflict.
»It’s a time of hopelessness. All hopes of reconciliation have been completely dashed,« says Middle Eastern Studies student Jonathan Keren-Klaris when he is asked to put the present Israel-Palestine situation into words.
»I was supposed to have visited my family in Israel a week after the 7 October attacks. This was cancelled. I usually visit them twice a year,« says Jonathan Keren-Klaris.
His Danish mother met his Israeli father in a kibbutz in the 1980s, and together they moved to Denmark, where they still live.
»My grandmother and my aunt live in the town of Modi’in. They have been to bomb shelters a few times, but my grandfather, who lives closer to Gaza, is almost constantly in bomb shelters. He has a shop in Ashkelon, which is one of the cities that has been hit by many bombs. I have one cousin drafted into the military close to Gaza, and I have a cousin stationed up on the Lebanese border.«
Jonathan Keren-Klaris describes how Israel is still in a state of shock.
»When I talk to Palestinians, the same applies to them. Both Israelis and Palestinians are in a state of shock. It’s a time of hopelessness.«
The current war affects Jonathan Keren-Klaris in several ways:
»It takes a lot of my time and energy. I am constantly reading news because there are always new developments, and because the news channel Al Jazeera says one thing, Danish TV says something else, and the Israeli media say something completely different. I sleep less and am more stressed because I worry about my family. My grandparents are old and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. But the situation is the same, in fact even worse, with the Palestinians. Also for Palestinians living here, especially if you have family in Gaza.«
At the moment, I dare neither speak Hebrew on the phone nor reveal my background in certain situations
Another thing that affects Jonathan Keren-Klaris is the rise of anti-Semitism.
»I work at a swimming pool where I have experienced younger Palestinians spit at me and ask me why I wanted to kill them. The war amplifies my fear of verbal or physical abuse because of my ancestry. This is even though I try to tell myself it’s unnecessary because I live in a tolerant and democratic society. In the United States, Russia and France, there are much more violent examples of anti-Semitism than in Denmark. But at the moment, I dare neither speak Hebrew on the phone nor reveal my background in certain situations.«
»The pro-Palestinian spokespersons and activists have a responsibility to convey to their communities that a resurgence of anti-Semitism has no place in Western democratic societies. Because if anti-Semitism is allowed to grow, it will also affect universities and workplaces, and then we have a structural problem.«
Jonathan Keren-Klaris has one particular appeal however:
»Now that rhetoric is getting tougher and student organizations are starting to mobilize, I appeal to you to continue to remember not to equate Israel’s administrative leadership and its actions with the Israeli people. Even if you see the Israeli state as a European colonial project, you cannot consider all Israelis, no matter where they live, as a part of that project.
The Israeli people are not a bunch of murderous criminals, even though many, collectively, try to categorize them as such. My grandparents are Libyan and Iranian refugees, respectively, who tried to make a new life for themselves in Israel. If you subscribe to liberal ideas about tolerance, inclusion and respect for minorities, it should also apply to the Jewish minority and Israelis living in Denmark.
I call on pro-Palestinian student organisations to reconsider their boycott of Israeli culture and Danish-Israeli academic collaboration. It is far more constructive to continue the cooperation with the academic and cultural environment in Israel, which is already moderate – and where many people are critical of the regime.«
As a student of Middle Eastern languages and society, you are taught the history of Israel and Palestine.
If you subscribe to liberal ideas about tolerance, inclusion and respect for minorities, this should also apply to the Jewish minority and Israelis living in Denmark
»It’s a bit strange to be on the sidelines as relatives, at the same time as we study the entire historical background to the war. Right now we are learning about Israel’s political rhetoric and how its references to Palestinians has changed from the early 1900s, through multiple conflicts, and up to today,« Jonathan Keren-Klaris says.
In a joint lesson on the Monday after Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October, the events were articulated by the teaching staff here.
»The teachers on the main courses are well aware that many students and staff on Middle Eastern courses are relatives to people affected by it. They asked us to keep this in mind in internal conversations between ourselves at Middle Eastern Studies and in our teaching. The war has become a continuously recurring topic of conversation during breaks, as well as before, during and after class. My Hebrew language instructors tell us every day that we should come to them if we experience anything unpleasant at university, because it will then be taken care of. As far as I know, there has been nothing. But I strongly applaud how management and teaching staff are aware of this.«
Although Jonathan Keren-Klaris has not had any unpleasant experiences since 7 October, he is used to people taking on a biased attitude towards him.
»Throughout my life as a student, I have had to explain Israel’s actions, including at Friday cafés at the university. Just because my father is from Israel. But I do not think it is right that I, as a Danish Israeli, should have to justify an extremely right-wing, bordering on fascist, Israeli government, which I did not even vote for. A Danish Afghan should not have to justify the Taliban regime, nor should a Danish Iranian have to justify the fundamentalist regime in Iran. It is as if I am automatically de-legitimized in conversations, unless I proclaim in advance that I do not support nationalist, religious, Zionism and the expulsion of the Palestinian people. Which I of course don’t. That’s why I am often silent about my ancestry.«
Jonathan Keren-Klaris still encourages all students to talk to each other about the dispute in continuation of the public debate:
»I recently talked for two hours with a fellow student of Palestinian origin. Our conversation was very matter-of-fact, respectful, and constructive – also emotionally. It is as if the outside world expects hostility between us, but it is my understanding that many Palestinians and Israelis living here are fairly moderate. And when you have slightly more intimate conversations where you let each other talk, also about current events, there are a lot of topics we actually agree on. We both wish peace and quiet for each other and our families, for example. We also agree that the rhetoric in the debate is generally too crude, and with no appreciation of the finer nuances. This destroys the basis of solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians in a country like Denmark.«