I’ve taken to writing columns for the abroad desk of the Washington Square News. I forgot to cross-post this one, about the political dimension of Israeli society as it impacts everyday friendships. It was originally published on October 18. You can let me know what you think in the comments.
It’s the week of Fall Break here at NYU Tel Aviv. True to every cliche in the book, I can’t believe we’re halfway through the semester. I feel like I’ve only been in Israel for two weeks so far, even though I’ve finally figured how to top up my Rav Kav, the Israeli version of the MetroCard.
My parents came to visit two weeks ago, and I enjoyed showing them around my new digs here in Tel Aviv. They got to see the city at its best: my Mum, a lifelong foodie, was in love with Israel’s many outdoor fresh-food markets, while my dad got to run along the boardwalk, which runs the length of the city along the Mediterranean. Their visit to Jerusalem and the Old City coincided with the state funeral of Shimon Peres, a politician who served twice as Israel’s prime minister and once as its president. Peres, who died aged 93, served in public office for over 60 years. As foreign minister in the 1990s, Peres was a part of the negotiations for the Oslo Accords, a proposed roadmap for peace between Israel and Palestine. For his role, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994.
From my own experience, it’s very rare to meet somebody at NYU who does not have a strong opinion on the Middle East, and on Israel in particular. Back in New York, I had conversations with other students that lasted hours, debating one thing or another about the region, its politics or its future. Since coming to Tel Aviv, I’ve made some Israeli friends — college students and young adults who grew up here and live here full-time. Reading through obituaries and other articles about Peres’ legacy, I realized that I can’t remember having one conversation about politics with them.
I’m not sure if this represents an unwillingness to discuss hard topics or a willingness to not let politics interfere with a good friendship. My money’s on the latter explanation: on the whole, I’ve found that Israelis are far more blunt and direct with their political stances than Americans. For me, Israeli politics is an interest; for them, it’s part of their everyday lives and the lives of their parents and grandparents. I’m Irish and I’m only here for a semester, so my views on the subject lack the weight of experience of my Israeli friends.
I’ve found myself thinking about this fact a lot here in Tel Aviv. I don’t know what I expected before I arrived, whether I would spend my days debating Israeli politics with newfound Tel Avivian friends. Still, in the age of Trump and in light of news that NYU canceled the talk of an ultra-right American journalist, when Americans increasingly seem to define themselves by whom they voted for in the last election, there is something to be said for setting politics aside and befriending people irrespective of their views.