Most Jews have experienced some form of anti-Semitism at one point or another – it is a plague with no geographical boundaries. Some see anti-Semitism as any form of critique on someone’s Jewish identity, while others go so far as to say that anything anti-Israel is anti-Semitic.
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On my recent trip to India, I heard a lot of things being said against Israelis, but for some reason, it didn’t feel like anti-Semitism to me. My first of many anti-Israel encounters took place at the hotel lobby, when the Indian hotel manager reviewed my passport. He looked at me - an Israeli-born Jewish American – with a quizzical gaze.
“You are also Israeli?” he asked me, slightly tilting his head to the side. He kept on examining the “Place of Birth” on my passport as if it were a mistake.
“Yes, sir. At least, my parents are Israeli, and I was born there, but I grew up in America.”
“Ah, that is why you are so nice. You grew up in America!”
The hotel manager then went on to list some pathetic incidents with young Israelis who were either high on drugs, or had cheated the hotel manager out of some money.
Thousands of Israelis travel abroad every year. Some go after their army service, while others travel later on in life. The culture of travel is one to be respected as an important eye-opening experience for many.
In terms of sheer quantity, the number of Israelis found traveling abroad does not necessary exceed that of larger countries, like the France or the United Kingdom. Why then, do Israeli travelers continuously show up in “worst traveler” contests?
The answer may indeed have to do with political opinions or prejudice. However, I have another theory: drug-addled, rude Israelis are ruining Israel’s reputation for the rest of us: Jews and Israelis alike. For Israelis who don’t behave this way are judged with disbelief or are simply discriminated against. There were numerous hostels and hotels that had an unofficial “no-Israeli” policy.
My theory is not a new one. Eretz Nehederet famously covered Israelis in India several years ago, featuring a group of rude Israelis who attempt to get a room in a hotel, and argue with the hotel manager about the price of the room.
The Israeli government and Jewish organizations spend billions of dollars every year on Hasbarah, yet this type of negative event can be infinitely more damaging than any anti-Israel news report. These interactions are all too common - and for many of these hotel managers, tour guides, or others in the tourism industry, the interaction with an Israeli was one of the first times he or she may have met a Jew. A negative encounter only emphasizes anti-Israel messages and news that these people might hear on the TV or from other people.
Israel needs to realize this phenomenon and change it. While I am not advocating an over-the-top culture of political correctness in Israel, Israelis need to learn that these behaviors ruin the international image of Israel and the Jewish people alike. In a world where India and China are fast growing to become major powers, who wants the population of these places to view Israelis and Jews in a negative light?
Prejudice is often diminished by positive interactions with people of a specific social group, race, or religion that is often discriminated against. Unless we change those interactions between Israelis and people that work in the tourism industry abroad, Israel risks hurting its international image and inadvertently reinforcing the existing negative perceptions of its people. By educating Israelis on the power of their behavior, perhaps a few travelers who would have otherwise been problematic will actually heed the advice and promote a friendlier, more positive image for us all – Israelis and Jews alike.
Yael Miller is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.