Anthony Berteaux, a CAMERA Fellow and rising senior at San Diego State University majoring in journalism, was once a staunch activist for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)’s campaign against Israel. Today, he is a pro-Israel activist. This past week, he attended CAMERA’s annual Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference, sharing his story with 80 other Israel activists.
Growing up in Tokyo, Anthony had never met a Jew and had not heard very much about Israel before he stepped onto his San Diego college campus. As a writer for his college paper, Anthony was interested in covering progressive issues and soon learned about many student activist organizations, one of which was SJP. Anthony listened to SJP’s perspective on Israel and would discuss “the Palestinian oppression” in Israel with his campus’s SJP president. As Anthony explains, he became very involved with SJP and “when [BDS] came to campus, [he] did what the progressive thing was to do, which obviously was to support divestments” against Israel.
A man genuinely searching to serve social justice and equality, Anthony followed the Palestinian narrative closely through Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Middle East and would take any opportunity to write or speak on behalf of such an oppressed (seemingly by Israel) people.
After moving across the world from Tokyo to San Diego for college, Anthony never expected to become so involved in Middle-East social justice issues and SJP activism during his first year in college. And to top that off, much to his surprise, Anthony’s perspective on Israel was once again suddenly redefined during the summer of 2014. As Anthony admits, “If you had told me by the end of the summer I was going to be a sympathizer of Israel, I would have probably laughed in your face.”
By chance, Anthony was placed in a campus dorm with a Jewish student during that summer. For the first time, he heard another side of the Israel story. Through many conversations with his new Jewish friend, Anthony learned what Israel does for Palestinians and what Israel means for the Jewish people. The facade of SJP’s ideas began to crumble before Anthony’s eyes. “Israel is a colonialist regime” and “Israel the Apartheid state” were soundbites that Anthony now saw through as ignorant and blatant lies.
Over the summer, Anthony and his Jewish roommate would discuss Operation Protective Edge, the war in Gaza which was going on at the time. They would watch videos of Israelis running to bomb shelters, an unfortunate part of the reality in Israel.
Anthony learned about Israel’s reasons for entering Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. The Israel Defense Forces had no choice but to send forces into Gaza in order to protect Israel. As morally and succinctly as possible, Israeli soldiers worked night and day to stop the terrorist groups that were bombarding Israel with rockets and digging terror tunnels into Israeli territory from Gaza.
While he sticks close to his values of social justice and truth, Anthony had an open mind and by the end of this summer, his perspective was forever changed. Acting upon his newfound beliefs, Anthony soon became an ardent pro-Israel activist on his campus, particularly through his writing.
Hoping to further develop his understanding of Israel and its role in the Middle East, Anthony went to Israel through an ADL student mission. “The experiences during my trip to Israel were really powerful for me as a social justice activist and as a progressive, to understand why Israel is so important for the Jewish people, why it’s a symbol of anti-oppression and why it’s the ultimate testament to social justice” Anthony said, as he reflected on his trip.
While some students at his college challenged Anthony for his change of perspective, Anthony soon realized that his pro-Israel ideas were received well by many of his progressive-thinking friends. While they normally heard about Israel through AJ+ and other sources with an anti-Israel bias, his friends began to open their minds to his pro-Israel views.
Tikkun Olam, the Jewish idea of fixing a broken world, is an ideal that Anthony constantly strives for and hopes to share. He is very happy when he can broaden the understandings of his fellow students. It saddens him that the lack of knowledge about Israel’s story on campuses often translates into a missed opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of social change. As Anthony explains, “A lot of particularly progressive students and social justice activists on campus seem to not understand Israel’s importance in the conversation of self determination, empowering oppressed peoples, and responding to oppression.”
Anthony admits that becoming pro-Israel was not easy for him at first either. But, as Anthony attests, “The more I got engaged with pro-Israel activism, the more I saw my own progressive values reflected in the promise and reality of the Jewish state and that’s something I wish more people on my campus understood.”
Today, Anthony writes for Israel as he would any other cause he believes in. On a personal level, he also loves learning about Jewish identity and culture. He even joins his Jewish friends at their lively Shabbat dinners. He is fascinated by Jewish history and admires the history of the Jewish people. “Such a powerful story, a story of resilience, celebrating life in the face of oppression,” he remarks.
Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz.