My college had a very active Jewish sorority. Every year we built homes for Habitat for Humanity. We gave out candies on the Quad. We were responsible for lighting the college’s menorah during Hanukkah. And every year we “manned” the Israel booth during the college’s international festival. My sophomore or junior year one of my professors came to the booth, slightly drunk and devouring tiramisu. He stood before the booth and squinted at me, as if he was trying to decide what to make of me. Slowly he opened his mouth and asked me how, as a woman, I could possibly support a place as “mean-spirited” and “apartheid” as Israel. I was supposed to be caring, he said. I represented man’s better nature, he said, but here I was, supporting Israel.
The inherent sexism of his comments revealed a lot about the professor and his prejudices. If my professor had actually been to Israel he might have seen women in uniform working alongside the men. He’d know that Israel takes equality very seriously. There are Muslim, Arab-Israeli MKs who criticize the government and her policies freely, with no fear of retribution (except at the hands of voters). If my professor had seriously considered it he would have realized that the Muslim world has a problem—a woman problem—a freedom problem. My professor proved that the Muslim world does not have a monopoly on sexists, but at least on campus he was free to speak his mind. Maybe if he challenged his preconceptions he could have learned something.