An prominent Israeli Arab teenager has rounded on the “hypocritical” campaign to boycott Israel as he outlined his journey to becoming a high-profile supporter of the Jewish state during an address at University College London.
Mohammed Zoabi, who is preparing for his IDF service, said he was determined to ensure there was dialogue after another talk by an Israeli speaker at the campus was shut down last year.
The 19-year-old from Nazarath Illit previously had to flee Israel after receiving death threats over videos he posted online calling for the return of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers.
He said: “I’m sick of conflict, I’m sick of hatred, I’m sick of fearing for my life. I’m sick of so many things, but I think when you’re tired of something and not optimistic about the future, you don’t give up.”
At the talk, organised by UCL Friends of Israel and StandWithUS, he recalled the experiences that led him to his current views, starting with the rocket attacks during the 2006 conflict with Lebanon.
“I remember hearing a siren and hearing my mum yelling, grabbing me to the bomb shelter. She was screaming there was a rocket coming at us”, he says.
Their Christian neighbours were yelling for their children and upstairs a Jewish neighbour was calling to their kids in Hebrew. He recalls being struck by the way violence didn’t discriminate, how in that moment all fled the same threat.
The second turning point is the one which brought him to prominence. Following the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, he was shocked into action. He explains: “At first I tried to understand and I couldn’t see any way of justifying that. I uploaded a video to Facebook calling for their return.”
The fallout was significant. Zoabi was forced to stay with friends in Israel and the US after receiving death threats. Since returning to Israel, he has been preparing to join the IDF, and is currently interning at StandWithUs.
On BDS, he said: “It is, in my opinion, harming the peace process more than it’s allegedly supposed to help it… It’s a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of double standards.”
“By boycotting my country, how are they helping me achieve equality? How are they helping us achieve a better life?”
He saw the videos of last October’s protests at UCL, and says he was shocked. He said: “One of the reasons I wanted this to happen was so people from outside the pro-Israel community would come… I think it’s important to ensure that there’s still a dialogue.”
Growing up with a Muslim Zionist mother and a Communist father, the importance of dialogue is something he says he has witnessed his whole life.
He said: “From a young age I was exposed to hardcore identity issues… The conflict was inside my house.”
He is a relative of controversial MK Hanin Zoabi, who represents the Joint List in the Knesset. “I’m proud she’s part of my family, not because I agree with what she’s doing but because she’s a person living in a democracy who lives and does what she wants and believes in,” he said.
Quoting a Hebrew idiom, he added: “We fell in between the chairs. We’re divided between two conflicts and nations and that problem is the main conflict for Arab citizens within their communities.
But he refuses to be simply defined, saying: “I’m not a Muslim Zionist, I’m a person… I don’t like it when people label me.
“When I label myself the first thing that comes up is me, Mohammed with a different story and a different narrative.”
Tamir Oren, a representative of StandWithUs, added: “People tend to stigmatize and see Israelis and Arabs as two negative peoples, who deal with one another in a negative way.
“It’s really important to hear one person speaking about two different narratives in a way that can actually create a new dialogue.”