Growing up within the Toronto Jewish community, I was largely insulated from criticism of Israel. Most day schools, synagogues and youth groups toed the line of unconditional support of Israel.
Controversial Israeli government decisions were either ignored or defended, and this meant that I was rarely exposed to criticism of them. I may not have agreed with all of Israel's policies, but felt the need to unconditionally accept them.
This meant that when I entered university and encountered anti-Israel claims by students and professors, I regarded it all as part of the anti-Israel movement. I didn't pause to consider if the motivation of such claims was to criticize or demonize the state. I justified this because often the delegitimization actions and rhetoric were much louder and more prevalent than rational arguments against Israeli policy.
However, over the next few years I began to reflect on the morality and wisdom of Israel's actions. It didn't surprise me that I found myself disagreeing with some things, such as house demolitions of suspected terrorists or the army's use of the "neighbor procedure." But the polarizing nature of the debate on campus made it very difficult to publicly agree with any claims made by the other side.
It is a zero sum game on campus; if I recognized that the other side had a valid point, this was taken as a loss by the Israel camp and a victory of the Palestinian supporters.
I ran the risk that fellow Jewish students would accuse me of switching sides.
A turning point for me came when I move to Israel. I realized that ideas that are considered mainstream here would be considered anti-Israel back in Canada, such as the division of Jerusalem or the evacuation of settlements. It was the first time I felt free to support such ideas without being considered as someone who stands against the Jewish state.
Recognizing that Israel has much more acceptance for "anti-Israel" sentiments than many diaspora Jewish communities, I felt that I could question the policies of my (newly acquired) government without feeling like I was betraying it. I expressed my views on social networks and in "sichot salon", and felt that I was, in fact, contributing to the country.
Living here obligates me to make Israel a better and more moral country, while living abroad I felt I had no right to dictate what this country should do, and my only option was unconditional support. This obligation is the opposite of delegitimization. Blindly supporting bad policy is, in a way, delegitimizing Israel, because it strengthens government decisions that make Israel less moral and ultimately less secure.
The Jewish diaspora needs to be more open to legitimate criticism of Israel and its young people need to be exposed to it. If we don't hold up a mirror to our own actions, we can't prevent the other side from doing it for us.
Tova Travis is an intern at the Institute for National Security Studies.