In an underground conference room in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, a normally controversial man almost went unnoticed. At previous events where he has spoken, pro-Palestinian protestors have burst out in defiance, but Oct. 28, Ishmael Khaldi spoke to a small crowd of 15 students with no disruptions.
Khaldi was Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat and came to speak at SF State about his experience as a minority in Israel. Non-Jews make up 20 percent of Israel’s population, while Bedouins, who are traditionally nomadic Arabs, made up 3.5 percent in 2004, according to the Israeli government.
“As a minority, I think it’s very important for me to share (…) the experiences of ourselves as minorities in Israel with people in the Bay Area, also (with) lots of minorities,” Khaldi said. “I think there is something that we are missing, always, not only Israel and America, but like in between countries. People focus on the relations between government and government authorities. The people, the societies don’t know enough (of) each other, academic institutions are not close to each other.”
SF State student Kayla Wold organized the event with help from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, San Francisco Hillel, and I-Team, the Pro-Israel group on campus. She said she was inspired to have an Israeli minority to speak on campus after seeing the murals at the Cesar Chavez Student Center depicting great minority leaders like Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X.
Khaldi served in the Israeli Defense Forces, Defense Ministry and Israeli Police, and was a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry before he was Deputy Consulate in San Francisco from 2007 to 2009.
He said those opportunities were available to him as an Israeli citizen and during his presentation he spoke about the misconception that Israel is a Jewish-only state. He said a lot of the younger Arab population is participating more in Israeli society.
He also spoke about the Israeli government’s attempts at integrating the Bedouin into modern society over the years.
“You can’t make a shepherd who is a nomad living in a tent into a high-tech engineer overnight,” he said.
He did, however, credit the government for helping settle the North in the Negev, “above and beyond.” He also said people need to choose whether they want to continue being nomadic or join modern society.
“Minorities in Israel is something that can relate to students on campus, and it’s also something that a lot people don’t know that much about because I think people have misconceptions about Israel in general,” Wold said. “I think that by coming in and talking about minorities, ‘cause people automatically assume it’s a Jewish state, but it’s predominately Jews, but there are many other religions and cultures and something important that I think needs to be discussed on campus.”
Although Khaldi said he would have liked to speak to other minority students, especially in the Ethnic Studies department, most of the attendees were Jewish students involved with Hillel or I-Team. Wold said invitations were made to other organizations on campus, yet no one showed up.
International Relations major Kevin Gobuty said he learned from the event.
“I’m a pro-Israel student, I’m a part of I-Team and I haven’t had more interaction with the Bedouin community so it was interesting to get a minority perspective on what goes on in Israel,” he said. “I learned the integration is coming along at a faster rate than I thought it was, I think that it’s interesting seeing the transition going from a largely traditionally nomadic society slowly but seeing the interactions.”