On Veteran’s Day, Americans across the country take time to thank the brave men and women who have served our country in the military. This gratitude arises not only toward the men and women who have served in past conflicts but in modern ones as well, like the wars in Iraq, as well as the all of the other wars in the Middle East.
Many students at the University of Massachusetts found themselves thankful for veterans like Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, a combat fighter and reservist serving the Israeli Defense Force who shared his story with the UMass community last Thursday night.
A graduate from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, Anthony served as a soldier in the Israeli Defense Force, taking on important duties like promoting IDF campaigns and fighting on the front lines during conflict.
Born in the United Kingdom, Anthony’s parents raised him and his siblings following the beliefs of Judaism.
“While my family prioritized the religion, we were never able to express this religion fully,” said Anthony, who shared stories of his childhood in an unaccepting European culture. “There was a complete discord with what believed internally with what surrounded us externally.”
In his presentation, he touched on the day-to-day challenges he and his siblings faced in pursuing a Jewish education and lifestyle.
Anthony attributed his devotion to the Israeli cause to an incident from his childhood. On his way to school one day, his younger brother was viciously assailed by a group of men because of his Jewish background.
“I stood by this attack and did nothing,” said Anthony. He watched as these men attacked his brother so brutally that his physical state was affected permanently. “I made the presumption that these men knew enough was enough.”
According to Anthony, “This led to my yearn to build a place for the Jews to live safely.”
Anthony argued for the need to defend one’s national and cultural background, saying, “Israel is not just a country. Israel has always been, and always will be, a people. It’s our home. And you don’t barge away your home just because world opinion tells us to.”
Anthony shared his experiences as a combat fighter in addition to describing some of the scarring battle scenes he witnessed. He also discussed IDF tactics, such as how an IDF soldier is only allowed to open fire in the presence of an enemy as the utmost last resort. Also, the IDF soldier must only open fire after all other non-violent defenses are exhausted and opening fire thus becomes the last source of defense.
Anthony also took a moment in his speech to address the United States as a benefactor for Israel.
“Part of the reason Israel is able to defend themselves is with the help of this great country,” said Anthony, who noted the United States as the source of many of Israel’s defensive weapons.
The atmosphere of Anthony’s speech, however, remained politically charged. Members of the audience included strong Israeli nationalists as well as Palestinian supporters.
Anthony made a point to emphasize what he shared was purely opinion and by no means a representation of Israel or the Israeli Defense Force as a whole. However, despite this disclaimer, political tension regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict arose among the audience.
Two young women stormed the room in disagreement during the question and answer session of the presentation. In addition, the UMass Students for Justice in Palestine shared their disagreements with Anthony’s views as they passed around an information sheet sharing facts that shed a negative light on the Israeli Defense Force.
According to the fact sheet, the Israeli Defense Force is “well known for engaging in offensive military campaigns and projects.” The UMass Students for Justice in Palestine argue this as a clear contradiction to the IDF’s purpose of serving as a “defensive” unit.
Despite conflicting interests and political beliefs, Sgt. Benjamin Anthony’s presentation brought a veteran’s perspective on a serious modern conflict.
“Soldiers go and want to bring home peace,” Anthony said. “Please remember that the next time you read a headline.”
Katrina Borofski can be reached at [email protected]