In February 2012, I went on a college ski trip to Slovakia. The crowd included Spaniards, Arabs, Germans, Israelis, one Norwegian and one Iranian (me). I assumed everybody would hang out with their fellow compatriots and the Norwegian guy and I would be left alone. But we were not. We were welcomed by the Israelis. We ate with them, drank with them, skied with them and were treated as one of them.
Many different aspects form people’s perception of a country, but the most important factor is its people. It meant a lot to me, as an Iranian, to be included by Israelis, but more than that, it spoke volumes to their character as a people. Today, I am apart from Roy, my Israeli best friend, by thousands of miles, but a month does not go by without us Skyping and updating each other on our lives. I formed deep friendships with many other Israelis when I lived in Hungary. I hung out with them, dined with them, partied with them, celebrated Sabbath with them and was one of them. Above anything else, the culture of inclusion is what I love most about Israel and its people.
People are the most important aspect of a country, but there are other ways it is judged. One is government. Let’s start with a story. A year ago, Israeli police rushed to protect an interfaith wedding ceremony between a Jewish man and a Muslim girl from protesters. That sounds about normal to an American for the police to protect a controversial event from angry protesters, but Israel is unique in the Middle East for doing so.
For a long time, I have identified myself as a neoconservative, which means that I strongly believe in promoting democracy in the world and defending existing democracies. As Americans, we are a nation of immigrants, which means we do not have the traditions of our own like Chinese or Egyptians do.
What brings us together is a culture of diversity, and cherishing values of democracy, freedom and liberty.
This is why when we defend democracy and liberty abroad, we are defending American values and America itself. Today, Israel stands alone in the Middle East as the only rigid democracy. Women are treated equally, gays are protected as a community, people go to ballots and vote in free elections, and individual liberties are protected. Speaking of diversity, Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists live together in Israel, and people have come from all over the world to form a young country. Sounds familiar? Yes, we are talking about a mini-America, and that is how Israelis want to view themselves, too.
People see the Middle East as a hopeless region full of conflict and hatred. It is a questionable view, but it is so refreshing to see a small country in the heart of the Middle East that relives all these liberal American values every day. I love Israel because I care for minorities and the vulnerable, and I care about protecting women, and Israel cares about this, too.
And more importantly, I love Israel because I love love, because I believe that everybody deserves to marry whom they love, and it is only in Israel in the Middle East where a Jew can marry a Muslim and live happily ever after. In short, I love Israel because I love America and because I love Lockean liberalism.
I also have personal reasons to care for Israel. One is being an Iranian American. Until the 1979 revolution, Iranian Jews were the fourth-largest Jewish community in the world. Iran was the first country to recognize Israel as a new country. As much as the new regime in Iran wants to stand between Iranians and Israelis, we have a special bond. For centuries, Jews and Iranians lived together as one. For decades, we were not allies but friends, and as soon as the regime changes in Iran, we are going to pick up where we left off.
I am an Iranian American who loves and cares for Israel. People think it is odd. To me, it makes perfect sense.
My Iranian roots dictate me to support Israel like my ancestors did, and my American values dictate me to support anybody who cherishes and defends the same values as Americans, and Israel and Israelis do.
Israel is not a perfect country, just like the United States is not. They both have their flaws. However, just like America and Americans, Israel and Israelis strive for perfection, and that is all we can ask for.
If we let Israel down, we are letting ourselves down, and we are letting Americanism down, and that is a path I will never take.
Shay Khatiri, class of 2018, is president of The Alexander Hamilton Society at ASU, treasurer of College Republicans at ASU, president of Students for Jeb at ASU, an AIPAC campus legislative coordinator and a former ASU Undergraduate Student Government senator.