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OPINION: How I Went From the IDF to Jewish Voice for Peace

One man's journey in thought

Jewish Voice for Peace and Charlotte United for Palestine helped organize a rally in support of Palestine on May 11
Jewish Voice for Peace and Charlotte United for Palestine helped organize a rally in support of Palestine on May 11. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Andrew Walshver is a Charlotte resident and ex-Orthodox veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces who is now a member of the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace

My name is Andrew Walshver, I’m 33 years old, and I’ve been living in Charlotte for the last eight years. I’m a husband and proud father of two beautiful girls. I work a trade, am not ashamed of getting my hands dirty, and live on a quiet tree-lined street. But just 12 years ago, I was wearing a very different uniform: that of the Israel Defense Forces. 

My story may be unique, but it isn’t that uncommon for a young man where I was raised. I’m the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. My grandmother arrived in New York after being liberated from Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp for Jews during World War II.

Most of her family was exterminated there when she was just a teenager. She settled in New York with the desire to rebuild the Jewish community in a place where they could exist peacefully with their neighbors. 

In the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, where I was raised, it seemed like Israel was as important as the religion itself. I was sent to Jewish private schools, where we sang the Israeli National Anthem every morning and were taught Modern Hebrew for 45 minutes a day. Every year, for Israeli Independence Day in May, we proudly marched down 5th Avenue waving Israeli flags. 

After high school, some of us even enlisted in the Israeli military, which accepts thousands of Jewish “overseas volunteers” every year. Many of my friends and even some family members moved to Israel permanently and started families there, many in illegal Israeli settlements that were established inside territory that the United Nations dedicated for a future Palestinian State. 

I enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces when I was 20. I was bored with college and I felt it was my duty and privilege to “defend the Jewish people.” After nearly a year of Hebrew lessons and intensive army training, I was deployed to protect Israel’s borders, which basically meant a lot of sleepless nights doing guard duty and patrols.

Andrew Walshver is a Charlotte resident and ex-Orthodox veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces who is now a member of the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Walshver)

I was honorably discharged after two years, fortunate to not have had to fight in any wars, and booked my ticket back home to New York, never to return to Israel again. 

Back in New York, I was hailed as a hero for having served Israel. I wore it with pride, certain that even though living in Israel wasn’t for me, I had nevertheless done the right thing by ensuring the survival of the Jewish people. It didn’t occur to me that so many other people around me were affected by what we believed was our homeland. 

When war broke out this past October, it shook me to the core. I had to know that all of the new people in my life were as supportive of Israel as I was. When I learned that they were less than ebullient about Israel, it triggered me to finally research why Israel had so many detractors. And that’s how I learned the ugly truth. 

Israel was not a “land without people” when early Jewish settlers came from Eastern Europe. There were hundreds of Palestinian towns, most of which were destroyed and erased from the map when Israel established itself in 1948, creating a refugee crisis that to this day it has refused to resolve. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have moved into Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land, forcing Palestinians to cross Israeli checkpoints any time they try to leave their city. All of this in the name of establishing a “Jewish Democracy” in the Middle East. 

Read more: UNC Charlotte Encampment Raid Stirs Free Speech Debate on Campus

It took me nearly 33 years to realize that I’m an American. Israel is not my country, and I want my kids to stay as far away as possible from any conflicts in the Middle East. This is why today, I’m proud to stand with Palestine, as any red-blooded American should. 

I believe that we were all created equal, and no one should have special privileges, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. If we hold this truth to be self-evident here, we shouldn’t be supporting a State where Jews are given exclusive rights at the expense of everyone else.


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