Human rights activist Romeu Monteiro speaks on how he came to love Israel

Monteiro: “I realized Israel is a democratic, tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, rapidly developing nation.”

Human rights activist Romeu Monteiro grew up in a middle-class Catholic family in Portugal, where he developed a negative view on Israel through frequently viewing news coverage of the second Intifada.

Monteiro shared how he developed and overcame his negative viewpoint in his speech, “How I Stopped Hating and Started Loving Israel” on Monday night in Leadership Auditorium.

“We enjoy creating opportunities for students to get to hear stories about Israel,” said Chantelle Moghadam, co-founder and president of MU’s Students Supporting Israel chapter. “It’s a good opportunity to get educated about a place that’s very far away and that most of us will probably never go.”

At 10 years old, Monteiro realized he was gay and began to identify with the feelings of fear and isolation Anne Frank chronicled in “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Monteiro said he has since felt a connection to Anne Frank and Jewish people.

Growing up, Monteiro said news coverage frequently portrayed Israel in a negative light. He said it focused on Israeli people invading Palestine after the Holocaust and attacking and killing Palestinians to expand Israel. He said he believed news reports showed Israel’s people as racist colonialists.

Monteiro questioned how Jewish people could go from being oppressed in the Holocaust to becoming the second Intifada oppressors.

“I think it’s really important for speakers like this to come and show the more humanistic approach to what’s going on in Israel,” said Hannah Turner, sophomore and vice president of Students Supporting Israel. “It gives a more diverse sense of what’s really going on there.”

In college, Monteiro said he found himself questioning whether Israel deserved the negative portrayal it had been receiving after viewing a YouTube video about American activist Rachel Corrie.

Corrie was a member of the pro-Palestinian group, International Solidarity Movement who was killed by an Israel Defense Force’s armored bulldozer in the Gaza Strip.

Monteiro said an Israeli YouTube commenter clarified that there was actually no blockade, so Monteiro asked the commenter to clear up the negative news coverage about Israel with a solid argument in the country’s defense.

“I like that he’s not Jewish and that he didn’t meet Jewish people until later in his life,” sophomore Sarah Kusnitz said. “Through talking to people and doing critical research, he was able to form his own opinion despite where he’s from and what the popular opinion is there.”

Monteiro said the YouTube commenter sent him a long message about the extreme hatred Jewish people faced in the Middle East, such as getting killed in Palestine before the existence of Israel. Monteiro then did further research into the statistics surrounding Israeli gay rights as well as the nation’s military practices.

“I realized Israel is a democratic, tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, rapidly-developing nation,” Monteiro said.

Monteiro quoted the ambassador of the Palestinian Authority to Portugal’s June 2014 opinion column from what Monteiro said is a major newspaper: “The natural result of the current terror performed by the state of Israel should be counterbalanced by acts of terror from individuals or groups.”

Monteiro said he was outraged that he had been viewing Israel negatively while Palestine’s people including children were being taught to retaliate with violence and hatred.

“I liked how he pointed out the differences in the media with how people from Israel and Palestine confuse the issues that are portrayed,” sophomore Maddie Stock said. “It can be biased.”

Monteiro said sharing his story is an opportunity to educate people, and prevent them from being as misinformed with negative information about Israel as he was.

“I want good people to be able to make good decisions because they have accurate information, instead of doing bad things because they were misled,” Monteiro said.

Edited by Katherine Knott |

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