People react to abuse in different ways.
Some ignore it. Some get mad.
And then there’s Brian Mast’s way.
Mast is a veteran, a U.S. Army Ranger sergeant from Florida, a double amputee after stepping on an improvised explosive device while doing explosives disposal in Afghanistan in 2010.
Back in civilian life, Mast decided to snag one honor that had eluded him — a college diploma — so he took his wife and kids to Harvard University, where he’s studying economics.
There he discovered a new battle.
As with so many campuses in the United States, undergraduates at Harvard, in their undergraduate hunger to abolish the injustices of the world, throw themselves with particular vigor into ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through sheer public outcry, casting the complex, half-century-old tragedy into a set piece Victorian melodrama with a mustache-twiddling villain, the Israelis, and a Little Nell victim, the Palestinians.
“Being up in Boston, no question there is a lot of anti-Israel sentiment, and protests going on around Harvard,” said Mast, who stumbled upon a protest last year while walking with his family on Boston Commons.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I’m a service member, with my Army Ranger cap and my two artificial legs,” he said. “These four or five guys start saying things to me and my family. A little girl could push me over, but this is a fight I’m perfectly willing to have. I was inviting them to take me up, but in the end they left me and my family alone.”
That was not the end, however. For Mast, it was a beginning.
“It was a very important reminder to me,” Mast said. “I don’t know why certain battles find their way into my life, but this is how fighting for Israel found its way into my life. This kind of torment goes on in Israel’s neighborhood daily. Syria. Jordan. Iran. Egypt, doing this, day after day. It’s a sign to me I need to stand up and show my support. This battle has come to me. I don’t want to turn my back.”
Over the Christmas holidays, Mast went to Israel as a volunteer.
“I couldn’t have received a warmer reception,” he said. “It was amazing.”
Spending time in Israel cemented his feelings for the country.
“As I was over there, volunteering with immigrants, orphans, refugees from Sudan and Ethiopia, what struck me is these individuals skip over countries like Egypt to get into Israel, a country constantly under threat of attack. There must be a very good reason to skip over those countries, and it’s the same reason immigrants from places like Guatemala and El Salvador skip over countries like Mexico to get into the United States, because the same freedom and opportunity offered here.”
Back in the states, he now speaks on behalf of Israel — he was in Chicago speaking at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces annual dinner May 28.
I pointed out that a lot of American Jews, myself included, have ambivalent feelings about Israel. While we don’t embrace the “Give us your country” hallucinatory rhetoric of the Palestinians and their zealous supporters, we can’t ignore the fact that they are indeed there, 4 million of them, living constricted lives. Mast is not ambivalent.
“The anti-Israel protests, I just thought, ‘It’s completely wrong.’ I literally didn’t get how any American citizens were protesting Israel defending itself,” he said. “As I see this, year after year, the Palestinians fire rockets at Israel and then go hide behind the civilian population and cry the sky is falling when Israel defends itself. It’s this stupid game, and it boggles me this double standard is being applied.”
When Mast got home from Israel, he was surprised to hear from his fellow vets.
“Tons of my peers, fellow wounded warriors, saying, ‘What are you doing in Israel? How did you get there? Can I do something similar to this?’” He is putting together a group of between 10 and 12 fellow vets to go back and volunteer there again. He’s also planning to run for Congress in Florida’s 18th district.
Those protesters who confronted Brian Mast had no idea who they were provoking, a common mistake of those who sell Israel short.