It takes nerve to stand in the middle of a college campus during Israeli Apartheid Week — the anti-Israel protests held annually at schools across the country — hoisting a sign that reads: “I was in the Israeli army. Ask me a question. I’m nice.”
Kayla Wold can get pretty nervy.
After spending two years in the Israel Air Force and, before that, advocating for Israel throughout her time as a psychology major at San Francisco State University, holding up that sign at the University of Houston was a piece of cake.
Wold, 25, an L.A. native who graduated from SFSU in 2014 before moving to Israel, recently completed her IDF service and is now visiting American campuses to share her experiences. It’s part of the Gideon Project, a program that brings former soldiers to the U.S. to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. It’s sponsored by the Israeli organization Reservists on Duty.
“It was perfect timing,” Wold told J. this week when she was visiting UC Berkeley as part of the tour. “I had just gotten out of the army. They were sending a delegation of 50 soldiers to different campuses. They put us through training to combat anti-Israel sentiment. But nothing can prepare you.”
She was referring to the students in Texas who shouted at her, “Why do you kill babies in Gaza?” and “How dare you do this to us?” Students for Justice in Palestine, which organized Israel Apartheid Week at the Austin campus, even called the campus police to have her removed (the cops left Wold alone, citing her First Amendment rights).
On the other hand, Wold says, some students were kind and curious. “I had amazing conversations,” she noted. “Christians came up and said thank you for your service. We spoke at Hillels, at churches. I hope I changed a few minds.”
Though raised in an Orthodox home in Los Angeles, Wold did not hold strong political views about Israel until she got to the SFSU campus. There she found well-organized anti-Israel groups regularly holding rallies, die-ins, demonstrations and other forms of activism. One pro-Palestinian student even posted a photo of himself clutching a knife, with a caption explaining he dreamed of using it to kill IDF soldiers.