Romeu Monteiro does not fit the profile of a typical pro-Israel advocate.
But the non-Jewish 22-year-old Portuguese gay activist, who is a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, nonetheless has become a champion of the Jewish state — and in a big way.
“During all my life, I have felt angered with injustice and unfair judgment in general, and personally, because I am gay,” Monteiro told the Chronicle. “I felt I needed to act on that when I found that Israel was being unfairly targeted and blamed for things. I felt I had to do something.”
Blogging under the name of Romeu Moskowitz, Monteiro points out media bias against Israel, and promotes Israel’s right to self-defense, mostly in Portuguese. Earlier this month, he submitted a piece written in English to YNET called “Why I no longer hate Israel.” The piece, which has been widely circulated in cyberspace, details how Monteiro evolved from believing anti-Israel rhetoric, to becoming a Zionist after learning the historical facts.
In his essay, Monteiro says that many of the same “left-wing organizations” that he trusted as proponents of gay rights also were espousing an anti-Israel perspective. He said he bought into their narrative that “the Jews had invaded Palestine after the Holocaust to get a country and were occupying and controlling the native Palestinians who lived in the remaining land.”
In 2008, Monteiro found himself criticizing Israel and the Gaza Strip blockade in a YouTube video. But after receiving comments from a young, Israeli commenter, who explained that there was no blockade, as several trucks were crossing into Gaza daily, Monteiro began looking for the truth.
“I argued with this guy, but he had the historical facts, and it really changed my mind,” Monteiro said. “He explained Israel’s need for self-defense, and how the other side had persecuted the Jews. I checked in the history books in my house, and it was all there.”
After educating himself about Israel’s government and social policies, what he found was that the Jewish state was a “place I [as a gay man] could live in free and more accepted than in my home country, and the only place I could safely set foot in the Middle East.”
After “Why I no longer hate Israel” was published, Monteiro set up a new email account, anticipating that he would be receiving “hate mail” from anti-Israel activists. But although he received one accusation from a pro-Palestinian blog that his story was a hoax, his feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I have gotten dozens of e-mails from all over the world thanking me,” he said. “I was afraid of threats, but I didn’t get any.”
Monteiro attended the Israel advocacy Shabbaton at Hillel Jewish University Center this past February, and has been involved with Tartans for Israel, and Israel on Campus, since he arrived at CMU from Portugal in September 2011. He said there are no Israel advocacy groups in Portugal, a country with fewer than 1,000 Jews.
Since he has become pro-Israel, Monteiro said, he has noticed more and more bias in the media.
“I notice the media gives Israel news only when that country attacks,” he said. “But you don’t see news about the rocket attacks [from Gaza into Israel]. I don’t think they put much effort into verifying the news. What they report is all true, but they are very selective.”
Monteiro says it is his mission to educate people about Israel so that they are not deceived by unfair media treatment and organizations that present only one side of the story.
“I feel I was deceived,” he said. “The left-wing organizations in Portugal, I think they are deceiving people. They are selecting what they are presenting to the public. They don’t tell us that schools in the Palestinian territories have bombs in there so they [the Israelis] have to destroy them. The perception is distorted.”
The gay community faces a type of discrimination similar to that faced by Israel, Monteiro said, noting that like Israel, gays are often “demonized by prejudice and ignorance.
“I think Israel is defending its people, and the Jewish people,” he said. “It is sad gay people don’t have an army to defend themselves. I wish there were a gay army, too.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)