DEMONSTRATORS MARCH with Palestinian flags during a protest against the Israeli offensive against Gaza, in Valencia, Spain.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Many European Jews are afraid to identify themselves as Zionists and supporters of Israel, the leaders of several national branches of the Women’s International Zionist Organization told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Speaking at the organization’s annual meeting in Tel Aviv, the heads of the WIZO branches in France, Belgium, Germany and Sweden described the difficulties facing their constituents in a Europe in which Jewish nationalism is decreasingly acceptable.
“There is a very bad atmosphere around Jewish people,” said Joelle Lezmi, the president of WIZO France.
“People do not have the right to wear kippot; Jewish people are afraid to put on their Star of David; Jewish people have no place to say I am Jewish, just to say I am Jewish. If you are to say ‘I am a Zionist’ it’s quite a revolution.”
A similar situation exists in Sweden, admitted Susanne Sznajderman, Lezmi’s Swedish counterpart.
“People self-censor themselves. They hear anti-semitism, but do not act, because they don’t feel safe in reacting,” she said, condemning her government’s “very weak leadership” on this issue.
Sweden’s recognition of a Palestinian state outside of the framework of a negotiated solution gave “courage to the Palestinians and to those who are violent and to the Muslims in our country to act. That strategy is extremely dangerous.”
Due to the climate in which they must operate, she added, many Jewish organizations within her community have declined to push a Zionist agenda, instead focusing on protecting themselves.
WIZO Belgium president Vicky Hollander, meanwhile, complained about the tenor of European press coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict, stating it’s a trigger and “emphasizes violence to provoke more violence.”
While she said Belgian Jews are unafraid to identify as Zionists, when mentioning pro-Israeli politicians in her country’s parliament she asked that their names not be cited in this newspaper out of concern for the possible ramifications.
“We are scared of the media. We know what they can do.
With one word they turn the world around,” she said.
Diana Schnabel of WIZO Germany agreed, stating that in her experience there is little press interest in reporting on coexistence projects run by the Zionist group and that the media only seemed to want to cover WIZO as part of the Middle East conflict.
While unafraid, Schnabel admitted that she is worried.
As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she always identified as a Jew living in Germany, but saw how her children began to see themselves as German Jews. With recent events, including the “anti-Semitic flood” seen this summer during Israel’s military incursion in Gaza, however, she is no longer sure that many see themselves in this way.
Both in Germany and France, those in attendance said, the use of anti-Semitic terminology is becoming more common and accepted.
Citing the rallies following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Schnabel said millions would not have taken to the streets if the victims had been Jews.
“We have to be realistic,” she said.