Reaching out to the younger generation is critical to combat antisemitism

#49 - Zionist 2020: Yaakov Hagoel

Yaakov Hagoel (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Yaakov Hagoel
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Yaakov Hagoel is a force to be reckoned with, constantly writing and speaking out against antisemitism and anti-Israel manifestations wherever they rear their ugly heads. The vice-chairman of the World Zionist Organization and head of the Department for Israel and Countering Antisemitism, Hagoel is a member of the Jewish Agency Executive and co-chairman of the Task Force on Antisemitism.
He is a member of the Board of Directors of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, the Yad Vashem Council, and the Public Council for the Commemoration of Theodor Herzl at the Prime Minister’s Office. He has served as chairman of the World Zionist Youth Organizations Council, executive director of World Betar, and currently serves as chairman of World Likud. Hagoel has dedicated most of his adult life for the benefit of Zionism and the Jewish people. He has forged relationships with representatives of different communities, federations and organizations around the world and has the unique ability to sit down with opinionated people of various political beliefs and discuss a variety of controversial topics, respecting each viewpoint. Hagoel is a married and the father of four and lives in Netanya.
“Antisemitism is a morbid epidemic that needs to be addressed and uprooted everywhere, at all times with full force,” he says. “We must not be indifferent to it.’’
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What do you see as your role at the WZO?
Ever since the first Zionist Congress of 1897, Theodor Herzl instilled the importance of gathering the Jewish people from all over the world to inspire a sense of mutual responsibility. This eventually led to the creation of an independent Jewish State.
Like other leaders, I see my role at the World Zionist Organization as working to bridge our rich history with the modern era. We need to upgrade the way Zionism is currently presented. Our goal should be to reach out to the younger generation and be able to speak their language in this new digital era.
I believe that every Jew whether he knows it or not, is connected to Zionism. The World Zionist Organization as I see it serves as a parliament of the Jewish people. Since the 19th century, it has represented Jewish communities across the globe. The Zionist Congress is a place where votes are taken and decisions are made which directly and indirectly affect our brothers and sisters both in the Diaspora and in Israel. Our aim is to have people from various backgrounds and political ideologies gather together to discuss the issues that affect each and every one of us.
Now that communication has changed so radically since those early days, the challenge is how we excite the imaginations of the younger generation as our cause did in years past. I see our role as leaders to make the Zionist Congress relevant for today’s world.
Encouraging Jews to immigrate to Israel is not something of which we should be ashamed. The word “aliyah” need not be disguised so as not to offend. Aliyah is the foundation stone of Zionism and we should encourage it for those who seek to make Israel their old-new home through teaching Jewish pride, heritage and history.
We should also make the aliyah process as comfortable as possible by assisting with the language barrier, absorption, and job placement. New immigrants must see Israel as a place where they can apply their talents in a mutually beneficial way. While we believe in the value of aliyah, we respect those who decide to remain in their country of birth or any country in which they choose to reside. Having said that, Jewish citizens of every nation of the world deserve to live a life of security and dignity while knowing their government will fulfill its obligation to protect them just as any other citizen regardless of ethnicity or religion.
The main points I feel we must emphasize are the need for Jewish-Zionist identity education, countering antisemitism, and the centrality of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
The relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem created a positive ripple effect. Settling the land of Israel, in all parts of Israel, has eased the absorption of new immigrants. Communities located all over Israel have shown to have the ability to help strengthen new immigrants while being strengthened by their arrival.  A wave of idealistic, skilled people seeking to live in a close-knit community environment will enhance the Israeli economy.
How do you see the role of modern Zionism?
The time has come for us to unite and see ourselves as one people connected by our ancestral homeland and modern nation. The future of Zionism is in the hands of the new generation. Theodor Herzl envisioned life in the future Jewish State as an exemplary society. Today we are more like one global village than in Herzl’s time. Today, young people have both infinite choices and infinite distractions.  That vision can be applied to the 21st century, however in order to do so, the Zionist leadership needs to adjust to the modern era.
As we approach 73 years of Israel’s independence, it is time to raise our heads up with pride. We need to restrain the disease of Antisemitism and anti-Israel bias. Today, Israel is called the “Start-up Nation” and ranks one of the world’s leaders in innovation. We have a stable economy, strong military and thriving culture.  We are steadily building ties with countries to which we were previously alienated. We created a democratic nation, absorbed immigrants from diverse backgrounds, and developed lands left barren and desolate after generations of neglect.
What do you think is the best way to fight antisemitism and Israel-hatred today?
The last decade has shown an alarming rise in antisemitism worldwide from all ends of the political spectrum. This incitement is generated by politicians, the media, organizations, as well as by extremists from Middle Eastern nations that wish to eliminate the Jewish state.
Over eight years ago, the World Zionist Organization launched the International Center for Countering Antisemitism, which focuses on Antisemitism online. Headquartered in Jerusalem, the center is staffed by WZO employees and interns from all over the world. These interns use our hub to help expose antisemitism in their native countries. Social media has become an open field for spreading hatred, lies, blood libels, and incitement. It is these young people, who have grown up in the world of social media, who can best use their talents to bring the issue of antisemitism into the forefront. I believe that combining our fight against antisemitism together with educating Jewish communities worldwide to feel proud of their heritage will have a lasting impact.
Our research has shown that 70%-80% of those who experienced an antisemitic attack did not report it to either the Jewish community nor to local law enforcement. There are three reasons for this: they do not want to make a big deal out of it, they do not think the law enforcement will do anything, and they are afraid of repercussions.
We cannot let this happen. Anti-Jewish incitement needs to be met with zero tolerance, whether it’s online, on the street, expressed by politicians or by protesters. We have witnessed in many cases how antisemitic incitement has led to physical attacks and even murder.
The WZO in recent years was able to serve as an umbrella organization, working tirelessly with various government representatives, key leaders, and organizations worldwide in order to fight this disease. We also work with many organizations and urge nations to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism as one of the many means to fight antisemitism.
In conclusion, our role is to look toward the future while embracing our past. Those who think Zionism is outdated are not seeing the full picture. The Israeli ingenuity that has influenced the world in terms of bio-tech, medicine and technological breakthroughs were inspired by Zionism. Herzl’s convention held over 123 years ago was the spark that led us to where we are today. Our duty now is to take it to the next level and create the exemplary society of which the previous generations dreamed.