French Jewish students bring delegation to Israel to learn tolerance

The group were also given tools to fight antisemitism and racism in their communities.

July 24, 2019 18:19
4 minute read.
A delegation of Jewish and non-Jewish students were in Israel this week to learn about tolerance and

A delegation of Jewish and non-Jewish students were in Israel this week to learn about tolerance and peace.. (photo credit: UEJF)

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays a big role in why there is antisemitism in our communities - it’s a big part of it.”

These were the words of a Subhatha, a young French woman, who was part of a delegation of Jewish and non-Jewish students from all backgrounds brought to Israel by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF) to learn about coexistence, how to fight antisemitism and break stereotypes.

The delegation spent the last eight days in Israel learning about how Israelis and Palestinians can work together, as well as seeing the diversity and reality of the country in a bid to break stereotypes.

For many immigrants for France, especially in Muslim and African communities, there is no distinction between Jews and Israelis, so with the rise of anti-Zionism comes the rise of antisemitism.

Members of the group came from areas in France where the issue of antisemitism is at the forefront.

“There is a rise in antisemitism and anti-Zionism,” explained UEJF president Sacha Ghozlan. “This trip is aimed to teach about mediation and coexistence, and how despite differences people can learn together, work together and play together.”

Ghozlan said that the trip was first started in 2016 and the idea is for the group, who are members of organizations, social workers and young adults, to learn about mediation and how to find common ground, and take these ideas back with them to their communities.

“It’s all about creating action in France - to fight antisemitism and racism and to tackle its rise,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “We also want to open the Jewish community to their neighbors and create strong links between the Jewish and non-Jewish community.”

The group toured different places in which Jews and Arabs work together peacefully in different places and settings in Israel including Jerusalem, Abu Ghosh, and Tel Aviv.

They also met with different organizations and activists who are pro-peace and learned about how to mediate and how to create tolerance.

“The aim is to take what they have learned here and create peace and hope in their societies back in France… Sometimes we look at each other with anger and fear, but we want to encourage this to change, to listen to each other even if we don’t agree and to show that we can still work together and find common ground,” he said.

Ghozlan stressed that finding that tolerance is key to the future of French Jewry.

Speaking to some of the participants, Subhatha told the Post that as a member of Jalons Pour La Paix, which works towards creating peace in society, this trip was very important to her.

“I feel very lucky to have been a part of it and had this opportunity,” she said.

She comes from Aubervilliers, in north-eastern Paris where antisemitism and crime is rife.

Earlier this year, a Jewish couple living in the area were robbed and threatened in their home reportedly because of their mezuzah.

Subhatha, who is not Jewish, said that although she doesn’t believe in God, she strongly believes in building a society that based “on tolerance and togetherness.

“This is what I want to take back with me to France, to my community,” she said. “There needs to be a change in France

She added that it was very moving to be together with so many people from different religions. “It was amazing to learn about the Jewish culture and get an understanding of Jews that I did not have before,” she said. “It opened my eyes.”

Asked if she had any ideas on how to bridge the gap between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Aubervilliers, Subhatha said one of the first projects she would like to get off the ground is a letter exchange program between Jewish children in Jewish schools and non-Jewish children in public schools.

“I want to take back a message of peace, of tolerance, and of unity,” she concluded

Another participant, Dan, who works for SOS Racisme, said that as a young person in France, “it’s important to bring people together.

“To see the peace initiatives on the ground [in Israel] and bring this to France is important if we’re going to encourage peace in France,” he said. “Also, we got a very good understanding of how complicated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is - it’s not something simple. We heard the narratives and saw the emotions [of both sides], and that the process to peace is very slow.”

Dan said he is Jewish, but is not religious and seeing how Arabs and Israelis are able to work together in spite of the conflict was “very powerful.”

“We saw how they see the other - and see each other, how they go beyond just the identity” and see the person for who they are, not just their beliefs or what they stand for, he explained. “They are able to connect with each other and go with the ‘other.’”

On this trip, he realized how “community is everything, and I hope to take back what I’ve learned here and continue to fight against antisemitism and racism.

“Working for SOS Racisme, it’s something that I see every day. We want people to connect with each other and fight antisemitism and racism together,” Dan said, adding that this is what he hopes to take back with him to France.

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