European students from the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) called on Israeli officials to stop telling them there is no future for Jews in Europe.
“We are the generation that grew up behind bulletproof glass,” said the president of the European Union of Jewish students, Benny Fischer. “But we don’t all intend to leave, and if people constantly shout at as that there is no future for Jews in Europe, it’s not only patronizing but it also does not help. We have centuries of history in the countries we are living in, and as much as we need the state of Israel, Israel also sometimes needs the Diaspora.”
Students from around the world visiting Israel for a WUJS congress were given a platform at the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on Tuesday to discuss the reality of their situations.
Fischer also took to task the language used by anti-BDS activists. He observed that many people get involved with the boycott movement because they perceive it to be about peace activism.
“If you look at the language they use, it makes sense,” he said. “They talk about peace, we talk about the war against BDS.”
“There is some 80% you can talk to, but if you want to make a change you must engage in discussion,” he added, drawing from his own experience with BDS activists. “Not every person that supports BDS is an antisemite,” he said, though he stated that the core ideology of BDS is antisemitic.
Noemie Madar, National Secretary of the French Union of Jewish Students, backed Fischer’s remarks. “When people say Jews don’t have a place in France, we disagree,” she told the audience, noting the many years that French Jews had lived in the country. She said emigration to Israel should come from a place of desire, rather than a place of fear.
Madar also emphasized that antisemitism had decreased in her country in the last year, and that since the deadly terror attacks in Paris in November 2015, the Jews no longer feel that they are alone but have been “included into the family picture.”
She mentioned a visit to Israel organized by the Union last year, which included predominantly Muslim participants, as an effective method of fighting antisemitism. “They saw the complexity of Israel and when they got back they didn’t have the same speech...
we need your support for that, not only to tell us our place is not anymore in France,” she pleaded.
Madar is a former student of the Paris Dauphine University, whose campus had been raised in the discussion by Israeli Students Combating Antisemitism Director Ido Daniel. Daniel recounted a visit to the campus, where he found that Jewish students who used the Jewish Union’s space as a type of “shelter,” where they put on their kippot, ate their food and said their prayers, before removing their Jewish symbols and returning to class. But after Daniel painted this dire picture of endangered Jewish identity on campus, Madar made a point of saying that the university is a welcoming place for Jews.
British UJS President Josh Seitler also made clear that Jewish students in the UK “have a great time on campus.”
“I went to the London School of Economics and I wore a kippa every day,” said Seitler, who nevertheless acknowledged that Jewish and Israeli students do face challenges, such as the annual Israel Apartheid Week or Israeli lectures protested and sometimes closed down by Palestinian activists. “That makes the conversation more difficult,” he said.
While Fischer pointed out that the situation of each European country is different, Seitler said the same of the 64 campuses with Jewish societies across Britain. “Each is different, and each deals with BDS differently,” Seitler said.
One official who observed the meeting noted a disconnect between the foreign students and some of the other speakers.
“Perhaps if Israelis stopped wringing their hands long enough to actually listen to what European Jews have to say, they’d have a more accurate and nuanced understanding of Jewish life in Europe today,” the official told The Jerusalem Post
. “Though challenges certainly exist, the situation is not nearly as dire as it is often depicted, and Jewish life in many European Jewish communities is exciting and vibrant.”
Students from non-European countries, meanwhile, indicated that more attention should be angled in their direction. Young Jewish leaders from Poland, Latin America, South Africa and Poland stressed that they too face issues of antisemitism and BDS – each country in its own way – and that assistance from Israel was welcome.
Gabriel Zollmann, national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students, made note of a recent antisemitic verbal assault on a Jewish student as well as antisemitic graffiti painted on the walls of a university.
“South Africa and its Jewish community is really at the heart and soul of BDS, and it is also at the heart of the apartheid analogy,” said Zollmann.
“South Africa should be at the forefront on these issues, and we’d appreciate any assistance.”
From Poland, Jewish activist Robert Gajda said that while BDS is non-existent in his country, the far-right governs and is “trying to rewrite history.”
“We are a small community - everyone knows why.... but we are still there and we are flourishing,” he said. “Don’t just think about the Holocaust. We are advocates for Israel and for our common cause.”
The students’ comments followed stark statistics presented by Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee Chairman Avraham Neguise. According to data obtained by the Diaspora Ministry, 40% of European citizens are antisemitic and 75% of Jewish students in the US have experienced antisemitism. In 2015, Neguise said, 9,000 antisemitic attacks were reported on Facebook, 11,354 on Twitter and 4,468 on Instagram, while 4,465 antisemitic video were reported on YouTube.