A Greek version of combating antisemitism

Personal experience has shown me how much harm ignorance and lack of information can cause. Peace can be achieved through dialogue and knowledge of the other.

By MARIA NTOURLIA
March 18, 2019 11:25
3 minute read.
Supporters of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party shout slogans as they wave national and party fla

Supporters of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party shout slogans as they wave national and party flags during an annual rally to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the Imia dispute, in Athens, Greece January 28, 2017. . (photo credit: MICHALIS KARAGIANNIS/ REUTERS)

 
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I’ll start the same way I relate my story to the thousands of teenagers I have had the privilege to address.

It doesn’t take more than a few words for my audience to realize I have an accent. What they don’t expect is a Greek, non-Jewish, StandWithUs employee talking to them about Israel and the importance of education as one way to confront antisemitism.

I learned the importance of education seven years ago when I was studying political science at the University of Athens in Greece. I became involved with model United Nations simulations in which I was assigned to represent Palestine twice. I didn’t know anything about Jewish history and had never met a Jew in person. Ignorance and lack of education allowed me to cross the red line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitic rhetoric. 

Unfortunately, I had no one to point that line out to me. Sadly, I won awards for these representations, which exemplifies how it wasn’t just me who was taken in by misinformation and half-truths, but also hundreds of others who heard me.

It wasn’t until five years later that I learned about Natan Sharansky’s “3D test” that defines when legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism. After countless conversations with Jews and non-Jews, I understood the ignorance in my remarks and adopted a more balanced view of the situation. During these five years, I worked as a legal adviser to the Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations and toward a master’s degree at IDC Herzliya.

However, it was only when I started working for StandWithUs as a high school coordinator in the United States, and later as United Kingdom director of community and educational affairs, that I realized what antisemitism truly looks like. Listening to students’ stories of swastikas drawn on their schools’ walls or playgrounds, or even drawn on their arms, initially made me furious, and then convinced me how much people need the proper tools to identify and combat this hate. Students think it’s “cool” to invoke the Holocaust and Nazism without understanding their true hideous nature.

Natan Sharansky’s 3D test consists of: demonization (antisemitic tropes, blood libels, satanic-Nazi-Holocaust comparisons, etc. applied to Israel); double standards (criticism applied selectively to single out Israel); and delegitimization (denying Israel’s fundamental right to exist and the Jewish people’s right to live in their indigenous homeland.)

Fueled partly by a hatred of the only democracy in the Middle East, antisemitism is rising. There’s no need to look far to see it. It’s in the words of freshmen congresswomen, in a parade in Belgium, in cups shaped like a Swastika at a high school party, and continually and in various forms on college campuses and high schools. Left unchecked, antisemitism will grow until it cannot be easily confronted and stopped, and the results might be devastating.


StandWithUs believes that education is the road to peace. First educate yourself. Don’t take at face value everything you read and hear. Do your own research by checking different sources and draw your own conclusions.

Then, spread the message through op-eds, social media and by organizing and attending educational events. Tell students they are not alone, that there are legal and support networks for them when professors, teachers and fellow students cross that line and administrators brush them off.

Open channels of dialogue with people of different cultures and backgrounds. Antisemitism is not just about an irrational hatred of Jews, it is also an irrational hatred of “the other.”

Personal experience has shown me how much harm ignorance and lack of information can cause. Peace can be achieved through dialogue and knowledge of the other.

Take this seriously – because every one of us can make it our job to prevent hate from spreading further – and make it our job to equip the next generation with the tools and information they need to avoid repeating history... yet again.

The writer is the StandWithUs UK Director of Community and Educational Affairs.

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