Divergent Diaspora Jewish student leaders expressed concerns over Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Amichai Chikli, at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum in Tel Aviv this week.
Avital Grinberg, president of the European Union of Jewish Students; Joel Rosen, president of the Union of Jewish Students (UK and Ireland); and Alissa Foster, president of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, were united in their condemnation of Chikli. They expressed deep concerns over his “extremist” views and “divisive” rhetoric.
Chikli blames J Street for controversial photo
On the flipside, the European Jewish Association (EJA) defended Israeli politics and advocated for European Jewry, sending a strong statement: “European Jewry should not interfere with Israeli politics.”
In an interview on KAN, Chikli claimed that the left-wing American J Street edited a photo of him from the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York, to make it look like he was making an obscene gesture with his fingers.
The anchors challenged Chikli, countering that J Street is an important Diaspora group, and asking why he didn’t explain to J Street that the photo was misconstrued.
“It’s not an important organization, it’s hostile,” he responded, citing J Street’s advocacy for the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. “It’s a hostile organization that harms the interests of the state of Israel.”
Chikli further criticized the organization for receiving funding from George Soros, the progressive Jewish billionaire megadonor, who has become a bogeyman for political conservatives and antisemitic conspiracy theories. He said, “I have no expectation of J Street, which George Soros funded with $1 million. There’s no turning to him.”The student leaders wrote in response: “As elected Jewish student leaders, we strive to represent all Jews in our community, irrespective of who they are, how they practice their Judaism and who they love. In line with these values and our commitment to Israel, we cannot normalize extremist views.”
They emphasized that “Chikli has denigrated Reform Jews. In his words, ‘they are going back to their roots in Germany of anti-Zionism and anti-nationalism. It’s a tragedy that they are going there.’ At a time when Jews in the Diaspora face rising antisemitism, it is unconscionable for anyone who professes to be a Jewish leader to incite hatred toward other Jews.”
They highlighted Chikli’s past derogatory remarks against the LGBGT community and his opposition to the pride flag, saying he “described pride as ‘disgraceful vulgarity’ and sees the pride flag as an anti-Zionist symbol. In line with our commitment to inclusivity and combating prejudice, we cannot accept such divisive views.”
Drawing attention to recent events, the student leaders criticized Chikli for employing Soros to attack a Diaspora Jewish organization, emphasizing the dangers of echoing historic antisemitic tropes. “When Elon Musk said Soros ‘hates humanity’ who seeks to ‘erode the fabric of civilization’, echoing historic antisemitic tropes, Chikli replied, ‘Criticism of Soros (...) is anything but antisemitism, quite the opposite!’ As campus leaders who fight antisemitism every day, we know the dangers of those tropes and those who defend them,” they said.
The European Jewish Association (EJA) strongly opposed the students. Alexander Benjamin, the EJAs Brussels office director, said “European Jewry should not interfere with Israeli politics. Young people who publicly attack the world’s only Jewish state and its democratically elected public representatives are displaying a breathtaking arrogance, a naivety, and a reckless and irresponsible attitude to the very country that represents their insurance policy.”Benjamin further stressed the tradition of working with elected governments in Israel, despite differing opinions: “For many years, all mainstream Jewish organizations worldwide worked with any elected government in Israel despite differences of opinion, and this should continue to remain the case.
“Any body purporting to speak for Jewish students operating at a pan-European level has a deep responsibility toward European Jewry. It is clear that they have not understood this,” he concluded.
Chikli had said during the closing plenary for the American Jewish Committee on Wednesday that, in the past, BDS activists would demonstrate, “harass and disturb” Israeli speakers and leaders.
“Unfortunately, today, some are acting even worse than BDS activists, harassing Knesset members and ministers, sometimes even with violence on the streets of New York, even though this is a government that was elected by an overwhelming majority,” Chikli said.He declined to comment on these statements.