Conference combating antisemitism goes digital amid coronavirus spread

The winners of the contest will share a $100,000 grant to apply their ideas in real world settings, sponsored by Jewish organizations.

Online awards - Combat Anti  Semitism Movement (photo credit: COMBAT ANTISEMITISM MOVEMENT)
Online awards - Combat Anti Semitism Movement
The Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) held a digital conference amid the coronavirus spread to announce the 37 winners of its Venture Creative Contest Sunday night, highlighting outside-the-box thinking to fight antisemitism worldwide.
The winners of the contest - including mural artists, essayists, poets and videographers among others - will share a $100,000 grant to apply their ideas in real world settings, sponsored by Jewish organizations such as CAMERA, Aish Ha’Torah, Artists4Israel, The Tikvah Fund, Jewish News Service, Israel on Campus Coalition, the American Sephardi Federation and the Galila Foundation.
One winner is a Japanese-American artist who goes by the name of JUURI. She travels around the United States painting murals inspired by Japanese history. In recent years, JUURI has had murals commissioned aimed at combating antisemitism for organizations such as Artists4Israel, where her interest in painting Jewish themes and fighting antisemitism came about – that and the “rampant” antisemitic tropes dominating many street art themes.
“For my Emma Lazarus Award project, I plan to paint a large mural of WWII Japanese diplomat Sugihara Chiune," JUURI wrote in an email. "He issued 4,000-6,000 illegal visas so that Jews could flee from Lithuania to Japanese territory. He stood completely against the wishes of the Japanese government, putting his own life and his family’s life in danger. It’s even said that when he was on board the train to leave his post forever, he kept writing visas – flinging the pieces of paper out the window to the refugees outside. It’s estimated that 40,000 descendants of original visa holders are alive today because of his actions!”
The culminating moments leading up to the conference, however, were unfortunately shrouded by uncertainty.
Sunday’s event was initially scheduled to be held at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, however, due to the coronavirus spread and fears accelerating across the United States, organizers had to move the conference to a digital venue for the safety of its attendees.
With the event moving on as planned, keynote speakers such as human rights activist and former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Special Envoy to the United States Elon Carr graced the podium to share their views on antisemitism with 30,000 watching the conference online.
Sharansky and Carr both alluded to notions being disseminated worldwide that the Jewish people are responsible for spreading the coronavirus, adding that these are the perfect conditions for an uptick in antisemitism, as has been shown to be true in past public health crises throughout history.
“The idea that Jews are behind the virus, that Jews want to destroy markets, to make money or that Israel is behind it – there is nothing new in it,"Sharansky said. "We saw it during the Black Death in the Middle Ages. There was broad belief that Jews were behind it. The difference between then and now is that today the State of Israel is strong, we are fighting antisemitism and we will defeat it."
Recently, propaganda regarding the virus spread has been pointed at Israel and the Jewish people in places like Iran, Turkey and Jordan, he said - which is another effort to delegitimize the Jewish state, as fears around the world spread like wildfire.
Even though the coronavirus outbreak is at the top of the world’s concerns, the conference intended to highlight growing antisemitism and government policies combating them, as well as new ways to focus efforts in order to stamp out misunderstandings across the globe.
“See what happened in the UK, when people took to the streets and said they wouldn't allow their country to be filled with hatred. They acted against the rise of antisemitism and caused an earthquake,” Carr said, who went on to outline current US policies against antisemitism. “The current administration is determined by its words and action to fight antisemitism. The administration is committed to secure the physical security of Jews, to fight the spread of antisemitism on the Internet, to end radicalization of students in the Middle East through textbooks, to educate about philo-semitism [love of Jews], and to take legal action against those who engage in antisemitism.”
CAM, founded in 2019 and lead by its director Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, describes itself as a non-partisan grassroots movement made up of individuals sharing all different types of faiths and background, who are united around the notion of stopping antisemitism in all of its forms.
“We are in a time when we need to work in collaboration with one another. If you look throughout the history of the world, the greatest achievements come from those working together" to solve a problem, Roytman-Dratwa told The Jerusalem Post. “What we are trying to do is basically offer a platform in order to implement these projects together, and offer them the chance to be a part of the movement as we attempt to work together.”
Roytman-Datwa went on to share that his powerful motivation for fighting antisemitism comes not only from external issues, but also ones that literally hit home. He told the Post that members of his family still living in Belgium are scared to have the mezuzah on their door, adding that they have even gone so far as to change their original Jewish family name, which had been passed down for generations.
“I was born in Belgium. People are afraid," he said. "In Belgium at Jewish schools you have snipers on the rooftops and the military outside protecting the gates with [Humvees]. It’s getting to a point where it is dangerous, not because you see swastikas on doors or things like that: People have actually been killed in Europe and places around the United States,” Roytman-Datwa told the Post.
“So as a Jewish person coming from the Diaspora, it touched my family, it touched my life and it touched my identity – so therefore, I cannot just stand by and not do anything about it.”