"In the same way that I can kick and fight in a karate match,” says Raheli Baratz-Rix, head of the Department for Combating Antisemitism and Enhancing Resilience at the World Zionist Organization, “I know how to fight antisemitism.”
While Baratz-Rix is unlikely to take on those who threaten the Jewish people in physical combat, the determination and skills that she acquired, both as a holder of a black belt in karate and as a 15-year veteran officer in the IDF, have served her well in her position at the WZO, which she has held for the past year and a half.
Baratz-Rix is troubled by the spike in antisemitic incidents around the world.
“Every year, we seem to have reached a peak in the number of incidents, and then we break the record the following year,” she says.
'It is also imperative to make Israeli teens aware of antisemitism that is occurring around the world'
Last year, adds Baratz-Rix, it was estimated that 10 antisemitic events occur each day around the world, but she admits that there are many additional incidents that are not reported. From January through July of this year, she notes, 40% of the reported antisemitic events in the world took place in the United States, a jump of 10% from the previous year in the US.
Antisemitism, says Baratz-Rix, is commonly used to account for all the troubles that confront the world.“When corona came, people blamed the Jews,” she says. “Jews are blamed for the war between Russia and Ukraine, from both sides of the border. When there is an economic crisis, they blame the Jews.” Just about the only thing the Jews have not yet been held responsible for, she quips, is global warming.
Baratz-Rix explains that in the past, antisemitism came from three groups – the radical Right, the progressive Left, and anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian groups. Today, she says, there is a fourth type of antisemitism – that which comes from ignorance.
“I saw it primarily in Latin America but also in the United States,” she says. “We have even seen it in Israel.”
She is referring to the recent incident on the Big Brother (Ha’ah Hagadol) reality TV program in which one of the contestants raised his arm in a Nazi salute. Behavior such as this, says Baratz-Rix, which is thoughtless, inconsiderate and ignorant of history, can lead to more serious forms of antisemitism.
“When people dress up as Hitler at festivals, that is antisemitism from ignorance,” she says. “We need to stop it and make people aware. If you are not accepted for a job because you are Jewish, that is antisemitism. If you are not accepted to a school because you are Jewish, that is antisemitism.”
As head of the department, Baratz-Rix holds conferences on the subject, conducts research and creates programs to counter antisemitism. Recently, the organization conducted a webinar for 19 members of the European Parliament, educating them about the struggle against antisemitism. In addition, each year, the WZO issues an annual report about the state of antisemitism in the world.
Baratz-Rix says she is focusing much of her efforts on speaking to teens and young adults, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to educate them on the dangers of antisemitism. Recently, the WZO held a seminar for Jewish youth leaders in the Diaspora and will be conducting a second one later this year. This year, the WZO brought a group of non-Jewish students from Munich to Israel in a joint program developed with the Levinsky Wingate Academic Center.
Later this year, Wingate students will accompany Baratz-Rix in a return visit to Munich, where the students will participate in a ceremony commemorating the murder of the Israeli Olympic athletes at the Munich Olympics of 1972.
“My job,” Baratz-Rix points out, “is not to convince those who are already convinced about Israel and antisemitism. It is to open up to new communities that do not know Israel and do not recognize antisemitism and expose them to it. We take teachers from schools in the Diaspora who are not Jewish and bring them to Israel. In that way, they will become our ambassadors of goodwill.”
Baratz-Rix reports that the WZO is working with educators from Romania, Germany, Mexico, Argentina and other South American countries.
It is equally imperative, she adds, to make Israeli teens aware of antisemitism that occurs around the world. “We need to increase awareness and empathy among Israelis about what is happening to our brothers in the Diaspora.”
To that end, the WZO works with students in Israeli schools and has produced a program explaining Kristallnacht (“The Night of the Broken Glass”), which occurred in Germany in November 1938. The organization has also produced a series of short films about antisemitism, which are shown in Israeli schools.
Another area of responsibility in Baratz-Rix’s position is “enhancing resilience,” which, she explains, is the ability to strengthen Jewish communities and enable them to deal with and respond to threats on a community level. Last year, the WZO, in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, conducted a seminar on the subject for security staff and heads of Jewish communities in the Nordic countries – Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. The seminar will be repeated this coming year.
“Community resilience in the Diaspora is the key to combating antisemitism,” says Baratz-Rix. “The key is not to be afraid and remaining proud of being Jewish. Israel will always be the anchor for every Jew who wants to come to Israel, but Jews need to feel safe wherever they live.”
In Baratz-Rix’s view, community resilience in Israel can be expressed by incorporating and integrating people with special needs into the community. In 2015, she authored the children’s book A Special Brother (Ah Meyuhad), which addresses educational issues relating to the siblings of children with special needs, written from the siblings’ point of view. She explains that in many instances, people are busy with the special needs child but ignore the other siblings.
Baratz-Rix adds, “It is important to me to accept people with special needs in society – whether they use a wheelchair, or are blind, or mute, or on the autistic spectrum.”
As a karate instructor, she is proud that she successfully integrated children with special needs, together with the other children, into her lessons, and she views that success as a template for integrating them into other aspects of society. “To see a child with cerebral palsy able to kick with his right leg and then kick with his left by the end of the year is a real accomplishment,” she asserts.
The WZO is expanding Baratz-Rix’s vision of incorporating children with special needs in a new program in the Diaspora, which will integrate them with Jewish sports organizations such as Maccabi.
“Awareness is a key word – about antisemitism, special needs and community,” she says.
Baratz-Rix says that her career as an IDF officer left her well prepared for her current mission. As a member of the third generation of a family of Holocaust survivors, she adds, fighting antisemitism is closing the family’s circle.
“My grandfather was born in Poland and lived through seven death camps,” she says. “When he placed my officer’s stripes on my shoulder at the end of the officers’ course, it was tremendously moving – to become an officer in the State of Israel, in our country, that he dreamed of.
“Today, there is no place in the world that is free of antisemitism,” she says, listing China, Australia, South America, the United States, and Europe as places where it is on the rise. “We have a great deal of work to do to ensure that the Jewish people will not be afraid.
“In sports,” she says with a smile, “you also learn how to lose honorably. But my goal is to fight antisemitism around the world – and win.”
This article was written in cooperation with the WZO.