Throughout this past week, significant events have occurred both inside and outside of Israel which have broad implications for how Jews and Israel are perceived globally. Firstly, is the current upheaval in the Ukraine which has sparked a wave of antisemetic attacks ranging from antisemetic graffiti to a firebombing on a synagogue. Meanwhile, on the other side of Europe, Jewish university students have been experiencing the intimidation and relentless haranguing of fellow students who are currently participating in the global annual “Israel Apartheid Week”. Finally, on Tuesday over here in Israel, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) initiated a debate in Knesset to discuss Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the first such discussion since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. These three events represent the gamut of responses of world Jewry to the growing trend of antisemitism often masqueraded as anti-Zionism and serve as lessons for how to effectively deal with the issue and how not to deal with it.
Ukrainian Jews find themselves in a most precarious position at this present moment. Having experienced antisemitism over the years, Jew hatred is not something that surprises most Jews living in the Ukraine. What is worrying the community now is the resurgence of old-school pogrom-style antisemitism, the scapegoating of Jews as the source of all of the world’s woes and more specifically of the current situation in Ukraine. Jews are being advised to stay in their homes and to not walk around wearing symbols that identify them as Jewish whilst their rabbinic leadership pleads for Israel to intervene and send security forces to protect the community. This response to a very real and overt antisemitism effectively encourages the Jews there who are in an impossible situation to hide their Judaism and wait for things to calm down.
Israel Apartheid Week
In contrast to the response of the Jews in Eastern Europe, Jewish students across the UK and France have decided to respond to the attacks being hurled at them throughout different university campuses. In the past 72 hours twitter has seen hundreds of photos tweeted with the #Rethink2014, with each poster expressing his discontent with the IAW enterprise. While this proactive response certainly shows a certain level of empowerment and courage on the part of its participants, the vast majority of the posts reveal an unsettling fact about how most of the featured students relate to Israel. One post read “I oppose Israel Apartheid Week because over 30% of British Jewish Students have reported feeling persecuted on campus”, while another emphatically said that she opposed IAW “because it shuts down the conversation”. With no intention to disrespect the well-meaning student campaigners, most of the posts missed the mark completely with the focus of most posters being on how IAW made them feel rather than focusing on the facts, or lack thereof, on which IAW is predicated.
Israeli Sovereignty on the Temple Mount
In a historic session of Knesset on Tuesday night, a discussion was held for the first time since 1967 regarding Jewish rights to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. At the behest of MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud), the Knesset convened to debate the status of the Temple Mount which is currently administrated by the Muslim Waqf. Whilst there were certainly a range of views expressed during the session, many MKs, both religious and non-religious expressed support for the idea of asserting the Jewish claim to this holiest of places. Even Zahava Gal-on, chairwoman of the far-left Meretz party did not dispute Jewish rights to the site but rather argued that she “distinguishes between a right and exercising that right”.
These events, and the responses that followed, show us how to and how not to fight antisemitism. One cannot criticise the Jews currently scared for their lives in the Ukraine. It is very possible that faced with similar circumstances, many of us would also choose to stand by and wait for things to calm down or for help to arrive. However one cannot ignore the fact that years of tolerating antisemitism has put the community there in an extremely vulnerable position, with the perpetrators of antisemetic attacks unworried about retaliation from the government or from the Jewish community. Silence is one of those things which seems to be the safest option at times but leads to an image of a community that is willing to sit on the sidelines and take whatever is thrown at them, in seeming agreement with the claims of their detractors.
Perhaps even more worrying though is the response that has expressed itself in the UK in many of the #Rethink2014 posts. These posts don’t seek to strengthen Jewish claims to the land of Israel. They don’t attempt to refute the libellous claims of apartheid. These posts accomplish little more than rallying support for a student body that is upset that people don’t like them because they are Zionists, because they are Jews. They don’t address the core issues at play and in ignoring fact based debates, lose legitimacy.
A British friend of mine today echoed what many have said in the past “Israel really needs a new PR guy. They should try recruiting the one who currently works for the PA”. He’s not far off. The only way for us to fend off attacks against our land and our people is to use much of the same rhetoric that the PA use. No, I don’t mean forged pictures of children covered in blood, and no, I don’t believe we should jump on the historical revisionism bandwagon. What makes the PA’s PR guy so successful, is that all claims, no matter how ridiculous they may be in the case of the PA, are said with confidence. They don’t say that they should have a state because they will be sad if they don’t get one. They don’t claim that there needs to be more dialogue. They say unabashedly that they are right because they have rights to the land. With the same confidence we need to assert our rights to the land, to proclaim that we are here because we deserve to be. The same stance would also serve Jewish university students well. The myth of Israeli Apartheid needs to be exposed, with students confident enough to say that they don’t support IAW because it is factually incorrect and because the Jewish nation deserves to live in their homeland. We should all take a lesson from this recent session of Knesset and realize that the core issue to be addressed is our recognition of our own rights to the land of Israel. We don’t need a new PR guy, but the meek tactics of silence and Jewish guilt don’t work — we need new confidence and we need to assert our rights.