Empowering to educate on anti-Semitism

When I joined university, I never expected to meet anti-Semitism in an overt way. I’d heard stories, of course, one always does – of snide comments, subtle anti-Israel feeling, usually non-violent protests. But I never expected to be faced with it on my first day, before classes had even started, or so frequently.

When you tell people you’re Jewish at university, they usually jump right to Israel: so you support Israel?  You support Israel’s genocidal activities? You support the human rights violations against Palestinians? More often than not, because of their aggressive approach, it’s difficult to reply. Anti-Semitism usually wears the disguise of anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment, and when a fellow student threw these questions at me 10 minutes after I’d met them, I simply replied with “yes, I support Israel. I don’t want to talk about it”.

Looking back on it now, several months into my degree, I regret shutting down the question so quickly. I regret not defending the country I love, not standing up for the right of Jews to have a state and self-determination, like every other nation. I also regret that I did not fight that feeling sooner.

A mere month or two later, I was reading in the common room at university, and a discussion about Harvey Weinstein erupted on the sofas next to me. It was claimed that films are terrible nowadays because Jews run Hollywood (these students had obviously not seen Armando Iannucci’s Death of Stalin), and that all Jews behave like the infamous producer. Later, having heard me explain the festival of Chanukah to a friend, a few students nearby stated that Jews have to control everything, and that’s why they want Jerusalem. Granted, not everyone will agree with President Trump’s decision, or rather acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the unadulterated anti-Semitism was astounding. The gall, the ignorance, was extraordinary. And both times, I was shocked into silence, using my Star of David adorned copy of Leon Uris’s Exodus as a passive aggressive shield.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines ‘Zionism’ as “a political movement that had as its original aim the creation of a country for Jewish people, and that now supports the state of Israel”. In denying Jews the rights which every other nation and religion has, anti-Zionism is just another form of anti-Semitism, and perhaps the biggest challenge we face today is the lack of education. One of the most beautiful things about Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, is that the followers of three Abrahamic religions are able to coexist in peace.

Like every country, Israel has its problems, problems it is working hard to solve so that both the majority and minorities can flourish economically and as fully-fledged members of society. Yet Jews, Arabs and Christians are able to walk the streets together, and the dismissal of this fact is a crime in and of itself, and an impediment to the peace process.

Since these incidents, I have become more active than ever. Alongside challenging anti-Semitic views on campus, I have been speaking to more of my fellow students, educating them on the history of Israel, it’s standing on the economic, political and social stage, and on the Holocaust, which links with everything else. So many of my generation are misinformed about the Holocaust, many denying it and claiming that it is the false basis for Israel’s existence. As the original voices are extinguished, we become the survivors, and it is us who must tell the stories of anguish, strength and survival. The existence of the State of Israel is proof of Hitler’s failure. Being involved with campaigns like Peace Week 2018, led by StandWithUs UK, has given me the voice to go out and discuss, empathise, and advocate for the free speech Hitler tried to eradicate, which is often supressed out of fear.

StandWithUs advocates that “education is the road to peace”. Through understanding and respectful discussion, together we can empower fellow students across the globe and make a massive difference to campus life. Peace is possible, and we all have a duty to do everything in our power to make it a reality.

About the Author
Originally from London, Nessya is a postgraduate student at the University of Cambridge, with research focusing on the connection between Tanakh/Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature. She holds a degree in English Literature from King's College, London, and a minor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilisations from University of Pennsylvania. The views in this blog are the author's own.
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