Vladimir Sloutsker

Fighting anti-Semitism by reinforcing Jewish pride

“I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah everywhere all the time in Germany”, warned the German government’s Antisemitism commissioner. However, this was not 1939, but rather 2019 and only last week.

The unprecedented warning by the Antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein, comes amidst reports of surging Antisemitism in Germany in recent years.

Similarly, in UK, Antisemitic incidents are at record high for third year in a row, while in France, Antisemitic acts soared by 74% in 2018, with similar warnings for Jews to avoid wearing kippas in certain places in public.

Meantime, last year, an extensive survey on Antisemitism in Europe, carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, found that 51% of Jews in Europe – that is a majority – never wear, carry or display items that could identify them as Jewish.

It is almost unfathomable that 75 years after the end of the Holocaust, Jews in Europe are once again being forced to shield their identity, with many increasingly questioning whether they still have a future on the continent.

However, if Europe wishes to truly demonstrate that there is indeed a future for its Jews, such a defeatist attitude, as encouraging Jews to hide who they are, is not the way to go about it.

Similarly, the approach of many in the Jewish and pro-Israel community to focus almost exclusively on Jews as ‘victims’ in discussing how to ‘fight’ Antisemitism, is likewise counter-productive.

As President of The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC), a leading Israel-based organization devoted to combating Antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel, I have written countless op-eds, articles and blueprints, on ways to combat this oldest and most enduring of hatreds, that seems to only mutate through the ages like a cancerous virus.

During this time, I have observed that Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” goes some way towards describing our collective approach, however well meaning, to fighting Antisemitism.

Regrettably, the Jewish community’s response to this scourge has been largely inadequate, albeit not always from lack of effort, however often exacerbated by fragmentation, lack of unity and absence of a determined, positive and proactive agenda. In part, this explains why Antisemitism is again at record levels across so many parts of Europe today.

Traditionally, the Jewish community’s approach has focused on ‘minimization’, however, this is inherently problematic, as it enables us to label even a mere reduction in Antisemitism as a ‘success.’

Sure, we can discuss steps like education, building interfaith alliances and using legal means at our disposal. And to be clear, these are absolutely necessary actions.

However, what is needed most is a paradigm shift in the very way we approach fighting this hatred from a long-term structural perspective.

First and foremost, we must cease pathologically labeling ourselves as victims and employing a defeatist attitude, as recommended by some European leaders, who are openly warning Jews to hide their identity. Such attitude is not the right way to pave the road forward, as it only perpetuates a sense of Jewish victimhood and ultimately does nothing to change the situation.

Moreover, although the Jews of Europe have gone through the darkest of times, with the Holocaust forming a singularly unique and tragic component of our history, especially in Germany and across Europe, such tragedy also does not define us or millennia of rich Jewish history, culture, success and great contribution to European society.

Although we cannot forget and must learn from out past, we need to broaden the conversation to focus more on these positive elements, while also underscoring Israel’s central role as a Jewish and democratic state, a point that is often used as an excuse by Antisemites to masquerade their own hatred.

At its core, these Antisemites want to rid Europe of its Jews, if not by violence, then by intimidation and other means, including pushing us away from our very identity as Jews and Zionists.

So, why voluntarily cave in and give them what they desire? We must not let them win.

We are neither victims, nor powerless.

We are a proud people, with a rich history, who place trust in our Providence, our faith and rightful place to live as free citizens wherever we so choose.

It is the primary responsibility of every government to ensure the security and welfare of its citizens.

However, at the same time, we must not cower or acquiesce to the forces of darkness, nor ever hide who we are, for doing so, will only grant those who seek our demise exactly what they wish.

On the contrary, we must wear our kippas in public with pride.

We should continue with our time-hallowed traditions that have served as a rock and foundation for our people, even through the darkest of times in Europe.

The European Union was built on a foundation of tolerance and openness, and as this European project continues to struggle with the tensions borne between globalisation and identity, as we have witnessed with the current European Parliament elections, it is the responsibility of European governments — and European people — to reconcile this foundation of tolerance with an unequivocal commitment to eradicating harassment and violent Antisemitic racism at its source.

However, we – as members of the Jewish community – too have a responsibility, and it starts with taking pride in who we are and our Jewish identity.

Vladimir Sloutsker is the President and Co-Founder of The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC)

About the Author
Vladimir Sloutsker is the President & Co-Founder of The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC). IJC is a leading Israeli-based organization devoted to promoting Israel as a Jewish state, while serving as a bridge to Jewish communities in the Diaspora and working to defend & support Israel in the international community and combat global Antisemitism. He has spoken at the United Nations, European Parliament, Knesset, the British Parliament and various high-level forums in Europe and the United States, while having been widely recognized for his efforts in positively influencing the Jewish community and the State of Israel around the world.