While 38% of European Jews are contemplating leaving Europe, young leaders of European Jewish communities are preparing to confront antisemitism and fight hate speech at universities.
Juan Caldes Rodríguez, in charge of Spanish and EU affairs for the European Jewish Association, is one of the young people who is not resigned to Europe falling into the hands of modern antisemitism that seeks to erase the history of Jews on the continent. His assertive argumentation gives an insight into many aspects of the lives of young Jewish leaders within Europe and the outlook for the future, which, although complex, is not without hope.
“The Jewish rebirth is the rebirth of Europe”.
I met Juan in Porto during the annual conference of the European Jewish Association and I was able to learn from him a strong conviction to be part of the fight against antisemitism and hate speeches that seek the exclusion of the Jewish community in Europe. The first thing I wanted to ask him is what being a young Jew in modern Europe means to him: “Being a young Jew in today’s Europe is an honor, but also an obligation because of the history our people have here. The Jewish presence has been here for over 2000 years and the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman roots are still present”.
“Europe is our home, it is our home of more than 2,000 years and a Jewish rebirth is also a European rebirth”.
“After the Shoah, the Holocaust, I am not saying that Europe has learned its lesson, but it is true that today we have the historic opportunity to expose and make visible the life of the Jews in order to counteract disinformation. There are many average citizens in Spain who are not used to knowing about Jewish life.”
On the alarming figure that almost 4 out of 10 European Jews are contemplating leaving the continent, Caldes Rodríguez makes an important clarification: “it is true that today there are many young Jews who find their future in the United States or Israel for economic and professional reasons, but also because in their countries they cannot develop their Judaism to the full.” However, he clarified that all is not lost and that all the initiatives coming from the leaders and leaders of the European Jewish community promise hope for the future because “Europe is our home, it is our home of more than 2,000 years and a Jewish rebirth is also a European rebirth.”
“We note a worrying increase in antisemitism on university campuses.”
In general there is a sort of consensus that we young people are the future and that the youth agenda is always at the centre of communities, but it is true that if there are no concrete plans and strategies these statements remain utopian. Caldes clarifies: “in Porto during the last EJA annual conference we have just presented a youth plan through which we are going to select 25 to 30 young Jews from all over Europe to give them the necessary tools in their training so that they can transfer them to the university environment and fight against acts of antisemitism and hate speech.”
The BDS movement, which has hijacked freedom of speech in public universities and is promoting hegemonic hate speech and intolerance that seeks only to exclude the university Jewish community, must be stopped.
“It is also very important that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is adopted and applied in universities as it is the way to counteract the trivialization of the Shoah and the irrational and incomprehensible claim of those who argue that the policies of the state of Israel can be equated with the holocaust and the physical and spiritual disappearance of 6 million people.”
What is happening in Spanish universities, although far from being the worst-case scenario, raises a warning. A few months ago, in one of the faculties of the Complutense University of Madrid, an episode of extreme tension and violence occurred against the presence of the Israeli ambassador, Rodica Radian Gordon, in the framework of a conference marking the anniversary of the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. Had it not been for the preventive action of the security forces, the alienated pro-Palestinian groups could have committed a tragedy.
Posters distributed at the university and spread on social media against the presence of the Israeli embassy in a public academic space foreshadowed the violence. Days earlier, the Palestinian embassy in Spain had been able to make its speech without interruption or violence in accordance with a democratic state under the rule of law.
“What happened at the Complutense University demonstrates the radical and violent character of these pro-Palestinian groups, which are also influenced by BDS”, Juan Caldes points out. He also insists that “the prejudices and lies are part of a disinformation campaign and of course do not describe what is really happening in Israel. This was a very serious warning of what can happen when there is an Israeli presence in a university.”
In Spanish universities today it can be a problem to assume oneself to be a Zionist. The strong radicalization of groups that have taken academic production by storm, hijacking freedom of opinion and the right to express oneself, is turning public universities into a hostile terrain for those who want to express the Israeli position on the Middle East conflict.
“I hope that, with these initiatives that we are promoting at EJA, students will begin to feel safe to say that they are Jews and that they are Zionists.”