Learn from our mistakes or face dramatic rise in antisemitism, European student union head warns
December 11, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
If North American Jews don’t learn from the mistakes of their European counterparts they will experience a dramatic increase in antisemitism and anti-Zionism, cautioned a community leader from Europe.
“You are us 30 years ago,” warned Deborah Abisror, executive director, European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS). “I hope that you will finally look at us and see what we did 30 years ago and not make the same mistakes that we made.”
Although the history of antisemitism on the two continents is vastly different, mainly because the Holocaust did not occur on North American soil, they are following the same trajectory, Abisror said.
“You are making exactly the same mistakes we made 30 years ago. First, you still believe too much in your government and the people around you. We trusted our countries; we trusted that they wouldn’t change but they changed.
“Second, you defend Israel blindly. That’s a mistake we made and we are paying the price today. ‘Apartheid Week’ is very strong in our universities and our students are facing many [negative] things because we didn’t defend ourselves intelligently.”
The smart way to counter anti-Zionism, she said, is to present a pro-Israel message that is tailored to specific audiences and doesn’t waste time defending actions that will not find support in the general population.
“That’s something we are doing in Europe [now] but we are too late.”
The EUJS represents 34 national Jewish student organizations. The type of discrimination that Jewish students encounter on European campuses today depends on location.
“In Western Europe you will face anti-Zionism and in Eastern Europe you will face the old antisemitism. The worst campuses today are in England, Belgium, France, Greece and Russia.”
She explained that the anti-Israel movement in England is strong but so is the Jewish community. In contrast, Greece’s small Jewish community is ill-equipped to fight the country’s growing neo-Nazi movement. Russia displays old-fashioned antisemitism, sometimes including quotas; as a result, many study in Ukraine, whereas in France “we fight it, we go against it.” Jewish students in Belgium arrive unprepared to deal with virulent anti-Zionism and, rather than organizing and fighting back, many just leave.
“Belgium is really awful. Brussels is [the source of] one of the biggest aliyah in Europe, in proportion.”
Even so, in the cities “it’s not as bad as you think. We are still living well; we are still living in security. [In France] I don’t feel that I have to remove my Magen David and you see a lot of men wearing kippot in the metro.”
As for news reports of Jews being warned against wearing clothing that would identify them as Jews, those stories concern Muslim-majority suburbs where it is equally dangerous for Christians to enter, she said, and Muslims who do not adhere to a strict Islamic dress code are also at risk of being assaulted.
“It’s not only the Jews; it’s everyone, but that’s in very sensitive suburbs where I would never put my feet. We tell [Jews who live in those suburbs] to move; we tell them to sell their houses. The Jewish history is to move, so move.”
Abisror spoke to the Jewish Tribune before her appearance at an Aish Toronto fundraiser held at Shaarei Shomayim Congregation last week and attended by 350 people. Abisror’s fellow panelists were Elan Carr, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs and terrorism and Nathan J. Diament, director, Institute for Public Affairs, Orthodox Union. Toronto author Allan Gould moderated the panel discussion and Rabbi Mitch Mandel, executive director, Aish Toronto, was the emcee.