In mid-December, Jewish leaders and activists from 16 countries (including Israel, the UK, Germany, Belgium, France, Hungary, Russia, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, South Africa, and elsewhere) gathered in London for the 2018 European Conference on Countering Antisemitism, co-sponsored by the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the UK’s Zionist Foundation (ZF). Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton Klein, who was the keynote speaker at a previous European antisemitism conference, was again invited to give a keynote speech, but could not accept the invitation this year because he had conflicting speaking commitments in Florida. I was invited to attend in Mr. Klein’s stead. The experience of representing the ZOA and U.S. Jewry at the European antisemitism conference was thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and inspiring. Here are some of my impressions:
The conference was held in the midst of heartbreak. Two days before the conference began, innocent 3-day-old baby Amiad Yisrael Ish-Ran had died, after being delivered prematurely while his mother Shira lay in Shaare Zedek Hospital, fighting for her life, in the wake of a vicious Palestinian-Arab-Hamas terrorist drive-by shooting attack three days earlier. The Arab terrorists had shot and wounded Shira in the belly and upper body, and wounded six other innocent Jews, who had simply been standing at a bus stop near Ofra in Judea, Israel.
And one day before the conference began, Arab terrorists shot and murdered two IDF soldiers, and seriously wounded two others who, again, were simply waiting at a bus stop. 76 innocent Jews had now been murdered, and 1,067 innocent Jews had been wounded by Palestinian-Arab terrorists’ latest so-called “peaceful uprising” a/k/a the current Palestinian-Arab wave of terror– the poisonous fruits of the Palestinian Authority’s antisemitic incitement and massive “pay to slay” payments to Arabs to murder Jews.
Also, on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht a few weeks before the conference began, France’s Prime Minister announced that there was a sharp (69%) increase in reported antisemitic acts in France during the first nine months of 2018. And just six weeks before the countering antisemitism conference began, 11 innocent Jews were murdered in cold blood at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a gunman who declared that he wanted all Jews to die– which would include both the Jews surrounding and supporting President Trump and the Jews opposing Trump such as HIAS who were opposing Trump’s immigration policy against Syrian Muslims and others from unvettable terrorist regimes.
Prior to the countering antisemitism conference, all conference participants were sent instructions to keep the conference location strictly confidential due to security concerns. Perhaps that pre-conference instruction “said it all.” Antisemites who call for “Death to the Jews” and “Death to all Zionists” openly hold and promote hate-fests throughout the world – such as the recent (Nov. 16-18) Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) national conference/antisemitic hatefest openly held at UCLA. The haters have no concerns for their safety. By contrast, we cannot even openly hold a conference in Europe to counter Jew-hatred for fear that we’ll be physically attacked. Frightening.
I arrived at the secret conference location, after an overnight, sleepless flight and after standing in line for close to 3 hours to get through Heathrow Airport passport control. At the welcome table in the lobby of the location where the conference was to be held, I chatted with some of the WZO conference organizers in a combination of English and my rudimentary Hebrew. By chance, a young French Jewish girl and her mother, who were not involved in the conference, were in the same lobby. The girl shyly approached me and told me (in English) that she had heard me speaking in Hebrew. She explained that she was trying to learn Hebrew too, but had only learned a few words so far. The situation in France was growing worse, and she and her family wanted to leave France to move to Israel. Perhaps this chance encounter, too, said it all.
The conference began with candle lighting and a Friday evening Shabbat service, beautifully led by WZO official Eitan Behar. After the recent days and weeks of death and antisemitic terror, it was comforting and uplifting to have Jews from so many parts of the globe come together in prayer.
A Shabbat dinner followed. WZO Vice Chairman Yaakov Hagoel gave a moving speech, emphasizing that the Jewish people are one people. The same horrible antisemitism lies behind the shooting of seven Jews, including a pregnant women, at a bus stop in Israel and the murder of eleven innocent Jews in Pittsburgh. The Jew-haters – Palestinian Arabs and others—kill us for one reason: because we are Jews and they are antisemites. The Jewish people are one people. And when one of us is attacked or murdered, anywhere in the world, we all mourn; we are all affected.
I wished that more people could have heard and appreciated Yaakov Hagoel’s important message. Unfortunately, some people resort to absurd politicization, and are devoid of empathy and concern when Jews – especially Israeli Jews – are brutally attacked and murdered by Jew-haters.
Yaakov also spoke about his trip to Pittsburgh to comfort and attend funerals of some of the slain innocent Jews there. He had also visited Shira Ish-Ran in the hospital in Jerusalem two days before, shortly before her baby died as a result of the gruesome Arab terror attack in Judea. Yaakov spoke of Shira’s courageous determination to continue to strengthen the Jewish people’s presence in our land, despite the heartbreaking tragedy she had experienced.
Yaakov Hagoel also discussed the EU Fundamental Rights Agency’s recent major survey, which found that antisemitism is growing, pervasive, becoming disturbingly “normalized,” mainstreamed and corrosive – affecting Jews in their daily lives, forcing Jews to fear for their safety, and causing large numbers of Jews to hide their identity and seriously consider leaving Europe. The survey also found widespread failures to report antisemitic incidents and hate crimes.
Additional excellent Shabbat dinner speakers included ZF Chair Paul Charney, regarding rising antisemitism in the UK, and UK Lawyers director Ms. Natasha Hausdorff, who debunked various false statements about international law used to promote anti-Israel hatred.
During Shabbat dinner, I sat with British attorneys and activists involved in combating antisemitism in the UK. I had previously, on occasion, exchanged emails with some of these folks. We realized that there was much more that we could do together, sharing ideas and resources. For instance, the UK activists had put together an excellent hand-out correcting the lies in an antisemitic, anti-Israel play about Rachel Corrie, occasionally produced in the U.S., and more often produced in the UK, and offered to share it with ZOA.
Unfortunately, the antisemites – such as those in the BDS movement – have been coordinating their activities far more than pro-Israel Jewish groups do.
In an effort to start correcting that problem, I shared with the UK activists, and with everyone else at the conference, information about ZOA’s numerous educational resources, including our booklet distributed on college campuses debunking the propaganda myth that Israel is an “occupier” of sovereign Arab land. ZOA President Morton Klein’s comprehensive Congressional testimony regarding Israel’s right to Jerusalem; ZOA President Morton Klein’s comprehensive Congressional testimony regarding Israel’s right to the Golan Heights, and supporting U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan; ZOA’s amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court citing numerous experts regarding the inability to properly vet immigrants from certain Muslim majority and other countries; and information about ZOA Law & Justice Center Director Susan Tuchman’s groundbreaking work combatting antisemitism on college campuses.
There were still other heartbreaking moments at the conference. A lovely young man with whom I spoke was the son of Sergio Kowensky – the Chairman of World Likud in South Africa, who was murdered in South Africa for being a Jew this past July.
I wondered whether those people, who don’t care about murdered, wounded and besieged Jews in Israel and elsewhere, might develop a little empathy and concern if they personally met a bereaved family member or friend of a murdered Israeli, or South African Jew or French Jew. Unfortunately, Islamists’ propaganda efforts to demonize Jews have succeeded to the point that many people don’t even care – or even celebrate – when Palestinian Arab terrorists murder the tiniest of Jewish babies. It’s high time for the media to start showing the extraordinary humanity and morality of the Jewish State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Another heart-wrenching session at the conference was a panel of Jewish students discussing their experiences. They described a particularly bad situation in the UK, including: Jewish students choosing which university to attend based on where there is less antisemitism – instead of based on the most suitable academic program for their interests; Jewish students often being prevented from bringing in pro-Israel speakers; and Jewish events being disrupted by maliciously laughing Islamists, who have attacked and chased the Jewish students, blasted loud noises to stop people from hearing the speaker, and even jumped through windows to attack and disrupt the Jewish events.
Numerous conference participants, from country after country, mentioned that the current prime sources of antisemitism are the far left and Islamists.
One speaker succinctly put it: “Twenty years ago, the major problem was antisemitism on the far right. But it flipped. Now the major problem is the far left and the radical Muslims.”
The problem of virulent Islamist antisemitism was also borne out by the experiences of conference participants from various countries. Participants from Eastern Europe, where very few Muslims have entered, reported that antisemitism in their countries was minimal. By contrast, speakers from Western Europe, where there have been huge influxes of Muslim immigrants, reported overwhelming and frightening levels of antisemitism and antisemitic attacks and incidents.
Discussions among conference participants also revealed that the strength and cohesiveness of Jewish communities in different countries varies quite a bit. Some countries have greater problems with far left “Jewish” anti-Zionist groups (the foreign equivalents of J Street and JVP). In other countries, Jewish anti-Zionist groups that side with the enemies of the Jewish people are virtually unheard of. The countries where the majority of Jewish students attend Jewish day schools seem to have the most cohesive Jewish communities. Ironically, Jewish day school attendance sometimes results from the fact that the public schools in a country are so awful or antisemitic.
Another interesting event at the conference was the speech by former British MP (Member of Parliament) and currently chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, Lord Eric Pickles. Prior to this speech, my new friends from the UK told me that Lord Pickles was a truly great man and friend. Lord Pickles’ discussed his battles against antisemitism in UK politics, and about UK Muslims’ antisemitism.
However, at one point, Lord Pickles erroneously stated that demography could necessitate the creation of a Palestinian state. He cited the grossly inflated Palestinian-Arab claims that the number of Arabs in Israel and the territories were equal to the number of Jews. After Lord Pickles was finished speaking, I ran over to him, thanked him for all his great work, and explained that the demography argument was based on false, wildly overstated Palestinian Authority figures. (See also “Time to End the Demographic Fear-Mongering,” by Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 29, 2018.) The P.A. double-counts Arabs in Jerusalem, counts Arabs who long ago emigrated or died or moved into Israel, and engages in other “lies with statistics.” Jews significantly outnumber Arabs in Israel, including in the territories. In addition, the Arab population is not increasing faster than the Jewish population. Lord Pickles politely thanked me for the information.
I mentioned my conversation with Lord Pickles to another Zionist activist at the conference. Sadly he, too, was unaware of the demographic facts.
Unfortunately, anti-Israel propaganda is so pervasive and overwhelming, that even the greatest Zionists and friends of Israel and the Jewish people unintentionally “buy into” some of the propaganda lies.
There was also a live interview with Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. Despite all the odds, Amb. Danon – together with Amb. Nikki Haley – has made important strides at the U.N. – bringing kosher food into the U.N., almost winning the 2/3 vote necessary to condemn Hamas, developing relationships with Ambassadors from Arab nations and around the globe, bringing numerous Ambassadors to Israel, etc. (Amb. Danon also gave me a “shout out” – saying “ZOA ‘s Liz Berney is a real activist like the great activist Mort Klein’s ZOA she represents; I even saw her in the subway handing out flyers!” – a reference to efforts that brought thousands of people out to demonstrate against the horrendous Iran deal. It was the exit to the subway, by the way.)
After the main conference was finished, a large group of us proceeded to a London synagogue for an additional meeting. From the outside, the synagogue was a non-descript building, with no sign, no menorah, and no other indication that it was a synagogue. It looked similar to every other building on the block. Moreover, if a terrorist was able to find the synagogue, guards were standing by.
I’m accustomed to seeing armed guards at synagogues in the United States, but seeing no sign of the building’s identity was a shock. Will Judaism go more and more underground as antisemitic attacks multiply?
The conference ended with heartfelt singing of Hatikva – the hope and dream of the Jewish people for 2,000 years, to be a free people in our own land. It’s a hope we must continue to fight for.