European Universities and the New Anti-Semitism: Issues, Examples, Prescriptions

, September 25, 2008

 Primary Issues Concerning Jews and Israel

Anti-Semitism in European Universities

The situation at many universities in Europe is extremely challenging for Israel and for Jewish students. Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts are proliferating there-and not only among the Muslim minority population.[1] Virtually throughout Europe, including Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union (FSU), anti-Israel attitudes are accepted as unassailable among a large number of academics and political pundits alike, across disciplines.[2]

These attitudes in academia are both supported by, and contribute to perpetuating, a general environment that is hostile to Israel and not friendly to Jews. This often makes it difficult-or extremely costly in terms of relationships, prestige, or advancement-for students and faculty to identify with Israel or Judaism. This “new anti-Semitism”[3] – applying traditional anti-Semitic themes that delegitimize and demonize Jews and Judaism to the Jewish state and its leaders – threatens not only the support Israel receives from European elites and governments but also the strength of Jewish identity among students and faculty as well as European values of tolerance and liberty.

Low Numbers, Few Institutions

This situation is exacerbated by two aspects of European Jewish communities little recognized by Israeli decision-makers or Jewish leaders from outside the region. First, universities throughout Western Europe, while often boasting large numbers of Muslim students as well as visiting students from Arab countries, count very few Jewish or pro-Israeli students among their population. For instance, whereas 15-20 percent of young people matriculating in America’s top universities are Jewish, in Western Europe only a few universities can claim even a tenth of that figure, Jews being thinly dispersed throughout the continent.

Second, weak or nonexistent Jewish community infrastructures provide little or no support to Jewish students in their efforts to identify with their Judaism or defend Israel in the university environment. The same can be said for Jewish or pro-Israel faculty.

Again, the contrast with the United States is illuminating. There, a myriad of establishment institutions[4] have divisions exclusively dedicated to supporting Jewish students or promoting Judaism or Israel across North America, and numerous local and national organizations do the same.[5] According to the European Union of Jewish Students, there are about two hundred thousand Jews in Europe aged eighteen to thirty; the European Jewish Information Centre reports less than fifty professionals working specifically for students throughout Europe to serve this community.[6]

Although recent efforts by Hillel in Eastern Europe and the FSU are not insignificant, the sum total of institutional resources even peripherally dealing with these issues in Europe is particularly small. These resources, such as they are, come from the B’nai Brith International and B’nai Brith Europe, European Jewish Congress, European Council of Jewish Communities, International Academic Friends of Israel, European Center for Jewish Students, and a new American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, along with various offices of the Joint Distribution Committee, among others.

Local Jewish leadership makes an effort, with limited numbers and means, to support Jewish university students and defend Israel in academia. The impact is negligible. The European Union of Jewish Students, though supported through the World Union of Jewish Students by the Jewish Agency and World Jewish Congress among others, is significantly underfunded and functions primarily, as it always has, as a student-run grassroots movement.

The Need for Coordination

There are exceptions, notably in the UK and France, where a relatively strong Jewish community has galvanized institutional and financial support for students and organized efforts to be active in academia.[7] But these efforts remain focused on the local Union of Jewish Students and are still relatively limited. Israel is defamed regularly even in those countries, and Jewish students there, as across Europe, are intimidated and distanced from Judaism and Israel. There is no coordinating mechanism or even regular communications forum across Europe through which Jewish leadership could more effectively devise strategies.

It is at European universities that tomorrow’s opinion molders, and the next decades’ decision-makers, are being groomed. Europe and Russia are taking an increasing role in Middle Eastern affairs. This is a critical time and place for coordinated action. In light of expanding trade ties, Europe’s growing political strength, and Russia and Europe’s strong connections with the Arab world, one of the main battlegrounds for Israel’s future is Europe.

Examples of the Challenge

The examples below occurred in the past few years. All are substantiated by eyewitness accounts; each is representative of numerous similar occurrences in other universities and other countries throughout Europe.

Multiple Incidents at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, UK

“Resisting Israeli Apartheid: Strategies and Principles,” full-day conference at the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, SOAS, 5 December 2004: Over the course of eight hours some twenty-five speakers, mainly academics, lectured in various sessions. In addition to comparisons with South Africa, two speakers (both academics) compared Israeli actions to those of the Nazis. One talk was titled “Settler Colonialism as Genocide.” The phrase “the occupation started in 1948” was used repeatedly to claim that Israel has no right to exist.[8]

Islamist extremist film-Jerusalem, the Promise of Heaven-shown in the Student Union, 21 February 2005: In this film, repeated images of religious Jews praying at the Western Wall or in synagogue are accompanied by a voiceover commentary about Jews, including statements such as:

  • Jewish prayer rituals are “satanic.”
  • Jews have no values or ethics.
  • Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives are bogus, rich overseas Jews paying to have fictitious names written on them.
  • Jews have no significant historical connection to Israel or Jerusalem.[9]

SOAS Students’ Union tries to ban the appearance of Roey Gilad, political counselor at the Israeli embassy in London, 22 February 2005: The administration overturned the ban after pressure by pro-Israel students and others. On the night of the talk, a false fire alarm was triggered and the talk was delayed by forty minutes.[10]

“Zionism is racism” policy of SOAS Students’ Union: The Union’s policy statement defines Zionism as racism. Clause 10 of the Union’s motion opposing all forms of racism, posted on its website, declares: “This Union believes…that peace requires…the elimination of…Zionism and racial discrimination in all its forms….”  In the same policy statement, in the last section, Clause 1 states, “This Union condemns…any form of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Zionism or other forms of discrimination on campus.”[11] This Union policy was cited when the abovementioned Israeli embassy official was banned from appearing.

Note that in the same sentence in Clause 10 calling for the elimination of Zionism, the policy recognizes “the dignity of peoples and their right to self-determination.” In other words, all people are entitled to self-determination except Jews.

“Apartheid Israel” Week at Oxford University, UK

In mid-February 2006, the Palestinian Society student organization at Oxford University hosted a series of events to commemorate, as stated in its flyers, the “30th anniversary of the international convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid.”

The flyers presented a caricature of two Israeli soldiers beating a Palestinian man with clubs depicted as maps of Israel, one labeled “Palestine,” the other “South Africa.” The conference centered on themes of apartheid and Zionism, divestment and resistance. Ilan Pappe, a professor from Haifa University and advocate of a one-state solution and boycott of Israeli institutions, spoke on “Resisting Apartheid: Divestment and Solidarity” in a meeting chaired by Prof. Steven Rose, a leading advocate of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Another speaker was Prof. Gabi Piterberg of the University of California at Los Angeles, who spoke on “Zionism and Apartheid.” In 2003 Piterberg, an Israeli anti-Zionist, signed a petition calling for divestment from Israel.

Jewish students wrote to the university’s vice-chancellor and attended some of the events, handing out literature and trying to engage with other attendees. According to the Jerusalem Post, in a meeting with the university proctor at the disciplinary office of the university, Jewish students were told that while their concerns were understood, there was insufficient evidence for intervention as “there needs to be a high level of provocation.” [12] This was the case even though the Palestinian Society was not officially registered with the university and was acting improperly in using the university’s name.

Mitch Simmons, campaign director of the Union of Jewish Students, told the Jerusalem Post, “We were pleased that the proctor took the time to meet with us and recognized our concerns. But how uncomfortable do Israeli and Jewish students have to feel before they take action?”

The media spokesman for the Palestinian Society, Abdel Razzaq Takriti, told the Post, “We are simply stating our belief and explaining that Israel is an apartheid state, to encourage people to take a stance and increase public pressure on Israel to change its apartheid policies.”

Adrienne Rivlin, ex-president of the Oxford University Jewish Society and current graduate chair, offered perhaps the most succinct conclusion: “Israeli and Jewish students on campus unfortunately can only feel intimidated by [these] actions.”

“Zionism is a danger to the Jewish people” Vote at University of Cambridge, UK

In the same week that Oxford held its “Apartheid Israel” week in February 2006, Cambridge University’s Union hosted a debate on whether Zionism is a danger to the Jews. Cambridge students attending voted 125 to 121, with 71 abstentions, that indeed “Zionism is a danger to the Jewish people.”[13]

In an analysis of the event, Melanie Phillips suggests that losing the vote itself was only the tip of the iceberg. Aside from the fact that Cambridge Union felt it appropriate to hold such an event, Phillips notes that the response to the vote by Jewish student leaders reflects their level of insecurity.

As Phillips points out, the motion passed by a majority of four. One member of the debating team that spoke in opposition to the motion, who was recruited at the last minute following sudden cancellations by original team members, seemed satisfied with the result. He said he felt his side had persuaded a number of moderate and undecided people; anti-Zionist activists had brought many students to the event, and the Jewish or pro-Zionist contingent was small.

He writes, “I was reassured by the fact that the majority of intelligent, neutral Union members who go to debates to think and learn all seemed to vote for us.” As Phillips notes, taking into account the additional seventy-one people who evidently remained uncertain, it seems clear that the overwhelming majority of these students (176-121) were not convinced that Zionism is not a danger to the Jews.[14]

Intimidation at the School of Journalism, University of Utrecht The Netherlands

A journalism student at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who frequently contributes to online publications, was recently attacked in articles on the white-nationalist website http://www.stormfront.org/ in Dutch. The articles, published in early 2006, included the student’s name and photograph and the name of her university.

“The story about me (written in Dutch) was terrible,” the student writes. “I was shocked obviously, especially because I never experienced any anti-Semitism before during my life in the Netherlands.”

One of the articles, without a byline, concluded with the sentence: “We’re probably going to hear more of this little mediajew in the future.”[15]

The student is so frightened by this experience that she refused to be identified for this article. “I don’t want them to find anything else about me that they can again use for their terrible website,” she says.

Institutional Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism at MAUP, Ukraine

The above events represent trends at universities across Europe, similar incidents having been reported in virtually every European university. They manifest, however, a cultural and societal bias that is not necessarily shared or supported, at least not officially or frequently, by administrative or academic officers at the universities.

On a different level, some institutions of higher learning display a structural anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bias. Especially in the newly independent states of Eastern Europe, this organizational support for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes is of special concern to those working to promote Israel, freedom and democracy in these transitional societies.

There is a particularly alarming example of this trend in the Ukraine. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other organizations, MAUP (the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management) is one of the primary sources of Ukrainian anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.[16]  It organizes anti-Semitic conferences and frequently publishes statements and widely read periodicals containing anti-Semitic articles.

According to Josef Zissels, leader of Ukraine’s oldest secular Jewish umbrella group, the Va’ad: “some 70 percent of all anti-Semitic publications that appear in Ukraine are produced by MAUP and its affiliates.” In September 2005 it was reported that “among other things, MAUP recently published a blacklist of media and organizations distributing or supporting ‘Jewish racism, Judeo-Nazism and Jewish organized crime in Ukraine.'”[17]

A small selection of their activities:[18]

  • On 22 November 2005, MAUP’s president, Georgy Tschokin, who according to the ADL is responsible for the virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activities at the university, issued a statement of solidarity with Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s threat to destroy Israel. The statement blended traditional Christian anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism:

We’d like to remind that the Living God Jesus Christ said to Jews two thousand years ago: “Your father is a devil!”… Israel, as known, means “Theologian,” and Zionism in 1975 was acknowledged by General Assembly of UNO as the form of racism and race discrimination, that, in the opinion of the absolute majority of modern Europeans, makes the most threat to modern civilization. Israel is the artificially created state (classic totalitarian type) which appeared on the political Earth map only in 1948, thanks to good will of UNO…. Their end is known, and only the God’s true will rescue all of us. We are not afraid, as God always together with his children![19]

  • MAUP’s June 2005 conference on “Zionism: Threat to World Peace” was cochaired by U.S. white supremacist David Duke and attended by various people known for anti-Semitic opinions. These included French Holocaust denier Serge Thion[20] and Israel Shamir[21], who apparently was a Jew in Russia and converted to Christianity, and is known for publishing anti-Semitic essays on the Internet. The Palestinian Authority representative in Ukraine, Walid Zakut, was also reported to have attended.
  • David Duke teaches a course on history and international relations at MAUP and was awarded a PhD for a thesis on Zionism.
  • MAUP’s leading figures have been at the root of attempts to restrict Jewish organizations in Ukraine and, more recently, a call to ban The Tanya, a classic work of Hassidic Jewish literature, on the ground that it promotes racism against non-Jews.[22]

Even more recently, on 1 December  2005, MAUP held a conference titled “The Jewish-Bolshevik Revolution of 1917: The Source of the Red Terrorism and the Starvation of Ukraine.”[23] And in the March 2006 issue of Personnel Plus, one of MAUP’s leading publications, an article called “Murder Is Unveiled, the Murderer Is Unknown?” by Yaroslav Oros revives false ritual-murder accusations from the 1911 Beilis trial.[24] A week earlier, MAUP leaders visited the grave of Andrei Yuschinsky, a Christian boy allegedly “murdered by Jews with ritual purpose.”[25]

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko sat for years on the board of MAUP, and only resigned a few years ago. Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk was honorary director of one of MAUP’s subdivisions until 2005.[26] However, in late January 2006, Tarasyuk called MAUP’s actions “unlawful” and proclaimed that “there is no place for any form of anti-Semitism or xenophobia in Ukraine.” Jewish groups welcomed these statements, along with indications from the Ukrainian Education Ministry about planned investigations of MAUP “activities inconsistent with higher education.”[27]

Supporting Jewish Students, Faculty, and Israel in Europe: The Need for a Coordinating Forum

The above are merely representative instances of a wide consensus throughout European society and particularly in the university environment. Although there are exceptions, especially among individual faculty members or political leaders, the overriding trend is acknowledged by national, regional, and international observers. The differences that do exist are a matter of degree: attitudes are distinguished according to the magnitude of condemnation of Israel, or the blatancy with which a speaker or writer will distort the reality of Israel’s struggle to survive.

The Jewish world, with its wide array of organizations and philanthropies, has been gravely negligent in allowing this situation to fester. A strategic effort to expand support for Jewish students and to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism at European universities is a critical need-no less than the need that in North America gave birth to the ICC (Israel on Campus Coalition).

Whether led by Israel or by global Jewish figures, such an effort should aim to form an umbrella association to coordinate and ensure communications and  responsiveness on university issues throughout Europe, not unlike the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism established by Natan Sharansky as Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs in 2003.

An organizing consortium of this sort would ensure cooperation between student groups, community leaders, international organizations, and others, while promoting more effective use of local and global Jewish resources. Students and faculty throughout Europe have explicitly called for support and, when asked, identified certain critical needs. Among many specific projects to be pursued, the following are indispensable:

  • Translation and distribution of relevant materials
  • An Internet-based network for sharing materials
  • Coordination of visiting lecturers and groups to ensure wide exposure
  • Periodic conferences of students, faculty, or community leaders
  • A central mechanism for information flow and quick response to crises
  • Strengthening individual countries’ Jewish student unions with funding, facilities, and staffing

Such a forum-with an appropriately constructive name such as the European Jewish Public Affairs Forum-can be created by holding a founding conference in Europe including all the relevant individuals and organizations.[28] The cooperation of the EU can be solicited for the conference, for help with facilities, translations, special projects, and general activities. Funds can be raised from individual European governments, the United States, and perhaps various restitution funds as well as private philanthropists.

Conclusion

If working to establish and settle a Jewish state was the expression of Zionism in the early twentieth century, in the latter part of the century Zionism meant supporting that state in its efforts to survive, develop, and thrive.  Zionism in the twenty-first century will be defined by the struggle against those who question Israel’s legitimacy to exist as a Jewish state. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Europe, which on the whole is about two decades “ahead” of America in accepting the anti-Semitic argument that Israel is a colonialist, illegitimate oppressor. This belief crosses social, economic, religious, and political boundaries and is not limited to the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”).

With these attitudes now accepted among European youth, in ten years, or twenty at most, there may be no question among Europe’s political and business elite as to Israel’s original sin in its founding. This development would pose as much a strategic threat to Israel, the Jewish world, and the entire free world as Iranian missiles and the ascendancy of Hamas, Hizbullah, and other Islamofascist movements.

Europe is already the leading economic power in the world and is challenging U.S. hegemony around the globe politically. The coming decade will decide how Europe views the Zionist experiment that is the state of Israel, as several of Europe’s leaders of 2015 learn philosophy, history, politics, and religion at the feet of virulent anti-Semites.

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Notes

[1] See, e.g., articles in Jewish Political Studies Review, Vols. 15-17.

[2] See, e.g., Natan Sharansky, “On Hating the Jews,” Commentary, November 2003.

[3] Natan Sharansky, “Anti-Semitism in 3D,” The Forward, 21 January 2005, and in the Jerusalem Post, www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1077532078469.

[4] A short list of such organizations would include, among others: Hillel, AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee), ADL (Anti-Defamation League), AJC (American Jewish Congress), American Jewish Committee, JNF (Jewish National Fund), ZOA (Zionist Organization of America), B’nai B’rith, URJ (Union of Reform Judaism), USCJ (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), OU (Orthodox Union), and the Conference of Presidents.

[5] These include StandWithUs, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the David Project, NAJSA, Hasbara Fellowships, Upstart Activist, and others.

[6] Gidon van Emden, “Redefine the Idea of Jewish Continuity,” Jerusalem Post, 5 April 2006.

[7] Many of the examples below are taken from the UK, not necessarily because of a higher incidence of events there but rather because of the relatively significant resources devoted there to monitoring and responding to such events.

[8] “Israel Boycott Row Hits College,” The Guardian, www.education.guardian.co.uk/higher/worldwide/story/0,9959,1366286,00.html.

[9] “Boycott Threat to Israeli Colleges,” The Observer, www.observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1461699,00.html.

[10] See, e.g, “College Tells Students to Reverse Israeli Ban,” The Guardian, www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1406301,00.html; Melanie Phillips, “A Candle for Freedom,” www.melaniephillips.com/diary/archives/001064.html.

[11] www.soasunion.org/system/systempages/file/32/file/opposing_all_racist_manifestations.pdf.

[12] All quotations from “Oxford Holds ‘Apartheid Israel’ Week,” Jerusalem Post, 16 February 2006.

[13]  www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1139395460108&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

[14] See “The Closing of (Some) University Minds,” http://www.melaniephillips.com/diary/?p=1145.

[15] Rendered from Dutch.

[16] www.adl.org/main_Anti_Semitism_International/maup_ukraine.htm.

[17] www.jewishreview.org/Archives/Article.php?Article=2005-09-01-1597.

[18] www.adl.org/main_Anti_Semitism_International/maup_ukraine.htm.

[19] Ibid.

[20] See Dr. Harold Brackman and Aaron Breitbart, Holocaust Denial’s Assault on Memory: Precursor to Twenty-First Century Genocide?PDF (719 KiB) , Simon Wiesenthal Center, April 2007, p. 40.

[21] See www.nigelparry.com/issues/shamir/originalletter.html

[22] Ibid.

[23] www.antisemitism.org.il/eng/events/16286/Ukraine_%E2%80%93_An_Antisemitic_Conference_at_the_MAUP_Academy.

[24] www.personal-plus.net/article.php?ida=453.

[25] www.jta.org/page_view_breaking_story.asp?intid=1573.

[26] www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interregional_Academy_of_Personnel_Management.

[27] www.ncsj.org/AuxPages/012506MAUP.shtml.

[28] Main actors in or for the European university environment include (in no particular order):

World/European Union of Jewish Students ECJS (European Center for Jewish Students)
Hillel International ECJC (European Council of Jewish Communities)
World/European Jewish Congress European Jewish Information Centre
Israeli Foreign Ministry B’nai B’rith International, B’nai B’rith Europe
Joint Distribution Committee Jewish Agency Education Department
National/local Jewish leadership Jewish Agency emissaries
Youth movements Keren Hayesod

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Aryeh Green is director of MediaCentral, a provider of services to foreign media based in Israel, and is a business consultant active in Israel’s public diplomacy (hasbara) efforts. He works with former minister Natan Sharansky on issues related to young Jewish leadership, hasbara, and anti-Semitism, and served as a senior adviser to Sharansky in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, where he coordinated a global effort to support Jewish university students and to defend Israel in academia. He has visited over seventy-five universities, and has spoken to and with thousands of university students and faculty members in Europe, the United States and Israel in the past two decades.