European ambassadors hear testimony on anti-Semitism in Knesset

Immigration and Absorption Committee hears testimony about violent atmosphere against Jews in United States and Europe.

Mordechai Sones ,

Governor-General of New Zealand Dame Patsy Reddy during visit to Yad Vashem
Governor-General of New Zealand Dame Patsy Reddy during visit to Yad Vashem
Flash 90

The Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee today (Monday) heard testimony about the violent atmosphere against Jews in the United States and Europe. Ambassadors to Israel from the European Union, Germany, and Austria, and diplomatic representatives from the UK, France, and Russia listened as Becky Sebo, former President of Bobcats for Israel at Ohio University tearfully recounted being arrested on campus for speaking about Israel.

She showed a video of the incident and explained how pro-Israel voices were suppressed from debate by the Student Senate in the summer of 2014. Sebo was arrested and charged with a 4th degree misdemeanor which carried a fine and the possibility of 30 days in jail. Becky fought the charge and now works for global pro-Israel organization StandWithUs.

The Knesset discussion led by MK Avraham Neguise, chairman of the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee was initiated by David Borowich-Ya'ari, former CEO of Hillel Israel and a businessman who emigrated from the United States eight years ago, as well as by StandWithUs.

Speaking to the committee, which was attended by Knesset members from across the political spectrum, along with heads of leading Jewish organizations and think tanks, Borowich-Ya’ari said: "Anti-Semitism should have died with the liberation of Auschwitz. Today, the sense of security felt by many Jewish communities around the world remains unstable. History has taught us that the Jewish people cannot outsource the security of our people. It is the responsibility in Israel to support our brethren who have remained in the Diaspora. When we say 'Never again' it should not be with a question mark but with an exclamation point. I call upon the distinguished Chairman, Members of Knesset, and Ambassadors to take action.”

Ya’ari specified four proposals: “1) That a more pro-active follow-up hearing be scheduled in March and that a permanent hearing be entered on the Knesset calendar on each anniversary of Kristalnacht and that the distinguished Ambassadors here today and their colleagues reach out to their respective governments to ban all expressions of anti-Semitism. 2) It is not enough to condemn anti-Semitism. We must be vigilant to ensure there is zero tolerance. Please carry the message to your governments to protect your Jews 3) That we call upon United Nations Secretary General Gutteres to follow-up on his commitment to combat anti-Semitism and appoint a special envoy to work with member states. 4) That our Knesset, Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Foreign Affairs and relevant NGO’s commit to share knowledge and resources with our brethren in the Diaspora to strengthen security and provide the training for Jewish communities to properly defend themselves.”

Michael Dickson, Executive Director of StandWithUs Israel, told the committee: "We find ourselves in a uniquely challenging time, facing resurgent anti-Semitism on the far Right and far Left extremists who use this as an opportunity to further smear Zionism, perversely claiming that it is comparable to fascism and white supremacy. We must fight anti-Semitism vigorously on both the far Right and far Left, as they increasingly resemble and feed off of each other. All too often anti-Israel groups with names that disguise their extreme agenda – 'SJP - Students for Justice in Palestine' or so-called 'Jewish Voice for Peace' and others misleadingly pretend that their racist campaigns against Israel are in some way linked to their support of other groups. Shamefully, they co-opt the memory of the Holocaust and invert it to portray Jews as Nazis – the ultimate slap in the face to a nation who stood on the brink of extinction in modern times. This is not pro-Palestinian, it is anti-Israel and it is anti-Semitic.”

Dickson cited numerous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents that happened in the last week alone. However he ended by saying, “Overall, BDS is losing but we must never give up the fight. It is a fight for the truth -- We stand with you and stand ready to work around the clock to push back against BDS and ensure Israel is treated fairly and positively around the world. And this is a fight we can win: We call on our friends and people of goodwill around the world to call out racism against Jews and against the Jewish State. To do so is to stand on the right side of history.”

Zachray Zimmer, a high school senior from New Jersey shared his perspective: “When I toured prospective colleges last year, I considered each through the filter of my own interests: location, size, academic strengths and – unfortunately – the rising tide of anti-Semitism faced by Jewish students on campus... I had my first encounter with anti-Jewish sentiment at UCLA in 2015, while attending a pre-college program. Taunting me for keeping kosher, a fellow participant slapped me in the face with a piece of bacon. About a week later, I was jostled to the back of our bus because 'that’s where the Jews sit'.”

Vice-Chair of StandWithUs UK, Loretta Cash reviewed incidents of anti-Semitism in the UK and Europe including in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and on campuses. She reminded the Committee that Anti-Israel activity is nearly always tinged with anti-Jewish sentiment which must be addressed. She outlined educational programs that are teaching young people in Britain about this issue and ended by saying “This week we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Prime Minister Theresa May has said of this: 'It is one of the most important letters in history. It demonstrates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people. And it is an anniversary we will be marking with pride.' That pride is indicative of the shared values that British and Israeli people share. It is an attitude we will join with others to build upon.”

Tamir Oren, a reserve IDF Company Commander, now Executive Director of StandWithUs UK showed video of himself and a colleague being shouted down on the campus of Cal Poly Pamona in California. He urged those assembled to fight to allow free speech on campus on the subject of Israel.

Other speakers included Dr. Charles Small, the founder and Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, representatives of Israeli government ministries, and Holocaust survivor Yosef Kleinman, who had given testimony at the Eichman trial in 1961. Kleinman told of his experience at Auschwitz to warn where tolerance of anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence can lead.

Representatives from the Anti-Semitism Committee at the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Absorption and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Information and Yad Vashem were also present at the hearing.

Former Knesset member Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) explained that the presence and reaction from the ambassadors set this hearing apart from any others he has attended on this topic. "I engaged with them both before and after the hearing. They were extremely touched by the testimony and took notes regarding the action items that were suggested. I believe that they will report back to the their respective governments and that the hearing will help start a process towards even stricter laws against anti-Semitism, especially on the social networks. I thank MK Neguise and David Borowich-Yaari for the initiative."