May 14, 2021
Young Jews in Europe are experiencing a spike in antisemitism and hate and threats as the crisis in Israel and the region escalates. Antisemitic incidents at demonstrations, the burning of Israeli flags in front of synagogues and Jewish community centers, violent threats and vandalism of Jewish institutions are causing them to question their safety as Jews.
Bini Guttmann, President of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), the umbrella organization representing 160,000 European Jewish students, noted: "Whenever violence rises in Israel or the Palestinian territories, it means that the danger bell rings loudly for Jews in Europe. Online, young Jews - whether they are politically active or not - are directly being targeted and experience enhanced antisemitism.”
Many young Jewish leaders are experiencing such antisemitism personally.
In Germany, multiple death threats were sent via social media to the President of the Jewish Student Union Germany (JSUD). “Most of our local and national Jewish student activists are being attacked for being Jewish during this crisis, regardless of their positions towards Israel,” explained JSUD Vice-President Lars Umanski.
In the UK, Hannah Rose, former President of the Union of Jewish Students UK and Ireland (UJS) tweeted that someone screamed “Free Palestine” at her and a friend as they sat outside a kosher restaurant in London. UJS confirmed that Rose’s experience was not unique: “Jewish students and societies are being targeted with antisemitic abuse” across the UK, they tweeted.
On Twitter, EUJS president Bini Guttman has frequently been called a Nazi over the past days for his support of Israel. At the same time, students are also receiving antisemitic messages, including some referencing the Holocaust. Daniel in Vienna shared: “Currently even strangers message me on social media, for example with 'Hitler was right with what he did'”. In Austria, Jewish students have been “receiving hate messages on all channels for days,” according to Lara Guttmann, co-president of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students.
In France, French Jewish influencer and LGBTQ+ podcast host Elise Goldfarb received a flood of antisemitic and homophobic hate messages since the conflict escalated. For some Jewish students and activists, like Caterina Cognini, a EUJS Policy Officer in Italy, these hate messages cause them to leave social media for a while: “Most of my feed was full of examples of antisemitic hate speech relating to Israel and that made me feel lonely,” Cognini said. JSUD President Anna Staroselski noted that many Jewish students are in emotional distress and do not know how to deal with such threats.
In Norway, a Jewish student activist, said: “Now we have to be even more cautious about expressing our Jewish identity because we don’t want to be attacked.” In another Scandinavian country, a Jewish student described being afraid of going out with their Arab friends, because they are aggressively posting anti-Israel comments that cross the line into antisemitic content. Similarly, the youth coordinator for the Finnish Jewish community reported that young Jews are suddenly experiencing animosity from people they considered their friends, once those friends learned they were Jewish, as a result of conversations about the conflict. This increasing sense of vulnerability comes as no surprise. A study by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency in 2018 showed that 67% of European Jews feel that the Arab-Israeli conflict affects their safety in Europe.
Nor should it be a surprise to learn that this phenomenon affects young Jews beyond Europe. The World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) brings together Jewish students from 50 countries, and, according to its president, Jonathan Braun. “Across the globe Jewish students are being made responsible for Israel’s actions, forced into semi-political debates often including hate speech, which is a challenging situation for many,” Braun said.
As a result, Jewish student organizations are reaching out to their members with offers of support hotlines and community exchange groups to address the antisemitic hate and violence their members increasingly face.
As young Jewish leaders are targeted with antisemitism and hate as a result of the ongoing conflict, much as they have in past conflicts related to Israel, we must all stand up and support them during this difficult moment.