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December 18, 2019 8:11 am

Overcoming Anti-Zionism With a Trip to Israel

avatar by Dina Mouyal

Opinion

An aerial view of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

European anti-Zionism feeds and merges with European antisemitism. Antisemitic incidents in Europe increase during periods of conflict between Israel and its neighbors, and about 85% of young European Jews — including me — have at least occasionally been blamed for the misunderstood actions of the Israeli government.

European antisemitism is not a problem to be taken lightly; 83% of young European Jews believe that antisemitism has increased in the last five years, and close to half of them experienced some form of antisemitism in the year prior to the survey.

What can we do to counter this worrisome trend? Part of the solution is to send more young Jews to Israel on extended programs, like the one I participated in with Masa.

Like it or not, we Jews represent Israel in the eyes of those around us. Additionally, many Europeans demonize Israel out of sheer ignorance — as I learned at home in Spain, as well as during my internship at the European Division of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Their distorted perception comes from the one-sided news they read; it is our job to show them the truth.

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But it’s hard to accurately represent a country that you are not too familiar with.

Furthermore, the still-robust relationship young European Jews’ have with Israel is at risk: In an increasingly globalized world, European Jews between the ages of 16 and 34 are less attached to their countries (including Israel) than their older counterparts.

I’m a living example of these statistics.

Growing up in Barcelona’s strong Zionist community with annual festivals celebrating Israeli culture, Israel should have been a fundamental part of my Jewish identity; but it wasn’t that simple. I felt little emotional attachment to the country, and I sometimes resented when outsiders blamed me for Israel’s actions, or when they assumed I was Israeli.

How did this change? Well, it started when I began attending seminars of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), a Zionist organization, while studying abroad in London. I even served as the EUJS representative defending Israel in the UN Human Rights Council. When I returned to Barcelona to pursue my master’s degree, I started spreading awareness about what Israel is and what it does.

Then, I began thinking more critically about what I was doing. I realized that without seeking to better understand Israel, I was merely parroting talking points, without the weight of conviction to give them credence. To effectively advocate for Israel, I had to spend time in the country. I started researching programs until I found Masa Israel Government Fellows.

My 10-month Israel experience transformed my perspective in ways that years of study never could. I immersed myself in Israel and gained context and appreciation for the complexity of the Middle East. I attended the program’s weekly seminars, exposing me to a diverse range of viewpoints on Israeli issues, and we traveled the country to hear first-hand from the people on the ground: Israelis, Palestinians, Druze, and others. For the first time, I was able to truly learn and experience Israel’s rich history, which is also the history of the Jewish people. And I learned to accept that Israel is like any other country; it’s not perfect — but it is our country to embrace, defend, and love.

While interning with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I witnessed the European delegations who had the honesty and the humility to make the trip to see the country, learn more about it, and build closer ties. I saw the goodwill and understanding that such visits engendered. And I was inspired to spread that understanding further.

Not all Europeans are going to make that trip. That’s why it’s our job to bring them our own knowledge of Israel — gained from our time in the country. By giving people in Spain the experience of meeting a Jew and having an educated conversation about Israel, I am contributing to the health of the Jewish state and to the future of the Jewish people.

But I can’t make this change alone. By sending more young Jews to Israel, not only will we strengthen their inherent bond to the Jewish homeland, but we can also change the relationship of the rest of the world to the country and its people.

Israel will always have its virulent haters. However, there’s still a significant number of Europeans who are indifferent to the subject, and they can be introduced to a different narrative from the one presented by the European media, one that embraces Israel’s complex reality. And through slowly educating those who are uninformed, Jews in Europe will have less antisemitism and anti-Zionism to confront. 

Dina Mouyal is a Masa alumna of Israel Government Fellows, a program of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

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