European Jewish Students: Against Anti-Semitism and For Strengthening Fragile Intergroup Bonds at Universities

Arielle Herrog heads the Jewish Student Association of Geneva, Switzerland. “The situation is tough,” said the 24-year-old granddaughter of former President of Israel Chaim Herzog, “Students are insulted, there is anti-Semitic graffiti, Palestinians set up a ‘check-point’ in the middle of the university. People sometimes refer to Israel as a Nazi state and say that Sharon is like Hider”

How to respond? Herzog came to Berlin in April to share her experiences with peers from around the world. Their meeting took place at the Jewish Museum of Berlin. Organized by the World Union of Jewish Students, the European Union of Jewish Students and the Federal Association of Jewish Students in Germany, it preceded an historic two-day conference on anti- Semitism in Europe that brought major Jewish organizations to the German capital. In the end the OSCE issued a declaration committing its member countries to improving the monitoring and combating of anti-Semitic crimes. It also condemned the use of criticism of Israel for the purposes of spreading hate.

It remains to be seen whether the declaration leads to concrete measures. But while the leaders are talking, the students are on the front lines. At Leeds University in England, students Amy Sampson, 19, and Jardena Lande, 21, helped organized events in which they used “gimmicks” like “More humus and less Hamas” or “Fighting freedom, not freedom fighters,” to draw other students into learning more about Israel.

Anja Doroschuk, 25, of Kiev, said her Jewish community organized a 16-day interreligious camp where different ethnic groups learned about each other.

Arnow Finkelstein, 24, said his Jewish student group in Vilnius is organizing Israeli dancing with Christian groups. In Geneva, Herzog’s group “does demonstrations, conferences, and we speak to people about what Zionism is: it is the movement of national liberation for Jews, and it is not at all exclusive,” she said. “When you start speaking with people, they don’t have any arguments,” said Herzog. Lande said she, too, is “optimistic. We do have connections to the Islamic society; we are very, very friendly with them and have interfaith events. We have to see the positive and the negative,” she said.