91% of Jewish students in France say they have experienced anti-Semitism on campus - this is the alarming figure published Thursday morning by the French research institute Ifop in a survey commissioned by the Union of Jewish Students in France.
Against the backdrop of the wave of anti-Semitism, next week a delegation of Israelis is expected to leave for France for the third time. The goal of the delegation, which is launched on behalf of Diploact, is to act against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on campuses across the country.
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Among the members of the delegation are quite a few French people who immigrated to Israel due to anti-Semitic experiences - and are now returning to their homeland to fight the trend, which, as mentioned, is getting worse with the passage of time. One of them is Laura Ben Hamo (26), one of the initiators and activities of Diploact France and the social manager of the project.
Ben-Hamo is a government student at Reichman University and immigrated to Israel alone at the age of 18. "In high school I encountered anti-Semitism and lies about Israel more than once, and it was clear to me that something had to be done about it," she says.
"Anti-Semitism from all sides, the situation is deteriorating." Laura Ben Hamo, Photo: Diploact
What anti-Semitic incidents have you experienced?
"When I was in school, children told me, 'Jews have money, you must be rich,' and when I was 12 the teacher told us that 'the Bible is children's stories, there is no truth there, it's all myths.' When I entered high school, Holocaust jokes were told around me endlessly and they even drew a swastika on the table. A stranger in the metro shouted at me, 'Jewish women are whores.'
"Later on, I also experienced a new kind of anti-Semitism," Ben-Hamo says, "It came from all sides: from high school students, from friends of friends I met in Paris, from a history teacher who in twelfth grade taught us that Israel kills Palestinian children, that Jews steal countries and territories and we must watch out for them, that they are doing apartheid, that the IDF is terrorizing."
Why did you choose to immigrate to Israel?
"I immigrated out of a sense of belonging to the land and out of the understanding that as a Jew I have no other country. In France, I felt first Jewish or Zionist, and only then French."
Providing tools to Jewish students in the Diaspora. Ben Hamo lectures on campus, photo: Diploact
So why do you want to go back to where you chose to go from?
"I don't want to go back to live in France, but it's important for me to influence the situation there – for all Diaspora Jews, my family who are still there, my friends who continue to experience it on a daily basis. The situation is deteriorating. I chose to leave France, but I'm not leaving them," Ben-Hamo says painfully.
"It is important to me to develop the discourse around anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, to give Jewish communities tools to answer the difficult questions about Israel, to strengthen them so that they are not afraid to talk about our traditions, about our history.
"The press in France is particularly problematic, glorifying terrorists and terrorist organizations, talking about 'children' when we in Israel neutralize Hamas members. They cause anti-Semitism to reach the situation we have reached today. All the false information that is published needs to be dealt with."
Fighting the blurring line. Ben Hamo (right) and Haddad (left) with two members of the delegation, photo: Diploak
Only last May, Ben-Hamo and the organization's activists erased an offensive graffiti on a wall at the University of Saint-Denis in France, which read: "45-39 return, be prepared," with many Free Palestine graffiti around it.
"You don't walk down the street here with a kippah"
"This combination of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and the blurring line between them is one of the main things we are fighting," says Eden-Tal Haddad, 26, who initiated and leads the Diploact France project. Haddad herself immigrated with her family to Israel when she was 10 years old. She completed her military service with the rank of captain, after serving for 5 years in the IDF Spokesperson's Division in operational sectors and in various positions.
Haddad's story begins, like his father-in-law, from the daily events of Jews in France: "When I visited uncles at the age of 15, I went with my cousin to buy water. When he got out of the car to the bakery, he took the kippah off his head. I asked him why, and he laughed at me: 'You don't walk down the street here with a kippah.'
"Every time there's a military operation here, they kidnap, they need us." Eden-Tal Hadad, Photo: Diploact
"It seemed delusional to me, so this sentence remains etched in my mind. Almost 10 years after this incident, when I joined Diploact, I didn't understand why there was no activity in France, which is the third largest Jewish community in the world. Every time there's a military operation or anything else, they kidnap. They need us, and I see it as our duty."
What is the delegation actually trying to achieve?
"Our goal is to reach campuses, meet the students, tell our Israeli story, illuminate the complexity from a different angle. We don't come to convince, we come to say: 'I'm Israeli and Zionist, I served in the army, ask me questions,' all in a face-to-face meeting. These meetings lead to fascinating conversations, some of them a little scary, there are many curses and people who are not willing to talk, but there is also a lot of interest, questions, understanding," Haddad replied.
Why are you focusing specifically on campuses?
"Two main reasons: The first is that we ourselves are students, and we believe that this encounter between people whose daily lives are similar ultimately has great potential. This increases the ability to listen. The second reason is that campuses around the world today, with an emphasis on the United States and France, are unfortunately significant focal points of anti-Semitism. There is a lot of discourse there about Israel, most of which is simply false."
"Meeting people whose daily lives are similar has great potential." Haddad with students in France, photo: Diploact
In addition to the direct encounters with the French students, they meet every evening with dozens of Jewish students in order to give them tools that they do not necessarily have for coping with the daily cases they encounter.
Regarding the meetings with the Jewish students, Ben-Hamo says: "During the last delegation, I asked a hall of 80 Jewish students who defines himself as a Zionist – and only a few hands were raised. After we finished the lecture and explained what a Zionist was, everyone came up to me. They need that reinforcement."
Additional data from the survey
91% of Jewish students in France say they have experienced an act of anti-Semitism – from an occasional joke to actual violence; 77% of Jewish students believe that antisemitism is the most prevalent phenomenon of hate on campuses; 63% of antisemitic acts come from the far right, while 83% come from the far left.
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