newsJewish Diaspora

Masa volunteers train to deal with Jew-hatred, delegitimization

“Many Masa volunteers publicly express support for Israel, and they pay heavy prices for it socially, professionally and security-wise.”

Masa volunteers help farmers as part of their trip to Israel. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.
Masa volunteers help farmers as part of their trip to Israel. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.

As part of a collaboration between Masa Israel Journey and the Israeli Foreign Ministry, young volunteers from North America are undergoing training on antisemitism and delegitimization against Israel to provide them with tools they can use to counter the backlash against the Jewish state once home.

“Back there, I’d come across daily reminders that my neighborhood doesn’t care much for Israel’s right to exist, including videos of residents tearing down hostage posters, the firebombing of a Jewish deli, and the smashing of a Jewish bagel shop,” said Josh Mover, 40, from Toronto, one of some 90 volunteers who took part in a training session at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

“It increasingly led to the isolation of the Jewish community. In a sense, we felt that we were witnessing a modern Kristallnacht,” he added.

Masa volunteers learn how to deal with antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.

During the session, volunteers heard from senior ministry officials about the challenging situation confronting world Jewry, the ongoing criticism of the State of Israel and how to address it. They also learned about the rise in anti-Jewish hatred from the head of the department combating antisemitism and learned about tools to fight it on social media. Additional groups are expected to arrive in the coming months.

“I felt guilty when I was in France—the media there completely ignored the violence directed at women in Israel, almost bordering on antisemitism,” said Shannon Zeitoun, a 27-year-old from Paris. “I wanted to come here and meet people from all over the world who feel the way I do.”

Masa volunteers work in an Israeli citrus orchard. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.

Those who took part in the program noted that even a mention of Israel is often met with negative reactions.

“After posting a photo of myself outside Ben-Gurion Airport, standing in front of a balloon that read ‘Welcome to Israel,’ I received a message from a casual acquaintance I hadn’t heard from in years on Facebook, saying ‘Nice knowing you’ before blocking me,” said Mover.

“We welcome this collaboration with Masa,” said Hamutal Rogel Fuchs, head of the Jewish Communities Department in the ministry.

“We see significant value in the mobilization of the global Jewish communities for the sake of Israel on all fronts, and we are pleased to share our experience and knowledge from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with those who serve as our ambassadors around the world in practice,” she added.

Masa Israel Journey says it offers the largest immersive, long-term, educational experience for Diaspora Jews ages 16 to 40. (Program eligibility was expanded from 18 to 30 a few years ago.)

The organization acts as the largest provider of access for world Jewry to Israeli businesses, social enterprises and academic institutions. Since its founding in 2004 by the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government, Masa has served more than 200,000 young people from 60 countries.

Masa volunteers attend a training session at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Feb. 24, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of Masa Israel Journey.

“Masa volunteers experienced the trauma of Oct. 7, but from a distance. Many of them publicly express support for Israel, and they pay heavy prices for it socially, professionally and security-wise,” said Ofer Gutman, CEO of Masa.

“Alongside their intensive volunteering, it is important for us to provide them with tools to convey what they see. The public diplomacy front is just as important as the physical front in the fight for our existence,” he said.

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