(November 18, 2019 / JNS) Sacha Roytman-Dratwa is the director of a new movement called Combat Anti-Semitism, which began in February 2019, and has already garnered support from numerous organizations and individuals, including Natan Sharansky, former chairman of the Jewish Agency and a founding member of the movement’s advisory council.
Roytman-Dratwa, 33, spoke to JNS recently about the goals of CAS, as well as its work so far.
Q: How does CAS differ in its approach to tackling the rise of anti-Semitism?
A: What we have seen is a gap in people working together to move forward with the discussion of anti-Semitism. We need to work to find solutions, and it’s not a matter of who’s working on it; it’s a matter of getting people to be engaged with us. Even in the Jewish communities, we see that people are not engaged enough. We really hope that Jews will wake up and fight together as one voice.
As a movement, we are nonpolitical and nonpartisan because it’s not a political game.
We don’t have an agenda. We fight anti-Semitism under the guidance of the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of anti-Semitism. Our coalition is mainly with non-Jewish organizations, but also with students on campus, federations, global organizations and Jewish organizations. But Jews are not the ones creating anti-Semitism; they are the victims. We need to work outside of our bubble and build a global movement of interfaith groups that understand the needs of working together to end this cycle of hate.
I’m trying to help build a movement for people to understand that they need to act, fight back and work together.
Q: What kinds of groups and organizations have you partnered with?
A: We are working with Muslim groups in the United Kingdom, France, the United States and India, and with Christian groups all over the place. We have more than 150 organizations and a total of 125,000 individuals who signed our pledge to combat anti-Semitism based on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. By signing the pledge, they join our network, and this is how we open the fight against anti-Semitism to everyone. It’s not just our problem. We look at ourselves as the door that people can open if they want to get engaged and work on solutions.
We are working closely with decision-makers and at the grassroots level to help people get engaged, fight anti-Semitic media, distribute content, create content and to support students. One of the fights is on campuses, and students need more support and guidance because their Jewish identity is under attack.
Q: After someone joins the movement by signing the pledge, what happens next?
A: The pledge is the first step to get involved in the CAS movement. After signing it, people will receive our newsletter with educational content to read and campaigns to join. More active members can become ambassadors of the movement by engaging on our behalf with people and organizations, writing content and suggesting actions.
Q: Is the movement mostly comprised of Jews or non-Jews, and what ages?
A: The movement is comprised of Jews, Muslims, Christians and others. We are working with high-school kids, college students and adults. Our movement was established to offer a platform for people of all ages and all faiths.
Q: Before CAS, you were with the World Jewish Congress and commander of the IDF’s New Media Operations team. What drew you to Combat Anti-Semitism, and as the new leader, what kind of direction do you want to take it in?
A: I grew up in Belgium in a nice Jewish family, but I was in a non-Jewish school. During the Second Intifada, my friends asked, “What did you do to the Palestinians?” And I said, “I didn’t do anything. I’m here in Belgium with you in class.” And they said, “Not you, the Jews in Israel … you are all the same.” I was pretty young and understood that to mean that I’m not Belgian—and not because I didn’t want to be, but I’ve been told by my friends that I’m different. And I understood that if I’m different, then I need to fight for my own identity because I cannot accept people deciding my identity for me. I’m a proud Jew, and I will fight for my own rights.
This is also when I understood that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are the same. I had to defend Israel not because I wanted to; it wasn’t a question, I had to. So I moved to Israel when I was 18, and I served in the army a total of six years.
Q: CAS has a contest going on to crowdsource different solutions to combat anti-Semitism. Can you describe that?
A: We don’t tell people what to do; it’s about people coming to us and telling us what to do. There is not enough action on the ground, and we believe that people have the power to do something. We created the contest to offer them this opportunity. We have seen people coming with incredible ideas of what can be done to fight anti-Semitism, and hopefully, everything that we see will be done, and we’re going to empower people to act.
The contest is about bringing new solutions because we don’t believe that we have all the answers. Everyone can have a little part of the answer, and support the ones who have good ideas and make sure that we implement new ideas.
Q: The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed spoke last month in front of the General Assembly, where he reported his findings on the rise of global anti-Semitism, and said education was a “key factor in addressing issues and preventing future incidences of hate.” What do you think are some other key factors in combating this epidemic?
A: I believe that education is the most important part of it. When people are in the know, usually they will not hate. The problem is that education has changed. You can educate yourself online. If you receive a good education at school or at home, online you still have access to negative conspiracy theories, stereotypes, tropes … online information can change your vision.
We also need to make sure that social-media companies are doing their job and not allowing hate speech to be available, especially conspiracy theories. We also have to focus on the right definition of anti-Semitism because then we can have laws and bylaws in college and elsewhere to fight back.
Q: What are some active steps that CAS takes to fight against Anti-Semitism?
A: We look at the fight against anti-Semitism as something that touches all the layers of society and demands different approaches and solutions. School systems need to have proper curriculums on Israel and programs for Holocaust education. We are developing online campaigns to build counter-narratives, show the facts and expose hatred.
We also support legislation against anti-Semitism. We are doing a lot of work with college students and the university administrations to make sure that their Jewish identity is protected while exposing, for example, Students for Justice in Palestine’s anti-Semitic agenda on campuses. We are working with International Organizations such as the U.N. Human Rights Council and support international decision-makers adopting a definition of anti-Semitism and appointing envoys to combat anti-Semitism. We are promoting our partners’ campaigns and actions, and offering to be their platforms for impact.
Q: What kind of support and help do you give the individuals and organizations that join the movement?
A: Individuals who join the movement get empowered with content and actions. We believe that we don’t have all the solutions; ideas can come from everyone, so we are a platform for new ideas that individuals can suggest. Our Venture Creative Contest is a perfect example of how individuals can get involved into our work.
Many organizations are also dealing with anti-Semitism; for us, it is our only focus. We became a one-stop-shop to combat anti-Semitism. We are working in collaboration with each one of our partners while supporting their work to combat anti-Semitism and develop joint programs and actions. Our approach and strategy is all built on collaboration and providing solutions to those needs. Sometimes, it will be educational materials, actions, content and others.
Q: Other than join the movement, what can individuals do on their own to help in the struggle against anti-Semitism?
A: First of all, get educated. Learn about Jewish history, the Holocaust and Jewish identity. Understand how Jews have a relationship with Israel. People need to understand that it’s a part of us.
By joining the movement, I believe it’s a great step by saying loudly and proudly that you are on the good side of history, and you want to do good. It doesn’t mean you need to go demonstrate on the street; it doesn’t mean you need to share content every week. It means that you are moving the discussion forward, and this is what needs to be done by everyone.
One of the most important tasks that we have is breaking stereotypes. I don’t believe that every person who puts a swastika on a wall knows what it means, and I don’t believe that everyone wants to kill a Jew.
It’s one thing that CAS is going to do a lot of—provide an understanding of the contributions that Jews are doing for this world and how this world is important to us. We don’t try to control it; we try to contribute to it. Like everyone, we’re fighting for our family, our success, our religion and our history.
Q: What are your goals for 2020 and the next five years?
A: Our vision is to help work to end anti-Semitism. We understand that it will take much longer than five years, but we believe that in five years from now, we would like the CAS movement to be the largest global coalition of organizations to combat anti-Semitism. We would like to also see as many organizations as possible adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Without giving a number, we believe that every group in the world should join our movement. I would like to have thousands of partners. Learning from history, it begins with Jews but never end with them.
We are a movement of individuals as well; one of our goals is to encourage individuals to take action, suggest solutions and lead campaigns to end anti-Semitism. Each person can do it in their school, neighborhood, workplace and more. This is also why we are asking people to sign a pledge as a first step. In five years, I hope that CAS will be a vibrant movement of millions of people initiating grassroots campaigns and actions.
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