newsAntisemitism

‘We need to stand up and never give up’

"There is a different reality on the ground and we cannot run away from it if we want to win,” Israel's consul general to the Pacific Southwest tells JNS.

Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.
Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

Antisemitism can never be thought of as something of the past, and can rear its ugly head even in democratic countries across the world, Israel’s top diplomat in the southwestern United States recently told JNS. 

“No one will fight our fight. We need to stand up and never give up. There is no difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism; it is the same,” said Israel Bachar, the Jewish state’s consul general to the Pacific Southwest. 

“The Jewish state cannot be taken for granted. Every Jewish community around the world must help the State of Israel to remain a safe home and one that will welcome every Jew who wishes to move [there],” he added. 

Pro-Hamas campus protests have led to arrests at multiple U.S. universities, including Columbia University, Yale University, New York University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Southern California and The Ohio State University.

Last week, police broke down the makeshift tent encampment anti-Israel students set up on the University of California, Los Angeles campus and arrested more than 200 people.

“It was obvious we could come to a boiling point”

Bachar told JNS that after many months of lawlessness and Jewish students being targeted by agitators, pro-Palestinian and radical groups, violence was inevitable.

“It was obvious that we would come to a boiling point where we would see violence and disruption to students’ ability to study at UCLA,” he said. 

Bachar noted that while the administration failed to show leadership at the appropriate time and on a proper scale, they seem to finally understand the need to take action. 

“After months, the administration decided to involve the police. It should have happened a long time ago. They were late in their response,” he said. 

“It’s unfortunate that Jewish students need to be intimidated for this to happen. People were finally arrested and the encampment dismantled. Why did we have to wait for so long?” he added. 

“They just want to be students”

Bachar, who spent the second Passover Seder with UCLA students on campus, said many of them had reconsidered their decision to study there. 

“The Jewish students are afraid. They don’t want to go back to study at UCLA. I am saddened to hear it because in a way, it feels that we’ve let radical groups win the day,” he told JNS. 

“I understand their desire to study in a safe place. They did not enroll in UCLA or any other university to engage in combat. They just want to be students. I feel for them,” he added. 

Nor is it only the students who are reconsidering, he explained.

The American Jewish community is becoming more mobilized and finally understands the imminent threat to their children on campus, he said.

“That’s a very big change. Until now, the Jewish community did not feel threatened to send Jewish children to schools around the country. Now, they are faced with a new reality and are rethinking their choice of educational institutions,” he added. 

Starting to fight back

The Jewish community has also started taking tangible actions to curb the surge of antisemitism on campus. 

“On a legal basis, we are starting to see action groups against universities, they are collecting testimonies from students and will run class action suits,” said Bachar.

“They also come to the universities and engage in rallies to help the students. This is great, but we need to do it more,” he continued. 

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act by a margin of 320-91.

The bill, H.R.6090, would require the Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism when considering whether Jews had been discriminated against under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The legislation also discourages the use of other definitions, which may impair “enforcement efforts by adding multiple standards and may fail to identify many of the modern manifestations of antisemitism.”

However, to Bachar, the fact that such legislation is even necessary is tragic.

“I think in a way it’s a sad day, because if we are coming to a point where we need to use new laws to protect the Jews, it’s sad—but it’s better to have it,” he said.

A failure of leadership

Unlike on other campuses, at UCLA pro-Israel counter-protesters clashed with anti-Israel protesters.

The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles promptly distanced itself from the actions of the counter-protesters.

“We are appalled at the violence that took place on the campus of UCLA last night,” it stated on Wednesday. “The abhorrent actions of a few counter-protestors last night do not represent the Jewish community or our values.”

Bachar, too, is against violence. However, he blames the university for allowing the deterioration which led to the confrontation in the first place.

“I don’t know who the agitators were or who started the violence but I do know that the Jewish students were intimidated, prevented from going to class, that there were chants against them and that they were constantly singled out” he said. 

“I am against violence, however I do understand that the deterioration of the situation is because of a lack of leadership on the faculty level and at the administrative level,” he added. 

The new fighting Jew

While he disagrees that the golden age of American Jewry has ended, as some have claimed, Bachar said American Jews will now have to fight for their home the way Israelis do. 

“In order to win this war, we need to define it. There is an antisemitic war that is being financed, organized and orchestrated by various forces, including radical Islam, pro-Palestinian antisemitic and radical left forces that work against the Jewish community and Israel,” he said. 

“The only way that the Jews will be able to continue living in this golden age is if they fight for their home. I call it the new fighting Jew. There are Oct. 6 Jews and Oct. 8 Jews. There is a different reality on the ground and we cannot run away from it if we want to win it,” he added. 

Bachar called on American Jewry to continuously mobilize against antisemitism, even while noting ongoing deep support for Israel within American society. 

The American people are with Israel

“I travel in America within my region, in Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. They connect emotionally and psychologically to the story of the Israeli people, they do want to support us. It’s based on shared values,” Bachar told JNS. 

“The American people in the true essence are with Israel,” he added. 

While a negative view of Hamas and Iran does not automatically mean a positive view of the Israel Defense Forces, Bachar said it does help to explain who Israel’s enemy is. 

“We saw it with Israel getting supplemental aid in Congress right after the Iranian attack,” he added. 

“It’s the same hate”

Although more than 40 colleges nationwide saw tent encampments spring up on campus, where protesters harassed Jewish students and engaged in the violent takeover of school facilities, U.S. President Joe Biden was slow to condemn the violence.

His silence drew criticism from Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). On April 22 the president condemned antisemitism but also “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

Bachar noted that the surge in antisemitism in the U.S. predates the current Israel-Hamas war. “Antisemitism existed in America prior to Oct. 7, it just kept on changing its form and reasoning, but it’s the same hate,” he said. 

“Israel started its military campaign three weeks after Oct. 7. We were accused by various Pro-Palestinian groups of carrying out a massacre before we even started defending ourselves,” he noted.  

With regard to U.S.-Israel relations amid the ongoing war with Hamas, he said that while there are disagreements between the Biden administration and Israel’s government, “At the end of the day, the State of Israel has the responsibility and the duty to take care of the Israeli people and we have to do what we have to do to secure our citizens.”

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