Over two hundred participants from 11 countries across the world gathered in London between Friday 20 to Sunday 22 October for a conference coordinated by the WZO in collaboration with the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland titled ‘Boycotts & Sanctions: The New Anti-Semitism’.
Held in the UK capital to mark the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the forum was attended by senior representatives, opinion leaders, social activists and students from countries including England, Israel, France, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania, the United States, the Netherlands and Italy.
The conference took place to the background growing concerns over Antisemitism in the UK, with the Community Security Trust recording 767 anti-Semitic incidents across the UK in the first six months of 2017. This was highest total the community organisation has ever recorded since they began taking down anti-Semitic incidents in 1984.
This issue was discussed in depth during Friday evening’s keynote speech by Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard titled ‘On Campus Anti-Semitism’, which focused on the concerns over antisemitism in the UK on both campuses and within parts of the Labour Party.
Speaking in no uncertain terms, Pollard described the party led by Jeremy Corbyn MP as having reached the stage where it was “now run by a cadre for whom antisemitism really is okay so long as it’s dressed up as anti-Zionism.”
Events taking place at the conference included a talk and discussion by Israel human rights activist Arsen Ostrovsky focussing on how to deal with antisemitism across Europe, a panel on lawyers dealing with anti-Semitism on campus, and a talk by Shadman Zaman, the first ever Bangladeshi passport holder to visit Israel.
Attending the conference was Leslely Klaff, an academic at Sheffield Hallam University as well a panellist. A member of advocacy group UK Lawyers for Israel, Klaff played a major role in the successful appeal made by a disabled Jewish student at Sheffield Hallam University over the institution not properly considering his complaint regarding social media post by the student Palestine Society, resulting in a £3000 pay-out.
For Klaff, the conference was one that she found “exhilarating and inspiring” through how it allowed her to be alongside “other Zionists committed to fighting antisemitism. In academia Zionism can be a dirty word, but here one can freely talk about being a Zionist”.
Aaron Serota, a German student activist from Frankfurt taking part in the conference, felt that the conference presented him with tools to help young Jewish students have a voice. Talking to the Post, he explained that many in Germany are only now realizing that antisemitism is still an issue in the country, noting that “with the rise of the AfD in Germany, people realize that [antisemitism] is something that never left but is only now becoming visible.”
Also attending the conference was Hen Mazzig, the former IDF commander heavily involved in campus Israel advocacy. Mazzig was infamously compelled to barricade himself alongside several others inside a room in University College London in the face of vehement anti-Israel protests in October 2016 during a talk he was delivering on campus.
Commenting on his reasons for attending the conference, Mazzig said “Six out of ten times people protest against me when I speak. It’s a reminder to me that I need to be at conferences like this.” Mazzig also revealed that he will be returning to UCL for the first time after last year’s incident in January 2018.
The final evening of the conference began with an event marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, with talks from David Bitan MK and the EU’s Coordinator on Combatting Antisemitism Katharina von Schnurbein amongst others.
Discussing the efforts the EU was making, she stated that the institution was “determined to tackle [all] forms of anti-Semitism: from the right, from the left, and from the Muslim community”. Von Schnurbein’s speech was followed by a testy question and answer session, with some questioning the EU’s actions towards antisemitism Israel, namely EU guidelines for labelling products from the West Bank.
Reflecting on the weekend’s events, WZO Vice Chairman Yacoov Hagoel said “The conference went phenomenally well. The mixture of people from all around Europe as well as their responses to the issues discussed were striking. We at the WZO felt embraced by so many leaders who feel the need for radical global change in the way we deal with anti-Semitism.”