Israel to recognise victims of antisemitism in diaspora
For the first time since Israel’s establishment, the ministry of diaspora affairs and combating antisemitism has decided that non-Israeli victims of antisemitic terror attacks in the diaspora should be officially mourned by the state of Israel, specifically on Yom Hazikaron, which commemorates fallen soldiers and victims of terror.
“This is an important and necessary step for a nation and a country that has struggled with antisemitism since its inception,” said Yaakov Hagoel, the chairperson of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO). He initiated the move last year, based on a study by the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation, which lobbied for it.
Shira Ruderman, the executive director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said, “This is a historic day for the Jewish people and Israel. With this decision, Israel has proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that it’s the state of the Jewish people, and that only through our unity as a people and the mutual guarantee between us can we guarantee our security and prosperity.”
“Our brothers and sisters living in the diaspora are an inseparable part of us and unfortunately, they struggle every day with antisemitic events,” Hagoel said. “We’ll work together with our partners to implement this decision for the sake of all the people of Israel.”
The proposal, adopted by the cabinet, was brought forward by the Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality, Amichai Chikli. His ministry will formulate the recommendations for recognising Jews and non-Jews killed in antisemitic attacks in the diaspora.
Ruderman said that Israel’s role in commemorating antisemitic attacks around the world would hopefully encourage other governments to take them more seriously.
According to the panel survey commissioned and released in January 2022 by the Ruderman Family Foundation, 93% of American Jews are concerned about current levels of antisemitism in the United States (US), with nearly half of US Jews (42%) experiencing antisemitism either directly or through family and friends over the past five years alone. As a response to the rise in antisemitism in the US, President Joe Biden declared May 2023 as Jewish American Heritage Month. “I will not remain silent in the face of this antisemitic venom, vitriol, and violence,” Biden said in a statement.
The foundation first began working on the issue more than a year and a half ago, speaking to everyone “from security officials to the foreign ministry, to people who lost their dear ones”, Ruderman said.
Around the same time, Hagoel started considering a similar idea. “I initiated the move about a year ago after I met bereaved families from the diaspora and felt their pain,” he said.
Ruderman said that once it became clear that the WZO was also working on the same idea, the two organisations banded together.
The victims of the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and those who died in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires are expected to be memorialised, amongst many others. About 200 diaspora Jews have been killed in antisemitic attacks since Israel’s founding in 1948.
This includes individuals like California student Blaze Bernstein, killed by a white supremacist in 2018; Lori Gilbert-Kaye, killed in the Chabad of Poway shooting in 2019; French Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, stabbed and set alight in 2018; and Dr Sarah Halimi, attacked and thrown out of a window by a neighbour in 2017.
The ministry is forming a committee that has until 1 September to submit recommendations for carrying out the new policy. It will need to determine what would be considered an antisemitic attack, and will also consider cases of non-Jews who were murdered in attacks of an antisemitic nature. For example, Alexandre Strens, a non-Jewish employee of the Jewish Museum of Belgium, was killed in a terror attack at the site in 2014.
Chikli called the decision “an important achievement”, and praised the Ruderman Family Foundation and the WZO. “For the first time since the founding of the state, the government approved a decision to recognise the responsibility of Israel – the state of the Jews – to commemorate those killed in terror attacks who were murdered because of their Jewishness abroad,” he said.