Julian Voloj still can’t quite believe the ugly new wave of anti-Jewish incidents in Europe.
The 28-year-old chairman of the European Union of Jewish Students, a 200,000-member organization of 18- to 30-year-old European Jews, shakes his head as he ticks off a list of recent incidents at university campuses.
In Southern France, youth hostels are reportedly refusing to take in Israeli students.
His French chapter was the victim of a molotov cocktail; the office was badly damaged.
"People are afraid to wear their kippot or Magen Davids on campus," says the Jewish leader, born in Munster, Germany, to Columbian Jewish parents.
Voloj, sitting around a conference table at The Jewish Week, spoke of Daphne, a 22-year-old coed at Free University in Brussels, who wears a Jewish star.
Daphne entered a campus bathroom and was followed in by several Arab students. "They kicked her and called her murderer," he recounted.
He attributes the new troubles for European Jewry to a disturbing number of converging events: left-wing college students who are already "anti-globalism" and "anti-American" becoming swept up in a movement against America’s friend Israel by a well-funded, well-organized pro-Palestinian machine.
While certain acts, such as fire bombings, make headlines, he says a number of chilling incidents occur below the media’s radar.
He cites the Arab public-bus driver in Antwerp who recently refused to pick up Hasidic students on his route. "He stopped the bus and said, ‘We don’t want Jews’, then drove on," Voloj recounted.
"There are a lot of little stories like that happening after the intifada," the Palestinian uprising launched in September 2000. Before that, incidents were minimal, he said.
Now his Brussels office regularly receives threats via fax and e-mail containing messages like, "Go back to Israel, Jewish pigs."
Voloj says it feels like years of underlying anti-Jewish feelings bubbling under the surface have burst free as a result of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
"It’s not politically incorrect anymore to speak against Jews." Indeed, it’s become so bad that pro-Palestinian European students are openly questioning Israel’s right to exist, he says.
At Belgium’s Free University, which Voloj can see from his office window, many Palestinian flags and pro-Palestinian posters are all over campus, declaring "One Nation. One Country," in Dutch and French.
"Some people don’t seem to understand the consequences of thisóthat what this means is that Israel has no right to exist," he says.
Voloj, a poet who plans to pursue a Ph.D. on the biblical roots of poetry in the Warsaw Ghetto, said European Jews are facing a double whammy: A well-organized, well-financed Palestinian propaganda machine, and a badly financed Jewish response, exacerbated by the Israeli government that appears not to care.
"We feel really abandoned by Israel," Voloj says. "We have a problem with funding for programs. Israel is failing in the propaganda war in Europe. They seem not to care about Europe."
Voloj says that even though the campus anti-Jewish incidents have been more alarming than in the U.S., the Israel government always seems to give priority to American needs. "But we have the problems right now."
Israel’s neglect, he says, has allowed pro-Palestinian forces to win the hearts of college students with such simple slogans as "Zionism is racism" or "Israel is an apartheid state," while leaving campus defenders ill prepared to counter them.
He sees a link between the virulent anti-Israel campaign at the United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa, last summer and Sept. 11, which he notes occurred on the heels of that conference.
Voloj says his group is trying to do its best with an annual budget under $30,000.
The group has sponsored a successful campaign to hand out fliers at bus stops in various European cities asking passengers to consider that the same bus ride in Tel Aviv or Haifa could be the target of a Palestinian suicide bomber.
They worked to pass a resolution last month at the European Youth Forum condemning anti-Jewish violence in Europe.
Next week, the EUJS will demonstrate in Brussels with other European Jewish groups to condemn European anti-Jewishness and support Israel’s right to exist.
And next month Voloj will coordinate a leadership training conference for European Jewish student leaders
"This is the first time in Europe we are doing this," says Voloj, who grew up in a town with 80 Jews. "We will teach the history of Israel, which many still don’t know, and train how to counter the Palestinian arguments point by point.
"If you’re a Jewish student leader on campus in Europe, you have to know how to fight…," he said.
Voloj warned American Jews to take heed of Europe’s anti-Semitism on campus. "America has to be careful not to be too naive …"
His warning came amid reports of more anti-Jewish problems at American campuses.
Laurie Zoloth, director of the Jewish Studies Program at San Francisco State University, decried a pro-Palestinian hate mob that she says attacked Jewish students praying at the end of a Hillel-sponsored Middle East Peace rally last week.
"They screamed at us to ‘go back to Russia,’ and they screamed that they would kill us all, and other terrible things," Zoloth reported. She said the angry pro-Palestinian crowd shoved Hillel students against a wall.
SFSU President Robert Corrigan said that in his 14 years as president, "I have never been as deeply distressed and angered by something that happened on this campus."