A group of young people with flags and posters A group of young people with flags and posters
A group of young shomrim (members of the Israeli youth association HaShomer HaTzair) in Haifa demonstrating for the return of those who were kidnapped on on 7 October 2023 and are still missing
Democracy and human rights

“We need to call things out for what they are”

German-Israeli exchanges after Hamas murders

The team of ConAct, the Coordination Center for German-Israeli Youth Exchange, are devastated at Hamas‘ massacres and kidnappings on 7 October 2023. They remain in close contact with their friends and colleagues in Israel’s youth work community. The ijab.de newsdesk reached out to Cyra Sommer and Niclas Cares to discuss what needs to be done now and how the youth work field has to approach the matter of antisemitism.

14.11.2023 / Christian Herrmann

ijab.de: Cyra, Niclas, how are your partners in Israel doing?

Niclas Cares: Like everyone else in southern and central Israel, our partners awoke on the morning of 7 October to the sound of air raid sirens. At this point, they were not yet to know that at the same time the alarm sounded, thousands of terrorists forcibly entered Israel and started murdering people indiscriminately. Within just a few hours, around 1200 people had been killed and 240 kidnapped. A massacre on this scale is unprecedented in Israel, and we are all in a state of shock. Israel is a small country and every household, every family is affected. We all count relatives or friends among the victims or know someone who has lost a family member. This includes our friends and colleagues working in German-Israeli exchanges. Among the victims of the terrorist attacks are a large number of young people, for instance the 260 who were murdered at a rave. The youth work community in Israel has been directly affected by these losses; a number of team leaders and former participants of German-Israeli exchanges are among the victims. Many Israelis, the majority of them young people, have been called up to serve in the army. The youth associations have switched gears and are now collecting donations, taking care of young people in the bunkers and shelters and providing support to evacuees. Around a quarter of a million people have had to abandon their homes adjacent to the Gaza Strip and the northern border with Lebanon. The helpers have volunteered to serve even though they are victims themselves and their lives are in constant danger.

ijab.de: Are you able to talk daily?

Niclas Cares: We are unable to talk to every partner every day, but we do connect very regularly. It also depends on how busy our colleagues in Israel are. We have set up a weekly timeslot during which active experts from Germany can talk with colleagues in Israel.

We share the grief and desperation of the people in Israel

ijab.de: How are you dealing with all of this? After all, you are more directly affected than those who may just be watching the situation unfold in the media.

Niclas Cares: All of us at ConAct have a deep personal connection to Israel. We have friends, colleagues and to some extent relatives there, so we’re in a state of shock and disbelief. We get information from our partners on the ground and share it with each other. We share the grief and desperation of the people in Israel. It’s comforting for our friends and colleagues there to know that we are there to listen, to think of them and offer them our support.

ijab.de: How is the current situation impacting on German-Israeli youth and expert exchanges? What does it mean for the work you do?

Niclas Cares: First and foremost we are relieved that the four youth groups that were travelling in Israel when the attack happened have all returned safe and sound. And we had also been hosting young Israelis here in Germany who were keen to return to their families. They have since arrived home safely. Of course we are currently getting a lot of inquiries from German organisations. They need to assess the situation and are asking us whether booked trips can be postponed or cancelled. We try to help wherever we can. The Israeli youth organisations need funding for their activities and so we have set up a call for donations. We are also running a memorial webpage to commemorate former participants of German-Israeli exchanges who have been killed. We’re holding online meetings with all of our partners. To us it’s clear that friendships need to be maintained especially in times of crisis. Our German partner organisations are called upon to maintain visibility and to lend their support, so we are working on a range of activities that will come to fruition in the coming weeks and are encouraging youth organisations to come up with actions of their own.

We need a long-term prevention strategy against antisemitism

ijab.de: In recent days and weeks we’ve seen a number of demonstrations in Germany that glorified the terrorist actions of Hamas – and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. These demonstrations are a matter for the police and public prosecutors. While the majority do not condone these actions, mainstream society does seem to believe that Israel is “in a way to blame” for the massacres. How can our youth work community respond to this?

Cyra Sommer: The ConAct project “Sichtbar Handeln! Gegen Antisemitismus” (Take visible action against antisemitism) provides training to youth work and education experts so they feel equipped to handle antisemitism in their professional environments. At the moment we are inundated with inquiries because the current situation has given antisemitic behaviours a major push and many youth work experts feel ill-prepared to handle the situation. For them, we provide assistance and create opportunities for training (page in German). As you say, you frequently hear people claim that Israel is somehow to blame for what’s going on. I think that in our interactions with young people, we need to call things out for what they are. Hamas is a radical Islamist terrorist organisation with an openly antisemitic agenda. What Hamas is doing is not done to benefit the Palestinians – Hamas does not care about them. The aim of Hamas is to destroy Israel and with it, all Jews worldwide. Their massacres are a clear sign of this. The terrorists could not care less whether they kill peace activists or soldiers. Their attacks also targeted Arab Israelis. Ultimately, Islamist terrorism is aimed at destroying liberal values and open, democratic societies. People need to understand these actions exactly for what they are, and so we need to make this clear especially when we interact with young people. There is a relevance to Germany, too. Plus: antisemitism has nothing to do with what Jews do or do not do; instead, it is a vehicle for those who engage in antisemitic thought and action.

We’re in the midst of an emotionally highly charged situation and so of course it’s hard to argue calmly and objectively. We need to create spaces where young people can talk openly about what is going on and about their emotions. As we do so, we need to remain mindful of the needs of those targeted by antisemitism; they deserve special protection in these spaces. The current situation is further proof of how important it is to engage in long-term, effective prevention against antisemitism. Young people need to learn about Israel and its history and diverse population. They need to understand the complex genesis of the conflict in the Middle East and learn to see things from a variety of perspectives. But right now you don’t even really need to know much about this particular conflict, apart from the fact that Israel was attacked and a large number of innocent civilians were murdered. That truth cannot be denied.

This interview was conducted in cooperation with ConAct – Coordination Center for German-Israeli Youth Exchange.

Ein junger Mann spricht in ein Mikrofon
About democracy and human rights

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