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Meet the European Jews standing against Israel's war with Hamas

Demonstrators march during a pro-Palestinian protest, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Cincinnati.
Demonstrators march during a pro-Palestinian protest, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Cincinnati. Copyright Aaron Doster/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Aaron Doster/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Joshua Askew
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Having suffered throughout history, Jewish peace activists told Euronews Jews should identify with the oppressed and defend their rights - "whoever that oppressor may be."

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“Only when Palestinians live in freedom and dignity will Israel have security.”

This is the “big message” of Marco. He is the spokesman for Na'amod, a movement of British Jews who oppose what they call Israel's policies of "occupation and apartheid" in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

But Na'amod is not alone. 

Across Europe, there are a number of Jewish groups that campaign for Palestinian rights and, more recently, an end to the Israel Hamas war.

Wieland Hoban, Chairman of Germany's Jüdische Stimme (Jewish Voice), tells Euronews such "progressive" Jews often face marginalisation from all sides. 

They can be isolated in left-wing circles, where support for Palestine sometimes veers into disregard for Jewish voices or anti-semitism. 

Na'amod Community gathering celebrating the Jewish festival of Chanukah and providing a space to discuss Jewish progressives' perspectives on current events. 10 December 2023
Na'amod Community gathering celebrating the Jewish festival of Chanukah and providing a space to discuss Jewish progressives' perspectives on current events. 10 December 2023Credit: Jacob Lazarus

"Unfortunately, there is a very strong conflation of Jewish people and the state of Israel," he explains. "It's difficult for many people to understand why Jews would express opposition to the actions of the Israeli government."

"But there is no inherent contradiction between being Jewish and supporting Palestinian rights," Hoban adds. 

'Traitors'

Yet, perhaps the strongest rejection they can face is from the Jewish community itself.

Accused of "siding with the enemy", Hoban notes how Jüdische Stimme members have had conflicts with families and friends since fighting began in October. 

"We're called clueless tokens, useful idiots or self-hating Jews," he says, though suggests people mostly try to ignore their group because it "does not fit in with easy narratives." 

"Fortunately, ignoring is succeeding less and less," Hoban adds.

Jewish peace activists also are frequently accused of dishonouring their ancestors who survived the Holocaust. 

However, Marco says this historical tragedy is a significant impetus for him and many other Jews to defend the rights of Palestinians.  

FILE - July 14, 2014 photo, a Palestinian girl sits on the wall of the New Gaza United Nations School.
FILE - July 14, 2014 photo, a Palestinian girl sits on the wall of the New Gaza United Nations School.Khalil Hamra/AP

He tells Euronews that after the Holocaust, one reaction many Jews had was: "This shouldn't happen to us anymore." Based on this, they have defended Israel's actions at all costs.

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Marco chose a different perspective, though empathises with this view. 

"This type of oppression should not happen again to anyone," he tells Euronews. "Because of our experience of oppression and suffering, we should identify with the oppressed and defend their rights - whoever that oppressor may be." 

In December, South Africa filed a case at the International Criminal Court, alleging that Israel had perpetrated "genocidal acts" in Gaza. Israel denies this allegation. 

Two days after Hamas' attack, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel was “fighting human animals” in Gaza. 

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Israeli politician Nissim Vaturi from the ruling Likud party previously vowed on X his country had one common goal: “erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth.”

'This isn't holy war'

For some - including Israeli, Palestinian and Western officials - the violence in Gaza is framed as a religious war between Jews and Muslims.

But, Marco was quick to challenge the idea that the conflict was sectarian, with groups like his distorting this view. 

"Palestinians rose up against their oppressors," he says. "Had their oppressor been Japanese, they would have risen up against the Japanese. The fact that they're oppressed by Israelis means they rose up against Israelis."

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Hundreds Palestinian and Israeli supporters gather in opposing rallies outside of the Consulate of Israel in San Francisco on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023.
Hundreds Palestinian and Israeli supporters gather in opposing rallies outside of the Consulate of Israel in San Francisco on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023.Bronte Wittpenn/ONLINE_YES

Still, this does not mean the war between Israel and Hamas isn't fuelling religious hatred.

Jüdische Stimme chairman Hoban claims the actions of the Israeli state in Gaza were fuelling anti-semitism. 

"Whenever there's an escalation of violence by Israel, there are more anti-semitic incidents because unfortunately some people on the side of Palestine don't really separate Israel from Jewishness."

Anti-semitism in Europe has reached levels unseen in decades amid the latest bout of violence, while Islamophobia has also spiked. 

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In this context, groups like Na'amod and Jüdische Stimme have taken a strong stance against anti-semitism. 

"Holding Jews around the world responsible for Israel's actions is anti-semitic and should be condemned outright," says Marco. "All people deserve to feel safe wherever they live."

Knowing of people killed in Hamas' 7 October assault and having lived in a kibbutz that was attacked, Marco said he could "deeply empathise" with the trauma felt by Israelis and Jews around the world. 

However, he claimed it was important to contextualise the violence. 

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"Palestinians have been under occupation and apartheid for a number of decades. The 7th of October was a big loss of Jewish life and a very tragic and traumatic event... but it didn't happen in a vacuum.

"Continuing to oppress the [Palestinian] population is not going to deliver security [for Israel] because it's going to feed a willingness for revenge and violence," he continues. 

Na'amod protest demanding a ceasefire, end of the Siege on Gaza and release of hostages gathers over 800 attendees in Victoria Embankment Gardens, London. 19 November 2023.
Na'amod protest demanding a ceasefire, end of the Siege on Gaza and release of hostages gathers over 800 attendees in Victoria Embankment Gardens, London. 19 November 2023.Credit: Jacob Lazarus

Even before Israel began its military offensive against Hamas, 2023 was one of the deadliest years on record for Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.    

Over the past year, under the leadership of the most right-wing government in its history, Israel's military and settlers have led an escalated campaign of displacement, dispossession and violent repression against the population, notes Jewish Voice for Peace, a US-based Group. 

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'The West is complicit in everything Israel has done'

Both Na'amod and Jüdische Stimme are politically active, staging demonstrations and protest actions in the UK and Germany respectively. 

Claiming the "West is complicit in everything Israel has done" in recent decades, Marco says Na'amod wants London to end its support of the country's war. 

An "important role" his organisation plays in this process is changing the attitudes of Britain's Jewish community, who exert significant pressure on the government to back Israel. 

And it's working, in part. 

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Over the decade, Marco claims more space has opened up within the mainstream Jewish community for opinions like his.

Meanwhile, since Israel began its Gaza offensive in response to Hamas' attack which killed some 1,200 people in southern Israel, Na'amod's membership and online following have surged.

"It's obviously sad that it takes a tragedy like this, but we've seen in previous attacks on Gaza that this issue becomes much more at the forefront of people's minds," says Marco. "For a lot of Jews, their opinions start to shift when they see the harrowing destruction that's being brought to Gaza."

Both groups said one of their most important activities was creating spaces for Palestinian and Jewish voices to come together. 

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"We shouldn't let ourselves be fooled by those that say it is in the interests of Jews in Europe to defend the ethnonationalism of the Israeli state. 

"Because if you agree with the idea that one ethnicity should dominate over others and deprive them of rights, it puts Jews and Muslims in Europe in danger as minorities."

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