A while ago, I blogged about the evening I spent at an AIPAC event listening to one of the most amazing people I've ever met, Ilka Schroeder. When I went to the AIPAC convention a year later (this past March), I got to meet Ilka again and spend time with her. She is inspiring. She told me about a dream of hers she's hoping to make a reality. Recently, Ilka did a full blown article about this dream with Washington Jewish Week. I probably should just give you the link, but I don't want to give anyone an excuse to miss it. So read it here.
Defying Stereotypes:Ilka Schroeder starts center on anti-Semitism
Author: Eric Fingerhut - Washington Jewish Week
Georgetown visiting prof starting center on anti-Semitism in Germany
by Eric Fingerhut
Washington Jewish Week
When Ilka Schroeder, a non-Jew from Germany, starts talking about Israel and anti-Semitism, she says people in the United States are usually pretty astounded.
"They expect something else -- I'm European and leftist," she said.
But Schroeder has defied the stereotypes of those labels -- and is trying to get other Europeans to get over their stereotypes of Israel and the Jewish people.
The 28-year-old is starting a center in Berlin to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and she spent much of her five-year term as a member of the European Union Parliament trying to get the organization to reconsider its financial support of the Palestinian Authority.
She is in Washington this year, teaching a class this semester and next for Georgetown University's Center for Jewish Civilization on anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.
Schroeder sees her planned Center Against Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, for which she's currently raising funds, as an "action-based" organization focusing on Germany that will respond "whenever anti-Semitism comes up."
She hopes, for instance, to provide explanations for why a particular offensive statement by a politician or prominent figure should be considered anti-Semitic, such as outlining the stereotypes upon which a particular remark draws. And she wants to collect data on anti-Semitic incidents around the country that she can disseminate to the media and others.
There are other institutes devoted to studying anti-Semitism in Germany, such as the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University in Berlin, but Schroeder is more interested in commenting on day-to-day political developments than academic research.
She supports the efforts of Jewish organizations that fight anti-Semitism in Germany and Europe, but said that she can add a different perspective because she is not Jewish.
When a Jewish person calls something anti-Semitic, she noted, some Europeans discount it because it is coming from a Jew.
This kind of bias is not uncommon among Europeans, said Schroeder, and she has been fighting it ever since she decided that it was essential to speak out about the E.U.'s support of the Palestinian Authority.
Elected to the E.U. Parliament as a member of the German Green Party in 1999 (she later left the party to become an independent, but still allies with the left), Schroeder said she came to the body without a particularly strong view on the Middle East.
The Sept. 11 attacks changed that, she said, making her realize how widespread anti-American and anti-Semitic attitudes were in the E.U. countries.
She saw the attacks not only as directed against the U.S., but against Jews as well, since al-Qaeda was attacking what it sees as the hallmarks of Jewish influence -- Wall Street and the U.S. government. But many Europeans reacted to Sept. 11 not with outrage, but with cries of "These people are poor, we have to understand them."
It was then she realized that she had to become an activist.
In the ensuing months, after published reports revealed that the P.A. was directing E.U. financial aid toward the financing of terrorism, she pushed the E.U. Parliament to open an investigation into the matter. She said the only way she could get fellow legislators interested in the matter was to emphasize the P.A.'s corruption, since not many were particularly concerned about the diversion of the money for violent acts.
Eventually, she said the Parliament did convene a "working group" on the matter -- on which she was not included -- but that no investigation was launched because it could not be proven that the E.U.'s money went directly from their pocket to paying for suicide bombs, which Schroeder found ridiculous.
"They were asking for something impossible" to prove, she said.
Since Hamas took over the Palestinian government, the E.U. has suspended its $600 million in aid to the Palestinians, but Schroeder is not optimistic that the freeze will continue indefinitely. She believes that the eventual E.U. goal is to "challenge the U.S. position [of pre-eminent power] in the Middle East" and across the globe, and funding the Palestinians is one way to do that.
The E.U.'s failure to take Palestinian terrorism seriously is one manifestation of a common theme among many in Europe, particularly on the left: an unwillingness to believe that "Israel may not always be the perpetrator ... [and] Palestinians the victim," she said.
Schroeder estimates that as many as one-third of Europeans might believe that Israel was behind a conspiracy to commit the Sept. 11 attacks. And she says that displaying sympathy for Israel has led to accusations from fellow legislators that she is being "paid by the Mossad."
For many, their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views fit into their anti-globalization ideology, which states that the "financial sphere" dictates how the world operates and that Jews are influential in that sphere, Schroeder said.
She has continued to press these themes around the world since leaving the E.U. Parliament in 2004, even testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives' International Relations Committee last month about the E.U.'s support of the Palestinian Authority.
Deidre Berger, managing director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office and its Ramer Center for German-Jewish relations, said Schroeder has demonstrated a "long-term commitment" to the issues of anti-Semitism and Israel.
"She is one of the most prominent representatives of a phenomenon in Germany of young non-Jewish activists who are focused on issues of antisemitism, due to a number of factors, including a strong feeling of responsibility for their past as well as for the danger to democracy today posed by antisemitism," Berger wrote via e-mail.
Schroeder said her devotion to this issue doesn't really come from a desire to atone for the sins of Germany's past, but because it is the right thing to do -- and she believes more people would come to her side if they simply "use their brain."
"I'm not a big fan of identity politics. ... I really think [this issue] is universal," she said. "This is not because I have a Jewish grandmother," which she doesn't.
"It's purely from reason."