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WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel: “Strengthening Jewish Identity is the Key to Our Survival”

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By: Fern Sidman

At  a state-of-the-art Russian radio station nestled in an unassuming building on Coney Island Avenue in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, the Jewish Voice has the distinct privilege and honor of meeting and interviewing a  man that the Jerusalem Post listed in September of 2020 as “ one of the world’s most influential Jews.”  While this may pique one’s curiosity, it was not Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Zuckerberg or Jerry Seinfeld, but rather someone who has spent his entire career, placing himself on the front lines for his people in every aspect imaginable and has intrepidly been a ubiquitous voice in the existential battles that Israel and the entire Jewish nation have faced.

Yaakov Hagoel, 53, stands as a towering figure in the realm of Zionist leadership and the global fight against anti-Semitism. With a distinguished career spanning decades, Hagoel has held numerous pivotal roles within prominent Jewish organizations, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of Jewish advocacy and activism.

Born into a deeply committed Zionist family, Hagoel’s journey into leadership began at a young age when he joined the Betar youth movement. His passion for Zionism and unwavering dedication to Jewish causes propelled him into positions of increasing responsibility within the movement, ultimately culminating in his appointment as Chairman of World Likud from 2015 to 2020.

On the left is Itamar Iluz, a hero police officer from Ofakim who put his own life at risk on October 7th to save lives during the Hamas massacre in southern Israel. On the right is Rachel Ostroy. They are holding a poster of all the Israeli police officers who were killed in Ofakim on October 7th.

Hagoel’s commitment to combatting anti-Semitism became a focal point of his career, leading to his pivotal role within the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Elected as Vice Chairman at the 37th Zionist Congress in 2015, Hagoel spearheaded efforts to counter anti-Semitism and promote a positive image of Israel on the global stage. His establishment of the Center for Countering Anti-Semitism at the WZO underscored his proactive approach to addressing this pervasive issue.

Throughout his tenure, Hagoel collaborated closely with international partners, including the American Zionist Movement and the Zionist Federation of Great Britain, to confront anti-Israel bias and combat Judeo-phobia. His co-chairmanship of a conference in the United States following the tragic shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 highlighted his commitment to solidarity and unity within the Jewish community.

Recognizing the growing threat of anti-Semitic content on social media platforms, Hagoel took decisive action by engaging with tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. His efforts to establish a dedicated team to handle the rise of anti-Semitic content underscored his innovative approach to tackling this modern-day scourge.

Hagoel’s leadership extends beyond his role at the WZO, encompassing various positions of influence within the Jewish world. As acting chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel in 2021, Hagoel assumed a pivotal role in advancing the organization’s mission of fostering Jewish unity and strengthening connections with the State of Israel. His tenure saw him navigate complex challenges and steer the organization with wisdom and vision.

His multifaceted roles within Jewish institutions, including the Yad Vashem Council and the Board of Governors of Keren Hayesod, underscore his broad impact and leadership across various spheres of Jewish life.

On the left is Bunny Ben Hooren, the owner of the Coquette Kids clothing store, in the middle is David Ben Hooren, the publisher of The Jewish Voice and on the right is Yaakov Hagoel, the Chairman of the World Zionist Organization

Now that Israel finds itself in the fourth month of a grueling war for its ultimate survival against such Iranian proxies as Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the pernicious purveyors of virulent anti-Semitism have been spreading their global tentacles and as such, Jew hatred has soared to unprecedented levels in these contemporary times.

As anti-Semitic incidents continue to surge worldwide, the Jewish community finds itself at the forefront of a relentless battle against hatred and discrimination. From violent demonstrations to hateful graffiti and chants of “Death to the Jews,” the specter of anti-Semitism looms large, casting a shadow of fear and insecurity over Jewish communities across the globe. In the face of this alarming trend, leaders within the Jewish diaspora are sounding a clarion call for decisive action to ensure the safety and security of Jews everywhere.

Hagoel has been vocal in highlighting the urgent need for sovereign governments to take responsibility for protecting Jewish citizens. He emphasized to the Jewish Voice that “every Jew, regardless of their location, deserves equal treatment and must be shielded from threats, attacks, and incitement.”  Moreover,  he stressed the importance of swift and robust action by world leaders to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms, including online hate speech and propaganda.

In an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post in January. Hagoel wrote:  “The initial starting point must be clear: This is a critical hour for sovereign governments worldwide. They are fully responsible for ensuring the safety of every Jew, as equals among equals, just like every citizen living in their territory. The world’s leaders must act swiftly and harshly against any threat or attack, incitement, or harassment against Jews. On a practical level, today it is even more difficult to combat these occurrences, since it includes organizations, companies, various parties, and the media that do not spare any means to incite and harm the Jews.”

“Since October 7th, the war against Israel and the entire Jewish nation across the globe has seen the forces of hate unleashed that hitherto, we have not witnessed,” said Hagoel.  He added that the significant escalation of odious Jew hatred has created a formidable security problem as Jewish lives are at risk. “Local governments  as well as local citizens and the international Zionist movement must make it a top priority to provide security for Jews, irrespective of where they reside in the diaspora. We cannot acquiesce to the palpable fear that such Jew hatred engenders and we must boldly and courageously confront this perennial scourge with all of our resources, “ Hagoel intoned.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, efforts are underway to monitor and report anti-Semitic content online, with a team of young people from around the world being trained for this purpose, Hagoel said. This proactive approach aims to stem the spread of anti-Semitism in the digital realm, where hatred can proliferate unchecked.

The plight of Jewish students on university campuses has also come under scrutiny, with reports of harassment and discrimination prompting the World Zionist Organization to take action, Hagoel explained. A letter has been sent to major donors of universities implicated in promoting anti-Semitic incitement or hate speech against Israel and the Jewish people, urging them to cease funding until the institutions effectively address the issue, he added. This initiative has garnered widespread support, prompting donors to reconsider their contributions and demand accountability from academic faculties.

“Anti-Semitism on college campuses has exploded and there is no sign of it diminishing at any time soon.  It is not easy for Jewish students as campuses around the world have morphed into hotbeds of Jew hatred, “ Hagoel ruefully observed. He added that, “We are facing a horrible reality and the world cannot understand what we are facing.”

“Fighting the maelstrom of anti-Semitism that has engulfed us is the most important challenge of this century,” declared Hagoel with a resolute determination reverberating in his voice. “The only way that we can ever succeed in this battle for our survival as Jews, whether we be in Israel or any country in the world is by working assiduously to strengthen our collective Jewish identity,” Hagoel explained.

He added that, “If history has taught us anything, we have learned that by being gripped by fear of Jew hatred, by abrogating our responsibility to confront and vanquish anti-Semitism, by fleeing from our Jewish heritage through rampant assimilation and even conversion, we are guaranteed that our grandchildren will not be Jewish. That means that the link in the chain of Jewish survival that has run for thousands of years will be irrevocably torn asunder.”

Hagoel also remarked that, “Throughout the blood stained pages of Jewish history, we have been subjected to crusades, inquisitions, pogroms and the final, unspeakable horror of the Holocaust. But we must be consistently mindful of the fact that came out stronger from these heinous atrocities. We have to learn our lesson. We saw what was good for us and bad for us.”

“What are the lessons that we must imbibe? They are quite simple. When the Jew flees his people and his G-d and intentionally distances himself from his Jewish roots, the result is that Jew hatred begins a rapid escalation. This occurs until the Jew comes to the stark realization that only through cleaving to Hashem, only through cleaving to Torah, only to cleaving to acts of kindness and truly loving and sacrificing for his people will his salvation come, “ Hagoel declared.

“The truth is we are an amazing people. We place an inordinate emphasis on Jewish education, we highlight Jewish pride and attachment to one’s people and that has caused us to survive throughout the millennium, “ Hagoel added.

Speaking of his glowing optimism for the future of the Jewish nation, Hagoel said how extremely gratified he was to see so very many Jews from across the world flock to Israel in the tragic aftermath of the October 7th attacks to volunteer, to do everything they possibly can to support their brethren and ease their burdens during these exceptionally trying times.

Hagoel also spoke of a special conference in which 400 leaders from around the world will shine of a spotlight on various modalities in which to combat anti-Semitism and strengthen Jewish identity that is scheduled to take place in Jerusalem on February 27th.

He added that he is meeting with local leadership to ensure that we can create efficacious plans to blot out the perennial threat of anti-Semitism.

Furthermore, efforts to raise awareness and garner international support for the Jewish cause are underway, with delegations of opinion leaders, media representatives, and community leaders visiting Israel to witness firsthand the impact of Hamas terrorism on innocent lives. These tours aim to shed light on the brutal realities faced by the Jewish people in the aftermath of the October 7th massacre and to counter attempts to distort the facts surrounding acts of violence perpetrated against them.

As the fight against anti-Semitism intensifies, solidarity within the Jewish community and support from allies worldwide are crucial in confronting this pervasive threat. With concerted efforts and unwavering determination, the Jewish community stands united in its resolve to combat hatred and intolerance, safeguarding the rights and dignity of Jews everywhere.

With the help of the multifaceted activities of the World Zionist Organization and all its affiliates, and with the help of 300 teaching emissaries that the WZO sends to communities around the world, we continue to strengthen the identity and connection of every Jew to our homeland, language, culture, history, and our shared future, Hagoel said.

Hagoel concluded by saying, “As someone who is at the heart of the action and is exposed to the spirit of shared destiny, unity, and determination of our incredible people, I know that with God’s help and with the help of all of us – together we will win!”

As Yaakov Hagoel continues to champion Zionism and lead the charge against anti-Semitism, his legacy remains a testament to the enduring spirit of Jewish resilience and determination in the face of adversity. With his steadfast leadership and unwavering commitment to Jewish causes, Hagoel embodies the timeless values of Zionism and serves as an inspiration to generations of Jewish leaders and activists worldwide.

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