‘Bravest Thing’ To Stand Up For Jewish People, Israel, Israeli Activist Says

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Hen Mazzig, Israeli activist and speaker, addresses a crowd of 500 on Feb. 21 during the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s community relations committee’s annual meeting and Sidney Z. Vincent Memorial Lecture at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood. CJN Photo / Courtney Byrnes


Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

People and their perspectives are shaped by their identities, and while Hen Mazzig identifies with several minority communities, none is more important than his Jewish identity.

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland brought Mazzig, an Israeli activist and speaker, to Cleveland on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 as he interacted with the community through several events. The discussions focused on intersectional identities, like his own, and his perspective of the current war in Israel and rise of antisemitism since the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack.

“Judaism is really an identity that allows you to move into other groups, into other communities and be a part of them,” Mazzig told the Cleveland Jewish News on Feb. 21.

Each part of his identity, whether that be Jewish, North African, Iraqi, queer or the son of refugees, he said is “100% who I am – I am not 50% Jewish and 50% something else, I’m 100% Jewish.”

While his intersectional identity has allowed him to be in community with others through shared identity, it has also opened him up to bigotry from those outside the community. Facing such bigotry has shaped how he shows up to speak about the issues minority communities face, whether he is a part of them or not. But that support does not always go both ways, especially recently as those communities he has marched with in the past have not taken a stand against antisemitism.

“Everywhere I go, everywhere there’s a Jewish community, I always feel like I have a family,” Mazzig said. “And that’s what I love about being Jewish. I think that’s the difference between other minority communities because when we march together for queer rights or against racism, I feel like we’re marching together, but I think what it is is that they haven’t showed up for me. ... It was never popular to stand up against antisemitism, but it was always just.”

Antisemitism has “shapeshifted” over the centuries and he said now takes the form of anti-Israel sentiments, such as “Israel has no right to exist,” disguised behind advocating for human rights. He added there can be legitimate criticism of Israel and its government, as prior to the war thousands of Israelis took to the streets each week to protest the proposed judicial overhaul plan, but he believes standing with Israel now is the right thing to do.

“The bravest thing you can do is to stand up for the Jewish people and for Israel,” he said. “And again, it was never popular to stand up for Jews, but it was always right. I’m hoping that people will be more proud of their Jewish identity.”

While addressing a crowd of 500 at the Federation’s community relations committee’s 77th annual meeting and Sidney Z. Vincent Memorial Lecture on Feb. 21 at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, Mazzig said while he supports the rights of Palestinians, he does not support the killing of Israelis or the destruction of the Jewish state, and believes the Palestinian movement needs to condemn antisemitism.

“As someone that is advocating for Palestinian rights and supporting Palestinian civilians’ rights, I also recognize it is tremendously important for the Palestinian movement to do some soul searching and to call out antisemitism within this movement,” Mazzig told the crowd.

Event co-chairs Rubin Guttman and Miriam Giardina, Rabbi Yael Dadoun of The Temple and Susan Borison, CRC chair, also spoke at the event, which included an annual report of the CRC’s work.

Prior to the meeting, he led a social media lab for about 60 parents, and a second lab on Feb. 22 for 50 teenagers, focused on identifying and knowing how and when to engage with hate online with reliable information. Mazzig founded Tel Aviv Institute to combat antisemitism online. He said he wants young people to know the power that social media has and give parents the tools “to support their children that are exposed to some of the most horrific violence on social media. They’re seeing it and they need to know how to handle it.”

On Feb. 22, Mazzig looked forward to the conversations he would have with the 115 gathered at the dinner hosted by Ben-Gurion Society and the 40 at jHUB’s LGBTQ happy hour. He said engaging with different communities like he did in Cleveland is what has allowed his platform to grow, as he boasts a following of over 500,000 across social media platforms.

“I was able to provide the language to people based on what they want to say and to meet people where they’re at,” Mazzig said. “It’s important part of what I do is to try to give the Jewish people the language to describe how they are feeling.”

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