Three Young Activists Working to Combat Antisemitism in Europe to Receive 2015 Human Rights First Award
New York City – Human Rights First will honor European human rights activists Jane Braden-Golay, Siavosh Derakhti, and Niddal El-Jabri with its 2015 Human Rights First Award. The three activists are being recognized for their courage, determination, and innovation in combating religious intolerance and the rise of antisemitism in Europe. The organization will present the Human Rights First Award to Braden-Golay, Derakhti, and El-Jabri at its annual gala on October 21 at Chelsea Piers in New York City.
“Amid the darkness of antisemitic violence and hatred, these three young activists are lighting the way towards a better future,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “We are inspired by their courage and determination, and we share their conviction that people from diverse faiths must come together to defeat hatred and build communities of tolerance. Like us, they know that antisemitism is a threat not only to Jews, but to all who value democracy and human dignity.”
Antisemitism is surging across Europe. Stoked by ascendant far-right parties and violent extremists trying to lay claim to Islam, mounting hatred has led to an increase in antisemitic attacks and worries that the continent is becoming unsafe for Jews. Historically, when antisemitism goes unchecked it leads to attacks on other vulnerable minorities and eventually to societal breakdown.
This year’s winners are each working to raise awareness about the scourge of antisemitism and to find long-term solutions rooted in tolerance and an appreciation for diversity. This year’s award recognizes the following accomplishments:
Jane Braden-Golay is originally from Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and studied Religious Studies, Public Law and Education at the University of Zurich. She was elected vice president of the European Union of Jewish Students and served for four years in that position. Since January 2014, she has been the president of the organization and based in Brussels, Belgium. Her intercultural activism includes the international Muslim Jewish Conference and “Europe of Diasporas”, a project bringing together Jewish, Roma and Armenian activists. She will begin graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in the fall of 2015, working on educational methods for prevention of extremism.
Braden-Golay has worked ceaselessly as a young Jewish voice to raise awareness on antisemitism and empower activists to take action. She successfully pressed to include the perspectives of young Jewish leaders in high-level policy meetings, necessary for any discussion relating to the future of the community. She has focused on alliance building and intercultural solidarity, local grassroots projects, and confronting progressively extreme political forces in Europe. Speaking at the Council of Europe on the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Braden-Golay affirmed: “It is becoming increasingly clear that our responsibility in the presence of survivors and in honor of all the victims is more than simply to remember. It is to remember, understand, recognize, and act.”
Siavosh Derakhti was still in high school when he became concerned about intolerance towards Jews in his home town of Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city. In 2010, at age 19, he formed an organization, Young Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, to educate young people about the dangers of antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia, including traveling with youth to Auschwitz, and to speak out against desecration of Jewish sites and physical attacks on Jews, for which Malmo was developing a bad reputation. Siavosh, whose family is originally from Iran, wrote in a local newspaper: “Jews in Malmo have been subjected to everything from threats to harassment, and it is our duty as Swedish citizens of Malmo to react and stand up.” In September 2013, he met with President Obama in Stockholm, and he has since met with the U.S. Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, in Malmo.
Derakhti continues to organize, despite receiving threats for his work. His organization is now called Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia and leads through events like the Stockholm Ring of Peace. Some have labeled him a traitor and called for his death. Derakhti says: “Because I see Jews as my brothers and sisters, and I believe they should enjoy all the same freedoms as all Swedes . . . a freedom without hate. And all Swedes have to do something to bring about peace between Jews and Muslims, and if we want something done we have to do it ourselves. Jews must be able to live in this city as Jews, and I am trying to make this happen.”
Niddal El-Jabri, whose family is Palestinian, felt the need to reach out to the Jewish community in his home city to demonstrate support and solidarity after the fatal attack on the Krystalgade Synagogue in Copenhagen in February. He came up with a plan to form a ring of peace. On March 14, a month after the attack, over a thousand Danes from diverse backgrounds—including the father of the volunteer security guard killed outside the synagogue, Denmark’s chief rabbi, and government ministers—formed a human chain to demonstrate unity and tolerance in the face of hateful violence. Niddal said: “This is a gesture of solidarity with and support for the Jewish community, which was traumatized by the attack at the synagogue, and a call for the creation of a society where all faiths and ethnicities can live together in peace and harmony. We are also saying that Danish Muslims see ourselves as part of Danish society and reject the path of violence and extremism.”
Niddal believes that peace between religious groups anywhere will help promote peace everywhere. He continues his public activism against bigotry and antisemitism in Denmark and the rest of Europe.
For more than 30 years, Human Rights First has presented its annual Human Rights First Award to courageous activists on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom. Previous recipients include: Dennis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Chen Guangcheng of China; Basem Fathy of Egypt; Shehrbano Tasser of Pakistan; Julius Kaggwa of Uganda; Viktória Mohácsi of Hungary; Ryan Boyette of the United States/South Sudan; Damos De Blanco (Ladies in White) of Cuba; Ludmilla Alexeeva of Russia; Helen Mack of Guatemala; Merenghiz Kar of Iran; Saad Eddin Ibrahim of Egypt; Albie Sachs of South Africa; and Hina Jalani of Pakistan.