Leader of Russian and European Jews told Kommersant about his visit to Israel
Viatcheslav Kantor, president of the Russian Jewish Congress and president-elect of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) as of the end of June, completed a visit to Israel yesterday. Visiting Jerusalem as head of this well-known international organization, Kantor conducted negotiations with Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister, and other leaders. In his interview with Kommersant correspondent Grigory Asmolov, Kantor discussed the results of his visit and answered questions regarding his support for Russia’s leadership.
– This is your first visit to Israel in the position of the EJC president. What were your goals?
– Ever since the State of Israel was founded, its leadership has worked closely with the leaders of Jewish communities, as well as with public and political organizations of the Jewish Diaspora. The EJC is not only one of the oldest and most influential European organizations but also the largest union of Jewish national communities of the world, with activities in dozens of European countries. Today Jewish communities and the State of Israel face new challenges – the threat of nuclear holocaust and threat of nuclear terrorism, an escalation of anti-Semitism and efforts to revise the history of the Holocaust and WWII. We are also facing the need to strengthen and renew our commitment to passing on traditions and Jewish heritage to future generations. Developing a coordinated strategy in these areas requires direct top-level contacts with leaders of the Diaspora and the national State. Eventually, this type of contact will strengthen interstate cooperation, in which non-governmental organizations play a very important role. Preventing a nuclear holocaust is an incredibly significant issue in global politics, not just in the national arena. Unfortunately, until recently Russia was not able to make the fullest use of cooperation and the potential that the U.S. and European countries have developed. That situation has drastically changed.
– How was your meeting with Ehud Olmert?
– I am very satisfied with our meeting. The Israeli Prime Minister expressed full support for our major initiatives, first of all for the Let My People Live! Forum, which will be held in Germany in 2008 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of die Kristallnacht. This will be the third Holocaust forum that we’ve held. I believe that these forums are an efficient weapon in our fight against anti-Semitism. That remains urgent today. We must show the world once again that any support for anti-Semitism leads to tragedy for millions of people. The Prime Minister also supported our Luxembourg forums aimed at developing a specific plan to counteract the growing nuclear threat.
– You are the first Russian citizen to lead the EJC. In light of the controversial attitude towards Russia in the international arena, why do you think you were chosen?
– We have to be efficient at solving not only problems connected with Russian projects but also pan-European and global projects. We must rely on a professional team. The controversial attitude towards Russia is due to our competitive ability. Nobody likes competitors. They always try to move rivals backstage. This happens not only in public life, but also in politics, economics, sports, ballet and anywhere else. You have two choices. You can get offended and leave, or you can persistently pursue your goals and ignore those who try to mislead you. That is how Russia won the chance to be host for the next Winter Olympics. In the same way, that is how a Russian citizen was elected president of the European Jewish Congress, one of the most influential public and political organizations in united Europe. It is not an easy task to work with dozens of European Jewish communities. However, the goal is within reach because of the experience I bring from Russian business.
– During the EJC presidential election campaign you positioned yourself as a public figure loyal to Russian authorities. You were even called “Putin’s ally.” Many people said this would prevent you from being elected, but you succeeded. Why?
– Jewish tradition says, “The law of the country is the law.” It is pointless to set the community against the authorities of the country in which you live. Only when the state attacks the Jewish community and its religious institutions, or persecutes Jews as a nation, or advocates, spreads and practices anti-Semitism, do Jews confront the state in order to save their lives and the lives of their children. As was the case with the Third Reich, all Jews, no matter where they live, resist.
In today’s Russia, the Jewish community is treated just like it is in France, the U.K., the U.S. or Italy. One quarter of the population of Israel is from Russia, and Israel enjoys a relationship with Russia that is just as close as its relationships with other European countries. What is the use of being disloyal to the authorities when they are loyal to the community? Europeans understand that perfectly well. Speaking of Vladimir Putin, he is much more popular in the world in general, and in Europe in particular, than the pundits would have you think, especially considering what some media outlets write about him and about Russia. My personal experience has shown that we should not be ashamed to be Russian citizens and we should not be ashamed of our country’s leaders.
Today we are shaping the new image of Russia. In this sense, our civic duty is to show that the country is developing despite all its problems and that it is open to the world and new ideas. Moreover, Russia’s increased global presence, a process that began some time ago, makes this work even more urgent. I am happy that the Jewish community in Europe and the whole world in general are getting more interested in Russia.