On February 10, 2008, an extraordinary session of the General Assembly of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) met in Paris, with delegates arriving from over 40 European Jewish communities. The main item of business was adopting a new EJC constitution, which was supported by 63 of the 85 voting members.
The new constitution contains a number of significant changes. For example, the term of office of all elected bodies of the Congress, including the President and the Executive Council, is extended from two to four years. Thus, the Congress’ current leadership will be up for re-election in 2011. In addition, communities that are members of the EJC will no longer be allowed to join other regional affiliates of the World Jewish Congress. Changes were also made to the powers of the EJC Council as the executive body defining the Congress’ plans.
Viatcheslav Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress and also President of the Russian Jewish Congress, commented on the results of the extraordinary session of the EJC General Assembly and the importance of adopted changes. According to Kantor, the new developments will help the EJC with long-term planning and organizing large-scale projects in its key areas of activity, which include fighting anti-Semitism and xenophobia, counteracting the Iranian nuclear threat, organizing Holocaust memorial events, and sponsoring leadership and education programmes for Jewish youth in European countries.
Kantor went on to say that “two-year term of office for the president blocked all the constructive work of the Congress, because right after taking office newly elected leadership had to turn around and start a new election campaign. In essence, our activity was limited to a continuous election process. That was very democratic for sure, but you can’t get results that way. It was crucial that we extend the mandate of our leadership, and we had to do it today before the term of office of the current leadership expired. Otherwise, we would lose time during which we can accomplish so much.”
EJC leadership has struggled for years to develop a document that would garner the approval of a qualified majority of voting members.
Not all session participants approved of the changes made to the EJC constitution. The leaders of Jewish organizations in Austria, France and Portugal expressed their opinion that, although the adoption of the new Constitution was formally legitimate, it should have been the subject of a separate election. While there continue to be differences of opinion between communities from Western and Eastern Europe, the EJC is committed to maintaining open discussion and free debate between all of its members and moving forward with its slate of progressive initiatives.