EJP-A former head of the Jewish community in France says that the EJC president should be a “full time” president and that he should be a citizen of an EU country. What is your reaction to the idea of an EJC limited to the EU?
Moshe Kantor: For 20 years the European Jewish Congress has been the representative body of 44 European communities, some of which are not yet European Union members. The issues we are addressing are pan-European and should not be limited to EU counties only. I oppose creating a two-tier system in the EJC where over a third of the member communities would not have full rights according to this criterion. The issues that the EJC champions, from protecting human rights, fighting anti-Semitism and xenophobia, promoting interfaith dialogue, implementing cultural and educational programmes, and remembering the Holocaust and other tragedies are issues facing all Europeans, regardless of whether or not they are members of the European Union.
Some of the most important factors in addressing issues of importance to the EJC are commitment, determination and investment of time and resources. This is in addition to harnessing professional organizations and bodies that we can work in partnership towards achieving our goals. That is exactly where we have been successful and will continue in the same vein.
As President of the EJC I invest 80% of my time in the organization, in addition to a significant investment of funds to enable the unprecedented activity that is taking place today in the EJC, but I don’t work alone and shouldn’t work alone. We work as a team, together with my colleagues, presidents of affiliated-communities, members of the Executive and with seasoned, high-level professionals we’ve hired to work with us on our main issues.
EJP-Is this a sign of a division between eastern and western Jewry?
Moshe Kantor: On the contrary, as President of the EJC it is important for me to emphasize that all EJC communities are equally important, whether they are Eastern or Western Europe, large or small. We are all one family and must respect each other, regardless of where in Europe we hail from. I firmly believe that our unity is our strength. We can better achieve our goals by working as a team and not as individuals or separate communities; if we create divisions within our small family, we would not be able to achieve anything, and I am afraid that the person you’ve quoted before is probably in the opinion that such a division is a right thing for European Jewry. I totally am not in agreement with this position.
EJP-What is your balance of achievements since your election ?
Moshe Kantor: I am very proud of how much we have achieved during the last year-and-a-half, both on the affiliated-community level, dealing with Jewish issues of concern, as well as on pan-European and global issues.
The EJC has raised its profile among European politicians and institutions, as well as with Europeans in general. We have been successful in laying the groundwork for an important and unprecedented cooperation between the EJC and the EU on issues of importance. We are working effectively with EU bodies, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission as well as with non-EU institutions, such as the 47-member Council of Europe.
In addition, we have traversed the continent meeting with heads of European states and opening doors to the highest portals of power for the sake of European Jewry and Israel.
We have visited communities with small Jewish populations and have taken an active approach to understanding the needs of these communities and helping them to strengthen their relations with the national leadership as well as to maintain a vibrant Jewish life, to effectively turn them into flourishing assets for European Jewry as a whole.
On the issue of fighting anti-Semitism, we have formed a taskforce for monitoring this problem. The taskforce is currently analyzing data, obtained from affiliated communities, on anti-Semitic incidents in 2008. A study will be prepared for release in the first quarter of 2009 analyzing the new trends in anti-Semitism since the end of the Israel-Lebanon war. Issues that are being studied include the reduction in overall incidents but recrudescence of violent anti-Semitic acts and the situation in certain small communities where anti-Semitism monitoring systems are not in place. The taskforce is currently cooperating with the Council of Europe for their upcoming campaign titled ‘Speak out against discrimination’, and in the preparation of a series of conferences that will deal specifically with anti-Semitism in the media.
In addition, we have appointed Mike Whine, Director of the Community Security Trust and Defence Director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, as a special expert and representative on behalf of the EJC to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Whine serves as a consultant on all OSCE working groups that pertain to anti-Semitism.
We have also been working with The European Council of Tolerance (ECTR), a non-governmental organization comprised of former heads of European states, Nobel Peace Prize laureates and other individuals world-renowned for their achievements in promoting tolerance. The organization, which was initiated by our organization, is set out to advance concrete political, cultural and educational initiatives to foster a more tolerant Europe, and to fight all forms of anti-Semitism and racism in Europe. Last month the ECTR, together with the EJC, presented The European Framework Convention on Promoting Tolerance and Combating Intolerance in the European Parliament, during a formal gathering commemorating 70 years since Kristallnacht. The convention aims at creating a process that will culminate in unified Europe-wide legislation outlawing many of the forms of intolerance in Europe.
On the issue of Shechita, the EJC has launched a six month intense lobbying campaign at the European Commission aimed at annulling a resolution, currently circulated among member countries, that seeks to outlaw ritual slaughter. In this regard, the EJC is working closely with Shechita UK to send one clear and concerted message throughout the EU. All of our Shechita related efforts, at the EU level, are being coordinated by Henry Grunwald, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
The EJC is very concerned with the upcoming Durban II Conference. In light of the dangerous language being used in the Durban Review Conference’s Draft Outcome Document, the EJC and affiliated communities are lobbying EU and non-EU governments to change the wording of the document and create awareness of the EU ‘red lines’. These are problematic parts that the EU French Presidency determined were unacceptable for the EU in regards to the draft document. Lobbying continues in concert with Jewish and non-Jewish NGOs as well as the Preparatory Committee in Geneva. The EJC is extremely active in this regard and is following the negotiations very closely
The EJC has also focused a lot of efforts on initiatives for counteracting the threat of nuclear Iran through close cooperating with The International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe, the most authoritative international forum of experts in the field of nuclear non-proliferation, and also through direct campaign in the media on this important issue. This issue was also the main topic we’ve raised with European leaders we’ve met during the last 17 months, which includes the heads of the EU institutions and leaders of relevant European states such as Russia, Germany, Turkey and many others.
Finally, outreach to the next generation of European Jews is very important to the EJC. In this regard, we have created the first organization of its kind, called ‘Leadel’ (‘LEADership ELement’) to connect youth from all communities, strengthen their Jewish identity and inspire them with successful Jewish personalities that will serve as role models.
EJP-If you are reelected, what will be your priorities?
Moshe Kantor: We will continue to address the current challenges, including the future of Jewish life in Europe, the dangerous rise in anti-Semitism and racism in Europe, the Iranian threat and terrorism, and strengthening European support of Israel – in the most professional and efficient manner. We will continue to work in partnership with Jewish and non-Jewish NGOs and professional bodies, as well as the EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN to raise awareness of these issues. The key to our success is working with partners. Together our power to change is far more significant.
We are facing a challenging year in 2009. The economic crisis will affect the world severely. Who can predict what will be the implications on Jewish life in the world and in Europe specifically? We need to get started, prepare and plan in advance for the upcoming years.
EJP-Racism and Anti-Semitism are apparently growing in Europe- Is a convention on tolerance enough?
Moshe Kantor: When the European Framework Convention on Promoting Tolerance and Combating Intolerance will be adopted by the EU and its institutions it will be an unprecedented achivement; one of the most significent achivements obtained by an NGO. With that, the EJC is very active in many other aspects of the fight against anti-Semitism as I have oulined above.
“The next several years will certainly bring unforeseen challenges. But I am also convinced that in challenges, opportunities are to be found. I believe that by working together, the European Jewish Congress can continue to go from strength to strength.”