Jewish leaders from around the world began arriving in Jerusalem on Monday, ahead of Tuesday’s opening of a session of the World Jewish Congress.
The leaders of two of the five regional branches that make up the WJC, Moshe Kantor, head of the European Jewish Congress, and Alexander Mashkevitch, who helms the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, gave separate interviews to The Jerusalem Post on what they think will top the two-day conference’s agenda. The other three branches are WJC North America, the Latin American Jewish Congress, and WJC Israel.
In his suite at the David Citadel Hotel, Kantor spoke about the world’s seeming indifference toward the existential threat Iran poses to Israel, whose president has repeatedly called for it to be wiped off the map.
“We are living in a period which I call the banalization of problems,” he said. “The world doesn’t want to see, doesn’t want to hear, something it’s not comfortable with. I am speaking about all challenging threats which face us, and No. 1 among them is the Iranian threat, of course.”
One of the key issues was the short memory of world public opinion, which needs to be reminded of atrocities committed against Jews not so long ago, he said.
“The further away we are from World War II and the Holocaust, the more the world population in all countries wants it to be left in the history books,” Kantor said.
Mashkevitch, too, weighed in on the big issues affecting world Jewry.
The mining magnate expressed his fears over the threat posed by the delegitimization of Israel by its critics and called for a grand conference to convene in Brussels early next year to find ways of improving its image.
“We need a conference like the Brussels Conference of 1971 bringing all the Jewish organizations from around the world together,” he said, referring to the historic gathering that helped raise awareness of the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union. The new conference’s aim would be to set up a joint mechanism to tackle attacks on Israel’s right to exist, Mashkevitch said.
Mashkevitch and Kantor come from not dissimilar backgrounds.
They were born into secular Jewish families in the Soviet Union, Kantor in Moscow in 1953 and Mashkevitch in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in 1954, and were academics before they became businessmen.
Kantor has a doctorate in spacecraft engineering and Mashkevitch a doctorate in philosophy.
When perestroika– the movement often associated with the fall of communism – came, they abandoned the classroom in favor of private business, Mashkevitch making his millions in mining and Kantor making his in chemicals.
Nowadays each gives generously to Jewish communities and helms a Jewish organization dedicated to different parts of the world.
One thing the two billionaire businessmen, whose relations are said to be frayed, undoubtedly have in common is a passion for Israel and the Jewish world.
“I love and support Israel,” Mashkevitch said. “And I am never going to ask it to change.”
“We have big Jewish communities and small Jewish communities with all sorts of needs,” Kantor said. “And what we try to do in our work is plant the seeds of salvation.”