President of the European Jewish Congress: When some leader says something almost anti-Semitic, people choose not to react and make things worse.
Moshe Kantor’s work promoting tolerance and reconciliation, human rights and interfaith dialogue, and his struggle against anti-Semitism and racism earned him numerous awards in recent years from European heads of state, including the Italian Knight’s Grand Cross of the Order of Merit (2013), the highest decoration given to non-Italians, and France’s prestigious Légion d’Honneur (2010). He heads the publicly traded Acron Group, one of the leading mineral fertilizer producers and distributors in the world. He purchased the first asset of the Acron Group, a state-owned nitric acid-based fertilizer plant, in Russia in 1993. In 2012, Forbes estimated Kantor’s worth at $2.3 billion.
He is married to Anna Kantor and has three sons and a daughter. I interviewed him recently in his Herzliya home.
How did you stop the quenelle phenomenon?
We started the trend, and it was then supported by everyone else, and we are happy with this. We don’t need any monopoly on this. If we start something and it’s supported by other Jewish organizations like the World Jewish Congress… we are happy, because this is really what we want to trigger: a chain reaction. Intolerance to intolerance, this is the idea.
The forces of any Jewish leader in the world are very limited, and we should work like an ice-breaker. It might be a small piece of the huge amount of ice in the ocean, but the idea is that the ice-breaker is stronger than the ice only along a very narrow line and when it is using its own weight to crush the ice.
How serious is the problem of anti-Semitism in Europe today?
There are several dimensions of anti-Semitism, in Europe and everywhere else. But Europe, for many thousands of years, has been the main stage on which the tragedy has played out.
First of all, there is the so-called obvious and evident anti-Semitism which is being monitored by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University. It’s something very real, severe and serious. And I can tell you, the situation is not so nice, although it’s a little better than 2012.
What is the other kind of anti-Semitism you were referring to? The other kind is so-called democratic or public anti-Semitism, which is growing dramatically in Europe, and has become a part of normal life there.
Usually, the Jewish Diaspora, especially in Europe, tolerates it. Practical persons, when some leader, politician or some banker says something almost anti-Semitic, choose not to react because they don’t want to overreact and make something worse than it is in reality. I think it’s an illusion, because this phenomenon is growing, and the fertilizer is our tolerance of it. We tolerate and tolerate, and the phenomenon is becoming bigger and bigger.
Especially because of this, after serious doubts we decided collectively as the European Jewish Congress to come out strongly against the Anelka case. Usually, people don’t want to touch public figures or stars, as they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. We say no, here this cannot be the case. The quenelle is a covert Nazi gesture. So we decided to make it an issue.
I should say that we almost lost the case with [French comedian] Dieudonne [M’bala M’bala]. The French community completely lost the struggle against Dieudonne for 10 years. This so-called comedian continued his anti-Semitic performances for a decade, and the Jewish community and the French government were tolerating it. At least until this very promising guy, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, came to power. He really demonstrated his opposition, and we decided to support him.
We started a campaign in newspapers everywhere against Anelka, as a supporter of Dieudonne. After this global campaign against Anelka, the French government was encouraged to take strong action against Dieudonne.
This is exactly what we wanted. I really applaud Prime Minister Valls and President Francois Hollande, because they went to the Supreme Court and completely prohibited his performances.
And I was very satisfied with the decision by British Home Secretary Theresa May to declare him persona non grata in Great Britain.
How concerned are you about the rise of far-right parties in Europe?
Jews are not happy in Europe; they are frightened by the situation. The numbers are terrible. The majority of Jews are insecure and prefer not to show their identity on the streets of Europe. This is very worrying.
What we have in Europe today is a crisis of historical memory. That’s why there are ultra-right parties flourishing in Europe. The European Parliament election results could spell the end of the European Union. This is because in the European Parliament, the bloc that can be formed by the ultra-right, the ultra-left and Euro-skeptics could reach 20 percent, which would allow them to block all budgetary and financial decisions.
And they will demand representative functions in the European Commission.
This sounds like a scary scenario.
It sounds like a repeat of the scenario…in Nazi Germany about 90 years ago, and that is a very scary thing. That’s why I worry about the appearance of neo-Nazi parties in Europe today. It’s not only Jobbik and the National Front in France; it’s not only Golden Dawn in Greece. It is something much more.
First of all, the biggest challenge facing Europe is the proliferation of nuclear weapons out of the legal field. Number two is uncontrolled migration, which in turn causes another phenomenon, namely aggressive, closed ethnic communities, mostly Islamic but not only.
The fourth thing is the spread of terrorism, like Hezbollah, which has affiliated organizations practically in almost all countries in the world.
And the new challenge is the appearance of neo-Nazism. The principle difference is that neo-Nazis don’t have a special ideology. Instead, they want leadership in their own countries and to be aggressive.
The borders between these other challenges become more and more porous.
If all these challenges come together, it would be a catastrophe, an extremely dangerous one. That’s why we have to be especially careful with the rise of neo-Nazism.
That’s why we explain to all Europe’s leaders: Be careful. This is not just an anti-Jewish phenomenon, it’s an anti-national phenomenon. That’s why we have focused so much on this issue, and have held conferences on it, the last one being in St. Petersburg, attended by representatives of 20 countries.