From the Jerusalem Post’s ’50 most influential Jews.’
The Jerusalem Post has put together its annual list of ’50 most influential Jews’ who have impacted the world last year, and have the potential to affect change in years to come.
Europe’s stalwart against rising anti-Semitism
A visit to Moshe Kantor’s Herzliya home is like entering an oasis of tranquility.
The various shades of cream and caramel, high ceilings and priceless artwork adorning the walls not only prove the man’s notable wealth (estimated at a whopping $2 billion according to Forbes), but offer a stark contrast to the grim realities he faces on a daily basis as leader of the European Jewish Congress: the alarming rise of anti-Semitism that is sweeping the continent.
The statistics are in, and the results are dire. According to figures provided by his Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, there were a total of 766 recorded cases of violent anti-Semitic acts in Europe in 2013 – a figure that is 38 percent higher than the previous year. Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the attacks in Toulouse and Paris’s Hyper Cacher market, France saw the biggest uptick in registered attacks, noting 164 documented cases in 2013.
However, Kantor points out, these numbers don’t provide the entire picture. “[The Kantor Center] only documents severe cases and attacks, but anti-Semitism is a much wider phenomenon.”
The Community Security Trust, a London-based nonprofit which meticulously documents a wide range of anti-Semitic acts, notes 1,000 more cases than the Kantor Center because it takes into account threats and incitement in addition to acts of violence.
While CST data in the UK are accurate and precise, the rest of the continent can’t say the same. This means there are hundreds of cases where Jews are under threat and the incidents are not reported. Such a troubling discrepancy in data also reveals an unfortunate pattern of behavior among European Jewry: the hesitance to speak out.
“Our people are not so brave to report every time when they are attacked. It’s the usual Diaspora tradition, not to report every incident. Sometimes, even the majority of people think, ‘Maybe it’s better to wait, maybe it’s better to be more cautious and not to speak too soon’ – all in the hopes the problems will disappear,” Kantor lamented.
That anti-Jewish sentiment is not being ignored in Jewish homes, according to Kantor.
“There is no such thing as a family in Europe that is not thinking about an exodus,” he said plainly. “I’m not saying they have made their decision, but they are all thinking about it; either about themselves, or their kids, or the young generation – but they are thinking about it.”
European Jewish leaders, in his view, have downplayed such threats and have suggested Kantor and his ilk are exaggerating.
“The majority of leaders in Europe, they think we are exaggerating the problem. My business and the business of my colleagues is to explain to them that we are not exaggerating at all.”
To that end, for the past five years, Kantor and the EJC have worked on altering European legislation in order curb the uptick of anti-Semitic acts.
The EJC, in conjunction with the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, drafted the Model European Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance in the hopes that European legislatures would adopt its measures.
While results are slow to come by, the Romanian parliament is expected to be the first European country to adopt the law.
“In 40 years, I think we’ll have results,” he said, exaggerating for comedic effect. “That’s why we Jews have to live long, our people are very slow,” he added, chuckling ruefully.
At its core, the law hopes to curb anti-Semitic acts before they turn violent; in other words, hate speech, rhetoric and incitement is a crime in and of itself. “The idea is not to limit the main freedoms and democratic priorities, it should protect them,” he clarified, assuring that such a law should not and will not infringe on free speech.
“The principal challenge in preparing the Model Statute was to go beyond rhetoric and generalities, spelling out concrete obligations that ensure tolerance and stamp out intolerance,” the statute’s summary statement read.
The legal system must be overhauled – and soon – before Jews completely isolate themselves from the rest of European society for fear of being attacked. “We Jews are already putting ourselves in the ghettos voluntarily. The thickness of the doors in my children’s schools [in London] is a 21-centimeter iron door. If a mother brings her kids, only a bodyguard helps her open the door,” he detailed.
He hopes the law will allow Jews to have greater agency over their own security, all while operating within their country’s legal framework.
“We should understand one thing: The time when it was enough to be reactive is over, now it’s time to be proactive,” he said forcefully.
The law aims to be implemented not only in terms of security and legal justice, but in the classrooms as well. Because education is a fundamental part of teaching students how to interact with one another, Section 8 of the model calls on governments to implement a curriculum that will “introduce courses encouraging students to accept diversity and [promote] a climate of tolerance.”
To that end, he has launched a pilot program in UK schools called Secure Tolerance (“To be modest, you can call it the Kantor Program,” he joked).
“In the simplest terms, the purpose is to explain to students what are the limits of tolerance – who should be tolerated, what should be tolerated and what should not,” he explained.
A lecture titled “Charms and Challenges of Otherness: How Tolerance and Security Make a Difference in the World” was first presented at Britain’s Durham University.
he hopes the lecture, which was initially delivered by Mikhail Epstein – professor of Russian and cultural theory, and director of the Center for Humanities Innovation at the university – will be integrated in curricula across the continent.
“As a tree starts to grow, you have to prepare the soil for this tree. And that soil is secure tolerance, and the soil is fertilized by knowledge,” Kantor described, in a metaphor that draws on his extensive knowledge from his day job – the head of Acron Group, a top mineral and fertilizer plant.
Kantor’s efforts are not going unnoticed.
Last March, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini penned a letter to the editor in the Italian daily La Repubblica, calling for an EU Task Force against anti-Semitism and transferring the authority of heading that task force to Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission.
“It’s a big responsibility he took on himself, but he’s a brilliant and very nice person, and we rely on him very much. Everything is in his hands,” Kantor said of Timmermans and his role.
Kantor, for his part, understands that an NGO can only do so much, especially when combating the ever-growing and widespread threat of radical Islam. “[Radical Islam] is so widespread.
I compare this phenomenon to the danger of nuclear proliferation,” he averred.
When it comes to the subject of the day – a nuclear Iran – he is well-versed on this issue as well.
As the president of the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe, he has lent his unequivocal support to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to sound the alarm bells against the P5+1 world powers’ deal with Tehran, set to be finalized next month.
“You know, every Jewish leader should have a vision.
You know you are a leader with no vision if you start something that is not supported at all. If you are not able to start something, you are not a leader; you are a political animal at best,” he asserted. “Bibi [Netanyahu] definitely has vision… And his vision that Iran was, is and will be the biggest problem of Israel and all other things are secondary – this is his vision.”
“That’s why he’s the most appreciated leader, in my view,” he replied, when asked for his thoughts on the Magazine’s most influential man of the year.
“I thought you were talking about me!” he guffawed, after it was clarified that Netanyahu, and not Kantor himself, will grace the top spot. “There’s always next year,” this reporter assured him.
But considering everything he has accomplished – and will accomplish – it seems a numerical ranking is the last thing on the Jewish leader’s mind.