Movers and Shakers in Israeli Society

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European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor has an array of awards from the governments of Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Belgium, France, Italy and Romania, as well as an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University in recognition of his work in campaigning against antisemitism and all other forms of racism and incitement, for preserving the memory of the Holocaust, for promoting tolerance and reconciliation and for actively working towards peace.

The Russian-born billionaire and philanthropist, who now lives in England, but is constantly on an international Jewish commute, puts his money where his mouth is and has generously contributed to numerous projects in the above-mentioned countries.

This week he added to his collection of awards, when he received the highest civilian award of distinction that Austria can confer – the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria.

Wolfgang Sobotka, president of the National Council, Austria’s parliament, conferred the award in the absence of President Alexander Van der Bellen, who went into quarantine after his secretary was diagnosed with COVID-19. Sobotka described Kantor as a visionary Jewish leader, who is leading the fight against antisemitism, promoting Jewish culture and preserving the meaning of the Shoah for future generations.

When a Jewish leader is chosen for an award, the first question that comes to mind is whether to accept it or not, Kantor explained. “For me the answer to this question is whether the Jewish community is content and whether it feels that I have served its interests faithfully. In the case of Austria, I did not hesitate for one second. Today, Jews in Austria feel at home, that they are an integral part of Austrian society and that their concerns are taken into account. This decoration is not for me personally,” he insisted, “but for the Jewish community and its leaders.” Kantor thanked the Austrian government for its comprehensive response in securing and promoting Jewish life.

Later in the day, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who was in Austria as the official representative of the government at Kristallnacht ceremonies, in particular the unveiling of the Shoah Wall of Names, spoke of rising antisemitism throughout Europe and the world at large. Last year, in Austria alone, he said, there was a significant increase in antisemitic incidents, with a total of 585 hate crimes.

Antisemitism is not an issue that Israel or the Jewish world can resolve, he said. “It is the responsibility of nations and institutions around the world to take action against this ancient virus.

Kantor has spoken out on this issue many times, and when speaking to journalists on Tuesday said antisemitism as a crime, should be written into the legislation of every country.

Photo by: Ouriel Morgensztern/EJC