Jewish groups dealing with European affairs warmly welcomed the election of Italian Antonio Tajani as President of the European Parliament.
During the vote on Tuesday in Strasbourg, the 63-year-old Italian Member of the European Parliament secured 351 votes, while his challenger, also from Italy, Gianni Pitella of the Socialists and Democrats Group (S&D) could only garner 282. Tajani is a member of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the 751-member European Parliament. He succeeds German Social Democrat Martin Schulz who stepped down after five years.
The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC) said in statement that it ‘’looks forward to the continuing close relations with the Parliament under his leadership to strengthen Israel–EU Relations.’’
IJC recalled that in his former capacity as both Vice-President of the European Parliament and before that also Vice-President of the European Commission, including for Industry and Entrepreneurship, Tajani’s support for Israel and strengthening Israel-EU relations has been unwavering, as has his support for the Jewish community of Europe and commitment to fighting anti-Semitism.
In a May 2015 visit to Toulouse, Tajani noted that “the Jews of Europe are part of the family of nations that led to Europe’s prosperity. There is no Europe without Jews.”
Hosting last September a conference in the European Parliament on anti-Semitism in Europe and future prospects for Europe’s Jewish communities, Tajani, who is responsible for inter-religious dialogue for the Parliament, stressed the persistent climate of hatred towards Jews which leads Jews to live Europe for Israel. He called on Europe, its institutions, its member states and its citizens to oppose anti-Semitism and fight it.
‘’We are particularly pleased that Mr. Tajani has been a strong proponent of even stronger Israel-EU relations, particularly in the fields of innovation, technology and research,’’ teh IJC noted.
During a visit to Israel as European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, in 2013, Tajani led a delegation of 65 senior industry associations and companies’ representatives from 17 EU member states in order to strengthen already flourishing business ties between the EU and Israel, with a particular focus on innovation, green technology and sustainable growth, areas in which Israel is considered a world leader in.
‘’We hope that under Mr. Tajani’s leadership, there will be greater empathy and understanding in the European Parliament for the threat of terror facing Israel and enhanced cooperation and solidarity between Israel and EU in this joint struggle,’’ said Arsen Ostrovski, Executive Director of the Israel-Jewish Congress, in a reference to the terrorist acts in Jerusalem, Berlin and Nice.
He added : ‘’With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are optimistic that under Mr. Tajani’s leadership, the European Parliament can be a more honest broker and still play an important role in advancing the peace process, including in the wake of recent developments at the UN Security Council and the Paris Conference.’’
The European Jewish Congress (EJC) said it ‘’very much looks forward to working with the new President on a wide range of issues of mutual interest.”
“President Tajani has been a good friend of the Italian Jewish community and the State of Israel and has been a fearless proponent of stronger ties between Israel and the European Union, especially in trade and technological cooperation,” said EJC President Moshe Kantor in a statement.
One of President Tajani’s first official functions, the EJC said, will be to host the official EU event to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held every January at the European Parliament.
“His ongoing concerns for the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust and for fighting Antisemitism and racism are commendable,” Kantor said.
Earlier, a leading European Rabbi and head of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association (EJA) Rabbi Menachem Margolin welcomed Tajani’s election and urged him to devote time and resources properly to tackle anti-Semitism.
“We are delighted at the election of Mr Tajani to the post of President of the European Parliament. His previous experience and talent as Chairman of interfaith dialogue will stand him in good stead,’’ Rabbi Margolin, whose organisation represents thousands of Jews from communities across Europe, said.
“It is an unpalatable truth for many, and some politicians seek to brush it under carpet, but anti-semitism is on the rise across Europe, as populism and nationalism continue to make electoral gains. It needs to be properly grabbed by the horns,’’ he stressed.
Rabbi Margolin called on the European Parliament ‘’to work with us, the Jewish communities and not just listening and empathising with our position as a community quite literally under fire but working closely with us on developing initiatives and EU programmes to deal with it. We stand ready to do our part.“