On September 16, the European Jewish Congress (EJC) Executive met in Brussels under the chairmanship of President Moshe Kantor. The meeting followed a roundtable discussion on nuclear non-proliferation organised by Kantor the previous day.
Kantor addressed the Executive with a progress report on preparations for the upcoming Kristallnacht commemoration. On November 9, a memorial service will take place at the Great Synagogue of Europe in Brussels, Belgium. On the same day, the EJC plans to organise a demonstration for the liberation of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. On November 10, there will be a special event at the European Parliament promoting tolerance. This event will be held under the auspices of the President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering.
Moshe Kantor also announced the establishment of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, with former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski as Chairman. The Council plans to present the European Parliament with the first ever convention on tolerance in Europe; a White Paper on tolerance will also be introduced.
In light of numerous problems that have recently arisen on the issue of shechita in Europe, the Executive meeting provided a forum for EJC members to address concerns about the commandment of Jewish ritual slaughter. In some European countries, aggressive pro-animal lobbying groups are pushing animal rights in ways that threaten to encroach on the Jewish religious imperative. After agreeing on the urgent need to coordinate a strategy on this matter at the European level, the EJC President proposed creating a special commission of scientific experts to contribute objectively to the debate and respond to the threat of Jews no longer being able to practice their faith according to halachic ritual.
On a different matter, many individual parents have turned to the EJC to bring attention to the difficulties they are encountering for their children to observe Jewish holidays without being subject to disciplinary measures at school. Respect for the Jewish calendar in the European educational systems is an issue that was discussed at length during the Executive, which concluded that there is a need for an awareness campaign. The campaign will be launched with an official letter jointly signed by the EJC and the Conference of European Rabbis to the national ministers of education asking that Jewish children not be penalized for being absent on religious holidays. In parallel, a letter addressed to the EU Directorate-General for Education and Culture will be sent shortly.
The EJC met in early September with the director of the Agency for Fundamental Rights (which replaces the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) in Vienna.
Alfred Donath, Chairman of the EJC commission on anti-Semitism, gave an assessment of the surge in anti-Semitic attacks throughout the European continent and thanked the communities for answering a questionnaire on this issue. With the contribution of international experts, a special EJC report on anti-Semitism will be published by the end of 2008.
Following an in-depth presentation on Jewish refugees from Arab countries by Edwin Shuker, co-chairman of Justice for Jews from Arab countries (click here to be redirected to the website) and Sydney Assor, Chairman of the Association of Moroccan Jews in Great Britain, EJC President Kantor encouraged the Congress to get involved in publicising the forgotten exodus of Jews from Arab lands. The European Jewish Fund will help support the project.
The Executive also reviewed preparations for Durban II, which will take place in 2009 in Geneva, as well as other organizational matters.
The following members were present at the Executive meeting in Brussels:
KANTOR Moshe, EJC President
KAUFMANN Flo, Chairman of the Council (UK)
CWAJGENBAUM Serge, EJC Secretary Genera
BENATOFF Cobi (Italy); BLEICH Yaakov (Ukraine); BULZ Michel (Luxembourg); GOLDSCHMIDT Pinchas (Russia); KRAKOWSKI Tomasz (Poland); KRAUS Tomas (Czech Republic); LEVINSOHN Dalia (Spain); STERN Maram (WJC); VIS Ruben (Netherlands); WINTER Herbert (Switzerland); ZUCKERMAN Arie (Israel) and GLIKERMAN Myriam (EJC Paris office).
Also present by special invitation were: ASSOR Sydney (BOD, UK); CARMEL Philip (Conference of European Rabbis); DONATH Alfred (chairman, EJC Commission on anti-Semitism) and SHUKER Edwin (BOD, UK).