Speech by EJC President Moshe Kantor at the 15th Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress. New York, April 24, 2017

Speech by the EJC President Moshe Kantor

at the 15th Plenary Assembly of the WJC

24 April 2017, New York

 

Dear Ronald,

Dear Chella,

Rabbis,

Leaders of Jewish communities and organisations,

Distinguished guests,

Dear friends,

 

We are living in an age of contradictions and extremes.

Extreme poverty.

Extreme wealth.

Extreme happiness.

Extreme sadness.

Never before so many people had access to healthcare, clean water, education and jobs.

Yet more and more people are leaving their homes to build better lives elsewhere.

Never before have we seen such a fall in American and European standard of living and such a rise in Indian and Chinese standard of living.

Understanding the trends underlying the contradictions of our modern world is critical, because many of them pose a threat to the lives and peace of Jews everywhere. How can we counter or minimize them?

Let me start with what I see as the most important trends:

  1. Judeo-Christian civilization is no longer dominant, determining the course of world history. What is now remarkable is the extent to which China, India and the Muslim world have, over the past decades, become central to global affairs.

The world order is becoming polycentric - politically, economically and culturally. The consequence is that global governance based only on European or Western values is no longer possible in this world.

  1. The second but closely related trend I want to highlight is the evolution of globalisation, which has triggered a rise of neo-nationalism and isolationism.

Brexit is the first sign in the West. “Make America Great Again!” is the second.

One can easily detect similar slogans in the words of Viktor Orban, Shinzō Abe, Narendra Modi, Tayyip Erdogan and other leaders. The 2017 election campaigns in France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Iran, South Korea and other countries are focusing on these ideas.

From the early 2000s, there has been a rise of political movements, which seek a return of power to the nation-state and away from the post-World War II international institutions – such as the European Union.

These movements, fuelled by the global recession of 2008 and rising poverty, infuse populism, racism and of course Antisemitism.

In this context, I agree with the English philosopher John Gray, who underlined the following contradiction in the twentieth’s century, still accurate today, that intellectual and scientific values accumulate in the world, meaning that they pass on from generation to generation, unlike ethical values, which unfortunately do not have such a cumulative effect.

That is why each generation must learn these values on its own, because if it does not, there is always the possibility to be taught by new catastrophe.

This is true for the explosive nature of Antisemitism: everybody knows that the Shoah happened, but new generations are ethically uneducated. They are overloaded with information but lack ethical values.

In light of current economic dynamics, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde also noted right to the point, “Economic growth was too slow, for too long and for too few.”

The GDP annual growth rate dramatically decreased in the U.S. and Europe.

In other words, the social contract, which worked well for the past fifty years, is no longer in place.

We, as citizens of the developed world, believed that every new generation would live better than the previous one. That children would live better than their parents. Is there really a better description of the concept of Jewish aspiration?

Unfortunately, this concept does not work anymore in the developed countries. But it is still valid in China and India.

The middle class – the pillar of social stability - is deteriorating. As a result, nearly one in four EU citizens, about 120 million people, are threatened with poverty or social exclusion.

So it is not surprising that even well-to-do European societies are dominated by fear rather than values - fear of poverty, fear of migrants, fear for their lives amid terrorist attacks.

There are indeed many things to fear. Threats are real and come from different horizons.

The Jewish Street, together with the State of Israel, can play a major role in preventing those threats, including the threat of nuclear terrorism, and we are strongly involved in this issue.

Ten years ago, on the EJC’s initiative, the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe was founded. The Forum has brought together the world’s leading experts in nuclear non-proliferation. Currently, the Forum is the most influential organization on this issue.

I would like to stress the importance of promoting a strong coalition between the U.S., EU and Russia to fight together the threat of terror and nuclear proliferation. Israel and world Jewry will benefit most from this process.

Dear Friends, I have outlined the trends shaping our world. I now want to turn to the effect on us, Jews.

As a result of the trends I mentioned, across the political spectrum, both in Europe and in the United States, we are witnessing strange and sometimes dangerous coalitions.

Some of these coalitions make Antisemitism part of their political message. Radicals from all sides remove taboos – Antisemitism becomes trivial, routine and a part of the so-called new normality.

And when we complain, extremists on the right and left tell Jews that we are “weaponising” Antisemitism.

This is a new form of a very old Antisemitism. Jews are perpetrators while anti-Semites are victims.

Most of the people at this gathering are products of the post-1989 world, meaning that we spent most of our adult years in a period dominated by the spread of democracy and the absence of a global threat of war. This period has been almost ideal for all Jews (and not only in the Western World).

However, the prosperous and flourishing Jewish Street of that time does not exist anymore.

In many parts of the world of the 21st century, the terror threat and violent Antisemitism forced us, Jews, to isolate ourselves and even to flee from some European countries.

And let’s face it, no Jewish community, anywhere in the world, however strong and organised, is now immune from Jew hatred.

The findings of the annual report on Antisemitism worldwide issued yesterday by the Kantor Centre at Tel Aviv University make that clear and I recommend it to you.

While the number of anti-Semitic incidents, especially violent ones, has decreased worldwide in 2016, the enemies of the Jewish people have found new avenues to express their Antisemitism - with significant increase of hate online and against less protected targets like cemeteries.

We see from the statistics a decrease in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, especially violent attacks, mostly in countries with large Jewish population. In 2016, incidents of anti-Semitic violence fell by 12%.

A significant fall was noted in France, where the government outlined a 61% decrease in all forms of Antisemitism in 2016.

Among the reasons for the decrease in the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents is the visibility of improved security measures to protect European populations, as well as Jewish areas and institutions.

These positive results, however, are counter-balanced by a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents in English-speaking countries, which have historically been more welcoming for Jews.

The UK saw an increase of 11% during 2016.

In Australia the rate of increase was 10%.

However, most significantly, there was an alarming rise of 45% in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, mostly on university campuses, where Jewish students are facing hate and intolerance.

We also see increasing cases of verbal and virtual Antisemitism - online and on social networks.

Finally, I would like to stress the direct correlation that exists between the number of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide and the decrease in standard of living and rising poverty in the top migrant sending countries. The common conclusion – the Antisemitism crisis has nothing to do with the Jewish street, but is a result of general negative trends.

To raise awareness about these challenges, the EJC has created a large network within the European institutions.

We speak to heads of state, ministers, commissioners and members of the European Parliament on a constant and ongoing basis.

Let me now turn directly to security.

The security of our communities is a vital issue and we need courageous leadership to fight for Jewish interests and not accept a situation where Jewish security is neglected by governments.

Since 2012, the EJC launched the SACC programme, a major effort to enhance the security of our communities.

In five years, we have dramatically improved crisis management, opened a new office with a control room in Vienna and activated a very sophisticated application, which has been distributed to more than 30 communities in Europe.

Thanks to this application, all Jews in Europe can have on their smartphones a panic button, which will inform local police and our control room of their location and in some cases of the nature of their problem. This system could be extended up to 5 million people.

My security specialists have told me not to discuss further details in public. But let me tell you how proud I am that in this area we have seen dramatic progress.

I would like to conclude by raising an important issue concerning the relations between WJC and its European affiliate, the EJC. We had very interesting and very nice talk with Ronald yesterday about this and I believe we found all common points how to manage all this. But I want to say few words about this. We have only one complaint to the World Jewish Congress, the frequent duplication of EJC programmes in Europe, especially concerning our SACC programme where such duplication can impede its professional and operational capacities.

This harms the EJC, wastes our resources and confuses our partners across Europe. This must be stopped. Instead, we must focus our efforts and funds on existential issues faced by Jewish communities.

The Policy Council of the World Jewish Congress must clearly define the goals that we want to achieve and mobilize all our communities to reach these goals together.

For example, 70 years after Shoah was stopped, we still do not have the UN definition of Antisemitism. And maybe Mr. Guterres can succeed in this direction, but at least we have to have common understanding and definition of Antisemitism on the level of the OSCE. Let’s unify our efforts in this direction.

I hope that after this Plenary Assembly, the Governing Board will form the Policy Council by electing its members according to the bylaws of the WJC.

Dear Friends,

I would like to conclude with words of Duke Leo Tolstoy who wrote more than a century ago something very touching: “What is the Jew?...What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. The Jew - is the symbol of eternity. ... He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”

Exactly for these words and his position Duke Tolstoy was expelled from the Orthodox Russian Church. And I was crying with tears of appreciation when I read it for the first time.

This positive perspective gives us hope. We continuously proved to the world that we Jews are resilient, generous and tolerant, well-known for our love, for life and solidarity.

Unity is our strength, and this is what we need to strive for. Let’s come together as "one person, with one heart". "Ke-Ish Echad, Be-Lev Echad".

Thank you.