Moshe Kantor elected to 3rd term as president of European Jewish Congress


Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, was reelected for a third term.

Kantor, 62, an aerospace scientist turned businessman who was born in Russia, was reelected unanimously on Wednesday during the organization’s general assembly in Brussels, EJC announced in a statement. He ran unopposed.

Thanking EJC delegates for what he termed “a strong vote of confidence,” Kantor also said the situation in the 40-some communities that make up the EJC “could be defined as the most difficult since the end of the Second World War.”

He cited “the high level of anti-Semitism, the crisis brought about by large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers entering Europe, the wave of terror, and the economic situation,” which he said “are all interconnected and present great challenges for European Jewry.”

A staunch advocate of the State of Israel and of stricter legislation against hate speech in Europe, Kantor recently led an EJC delegation to Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Last year, Kantor met French President Francois Hollande, who made Kantor an officer of France’s Legion of Honor.

The elections and general assembly were moved up from later this year at the request of the EJC Executive, which sought to attach the vote to a general assembly special session on reviewing security issues following the wave of terrorist attacks last year in France and elsewhere in Europe, the EJC press office told JTA in an email.

EU official: Tensions with Russia must not muddle Holocaust record


Political tensions with Russia must not be allowed to obfuscate the historical record on the Holocaust, a senior European Union official said.

Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission — the EU’s executive branch — made the plea Monday at an event in Prague commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by Soviet troops.

“It would be horrible to have a debate about who liberated Auschwitz,” Timmermans told JTA during an interview at a commemoration event titled “Let My People Live” that the European Jewish Congress and the Czech government  organized for hundreds of dignitaries at venues across Prague.

Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, was reacting to a Jan. 21 statement by Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, who infuriated Russian officials when he said during a radio interview that “Ukrainians liberated [Auschwitz], because Ukrainian soldiers were there, on that January day.”

Relations between Russia and its western neighbors have deteriorated drastically following Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory last year and its arming of rebels against the government in Kiev, which some formerly communist states perceive as a threat.

The soldiers who liberated Auschwitz belonged to a Red Army unit named the First Ukrainian Front because it was deployed in Ukraine, “but the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, that’s a historic fact,” said Timmermans, who in the past has harshly criticized Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

“I would feel very bad indeed if it were to be claimed by some, or if others were excluded from this. It would be terrible.”

Historical accuracy is crucial now, he said, because “anti-Semitism is rising in Europe.” As Holocaust survivors die out, “we will no longer have people who can show you tattoos on their arms.”

The EJC’s Moscow-born president, Moshe Kantor, reacted to Schetyna’s remark when he presented the French Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy — himself a harsh critic of Russia — with the memoirs of a Russian who participated in Auschwitz’s liberation.

“In this book by Anatoly Shapiro, you will see who really opened the gates that read ‘work sets you free,'” Kantor said.

In Europe, big gaps exist among security precautions at Jewish institutions


Within hours of Israel's assassination of a top Hamas commander, the situation room sprang into action, anticipating retaliatory attacks and preparing instructions to keep civilians out of harm's way.

No, the room wasn't deep in a bunker beneath Jerusalem, but thousands of miles away — and at a seemingly safe remove from the violence on the ground — in London.

It was the situation room of the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s security agency, which was open for business within hours of Israel's killing of Ahmed Jabari last week.

The CST has long been considered the gold standard in European Jewish community security. But communities across the continent recognize that they are all at risk from anti-Semitic attacks, which often spike in the wake of Israeli military operations, and are struggling to ramp up security precautions despite the often prohibitive costs.

“There’s no telling what would ignite the next wave of attacks against our communities,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said at a crisis management training session that drew leaders from 36 Jewish communities to Brussels on Nov. 6, eight days before the Israeli military launched its Operation Pillar of Defense. “It could be hostilities between Israel and Iran or in Gaza or a stupid film on Muslims in YouTube. We have to assume it’s coming.”

Nine months after a deadly attack by a Muslim extremist claimed four lives at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, European Jewish leaders are beginning to take steps to address some glaring gaps in the security capabilities of the continent's Jewish communities. But the process is hindered by the enormous costs involved and differing views of where the primary responsibility lies for ensuring Jewish safety.

Approximately half of Europe's Jewish communities have no crisis-management plan in place. Even in large communities demonstrably at risk of attack like France, which is home to Europe's largest Jewish community of about 500,000, security resources remain scarce and some congregations have virtually no protection. While CST's situation room was humming last week, the offices of the organization's French counterpart were unreachable by phone or email.

“Nine months ago, Jewish communities in Europe received a wake-up call when Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical, killed three children and a rabbi in Toulouse,” said Arie Zuckerman, secretary-general of the European Jewish Fund, which bankrolls much of the EJC’s activity. “At the same time, the spike in anti-Semitic attacks coincides with a recession which is hampering communities’ ability to carry the burden of security costs.”

In Toulouse, the Otzar Hatorah school had surveillance cameras in place and a tall fence around the perimeter, but no one monitored the video feed and there was no guard, which allowed Merah to easily enter the compound toting a gun. Insiders from that community spoke of “a total collapse” immediately after the attack.

“In such an event, which has the potential of destroying a community, crisis management can restore a sense of order and enhance the community’s resilience,” said Ariel Muzicant, the former head of the Austrian Jewish community and head of the EJC crisis-management task force.

Only 20 of the 36 communities in the EJC have crisis-management programs, which determine who does what in case of emergency. In Marseille, where 80,000 Jews live among 250,000 Muslims, there is no security guard present even at prayer time and during Hebrew school lessons at the French city's Jewish community center and great synagogue. On a recent Sunday, walking into the complex simply meant pushing open the front door, which remained unlocked.

Among European Jewish communities, British Jewry is the undisputed security leader. The CST has five offices, dozens of employees and thousands of volunteers, drawn mainly from Britain’s Jewish population of 250,000. Since 2008, CST has installed about 1,000 closed-circuit cameras and digital video recorders in dozens of buildings, and has trained 400 British police officers on hate crimes.

The SPCJ, French Jewry’s security unit, did not respond to questions about its budget, size or procedures. But Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of the Jewish communities of France, said SPCJ had a “vast network of dedicated volunteers.” The unit is particularly visible in Paris, where Jewish schools and buildings receive robust protection by SPCJ guards and police.

The CST budget was $5.8 million last year, which it raised through donations and government subsidies. The budget is more than double that of Britain’s Board of Jewish Deputies, the country's main Jewish umbrella organization, and far larger than most European Jewish security organs. Smaller communities, most of which are less than one-fifth the size of Britain’s, can only dream of deploying security resources at that scale.

“The subject of funding for security is particularly painful for Europe’s smaller communities,” said Anne Sender, a former president of the Jewish Community of Oslo, which has just 750 members. “We simply don’t have the deep pockets that larger communities have.”

Norway's Jews spend just $87,000 annually on security — about half of what they raise each year in fees that also support education and religious services, according to Ervin Kohn, the community's current president.

Kohn launched a media campaign that persuaded the government to make a one-time grant of $1.2 million this year to protect Norwegian Jews. It was half of what Kohn had sought to ensure security at a “reasonable level” over the next few years, he said.

In response to Kohn’s efforts, a known Muslim extremist last month wrote on Facebook that he would “protect” the synagogue right after he gets an “AK-47 rifle and a hunting license.” In 2006, a Muslim extremist opened fire with a semiautomatic assault rifle on the synagogue.

Unlike in Britain, where security is largely seen as the community's concern, other European Jews see it as the government's responsibility.

“I pay for Jewish life, not Jewish security,” said Eric Argaman of Oslo, who pays about $200 a year in community membership fees. “That’s the government’s job.”

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Jewish leaders recognize that they cannot rely solely on the government. In Sweden, with a Jewish population of about 20,000, authorities have made a one-time grant of approximately $500,000 for security at Jewish institutions — a sum that doesn't “begin to cover costs,” according to Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities.

In Malmo, Sweden's third largest city and the site of dozens of anti-Semitic incidents each year — including a bomb attack in September on the Jewish community center — there is only one part-time security professional, according to Jonas Zolken, regional director for Sweden at the Nordic Jewish Security Council. In Denmark, where the capital city lies just over the Oresund Bridge from Malmo, the government offers no security funding for the country’s 8,000 Jews.

“Our experience shows we need to cooperate with local police and security authorities, but ultimately can rely on no one but ourselves,” said Johan Tynell, the Malmo-born director of security for Denmark’s Jewish community.

In the Netherlands, with 40,000 Jews, the community spends more than $1 million on security without any significant help from the government, according to Dennis Mok, the community’s security officer.

“Even after Toulouse, the official Dutch position is that there is no elevated threat toward the Jewish community,” Mok said. “We, of course, have a different view.”

To free communities from depending on the threat assessments and budgetary constraints of national governments, the European Jewish Congress has been lobbying European leaders to arrange for security funding from the European Union. French President Francois Hollande and Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas already have said they would support the initiative, Kantor told JTA.

Meanwhile, the EJC announced it was establishing a continent-wide security fund, but did not specify how much would be allocated. The congress also has teamed up with the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps to help small communities lower security costs. The corps, a nonprofit international organization that aims to empower young Jewish professionals, will send its “most capable” crisis advisers “to help small Jewish communities build foundations for defense,” according to its director, Michael Colson.

Moreover, some Jewish leaders say much more can be done, even on a shoestring budget. Tynell said at the conference that Jewish professionals should be recruited as volunteer crisis managers and given responsibility for talking to the media, doing internal communications, coordinating with local authorities and even delivering kosher food to anyone who might be hospitalized.

“When these things are left to chance, the resulting mess compounds the trauma which members of the community will experience in a crisis,” Tynell said. “Prevent this or your community members will suffer for a long time.”

European Jewish Congress demands stronger response to spate of anti-Semitic attacks


The European Jewish Congress (EJC) is demanding a more proactive response to the recent escalation in anti-Semitic attacks around Europe, which its leader called “smaller tremors before a massive earthquake.”

On Thursday, a French Jewish teenager, who attends the Toulouse school where Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah shot dead three children and a teacher in March, was attacked while traveling by train between Toulouse and Lyon.

“While we appreciate the strong condemnation and quick reaction by the French Interior Ministry after this attack, we call on authorities to take a more proactive approach so there would be no reason for statements of regret and denunciation,” Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the EJC said. “All these smaller attacks remind me of smaller tremors before a massive earthquake. The Jewish community cannot afford to be subject to an earthquake and the authorities cannot say that the writing was not on the wall.”

In recent days, shots were fired at a yeshiva in Manchester, England, swastikas and death threats sprayed on a Jewish Agency building in Russia, a rabbi in France assaulted while riding the subway and Jewish cemeteries desecrated in Germany.

The European Jewish Congress has been leading an awareness campaign among European authorities about ways to deal with the growing attacks against Jews on the continent.

The EJC has outlined steps such as: legislative efforts to ban any form of incitement; and equipping authorities with tools to confront attempts at the expansion of terrorist and violent activities against Jewish communities.

“In the past pogroms were perpetuated to strike fear and terror into Jewish communities,” Serge Cwajgenbaum, Secretary General of the EJC said. “These attacks feel like mini-pogroms because they are installing a fear in some communities of Europe that Jews have not known for many years.”

EJC’s Moshe Kantor receives France’s highest honor


Dr. Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, was awarded France’s highest honor.

Kantor on Tuesday was presented with the National Order of the Legion of Honor, which is awarded by the French president.

The award is the highest level of the Legion of Honor, which was established by Napoleon Bonaparte. Among the past recipients are the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Kantor received the award, presented by Ambassador Philippe Etienne, permanent representative of the French Republic to the European Union, for his efforts on behalf of the rights of minorities, promoting interfaith relations, leading the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, and pushing for a more tolerant Europe in his roles at the European Jewish Congress, the democratically elected umbrella organization representing European Jewry.

“I am humbled by this honor,” Kantor said. “For many years I have tried to press European leaders to establish new and tougher laws against racism and anti-Semitism, and this award is recognition of my efforts to implement a new thinking towards prejudice on the European continent through the concept of secured tolerance.”

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