Ahead of Thursday's third annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, we present some highlights from the exclusive conference magazine available only to participants. The conference which will be held at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem on Thursday morning will be streamed live on JPost.com.
Israeli Jewish Congress president Vladimir Sloutsker, an outspoken Zionist, is unafraid to speak his mind. His remark that “we are potentially looking at the beginning of another Holocaust now,” made during a brief interview following a Knesset committee meeting several months ago, went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of page views on The Jerusalem Post website.
“Never before since the Holocaust, have we seen such a situation as today,” he said at the time, referring to the Europe-wide demonstrations by pro-Palestinian activists angry at Israel’s summer war in the Gaza Strip, a number of which degenerated into violence and many of which featured racist rhetoric.
“These events will only grow in scale across Europe,” he warned.
As a former Russian legislator, chair - man of the Russian Jewish Congress and vice chairman of the European Jewish Congress, Sloutsker is used to the limelight, and after moving to Israel in 2011 he founded the Israeli Jewish Congress, an organization that works to forge connections between European Jewish leaders, their American counterparts and Israeli politicians.
According to the IJC, its primary mission is to “promote the principle of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and strengthening ties between Israel and the Diaspora, especially in Europe,” or, as Sloutsker puts it, “we need consolidation and consolidation and consolidation.”
The IJC has become very vocal on issues ranging from anti-Semitism to the two-state solution, and Sloutsker has testified at a number of Knesset committee meetings on issues pertaining to the Diaspora.
Given part of IJC’s core mission is promoting Israel as the state of the Jewish people, you can also expect the organization to be active in that regard, with Sloutsker noting that “given the majority of the Israeli population is overwhelmingly in favor of this principle, which is so critical to the identity and future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, IJC would like to ensure that the will of the Israeli people is reflected in this debate at the Knesset.”
During the recent General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, the IJC held the latest of a series of trilateral dialogues between Israeli, American and European Jewish leaders aimed at forging a common plan of action on issues facing the disparate but related communities.
On the agenda at the Trilateral Dialogue, the European and North American Jewish leaders discussed a range of challenges facing Israel and world Jewry, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; rising anti-Semitism and racism in Europe; the development of Jewish identity in Europe; and the reinforcement of security for communities grappling with terrorism and violence.
Dozens of European community leaders have come to Israel on IJC delegations and solidarity gatherings over the past couple of years, pleading the case for more Israeli involvement in combating anti-Semitism and pushing for greater inclusion for their constituents in Israeli programs like the World Jewry Joint Initiative, a government-sponsored effort aimed at promoting Jewish identity in the Diaspora that has been largely focused on North America.
During a Knesset hearing organized around the IJC several months ago, IJC CEO Michel Gourary pushed for the establishment of a Knesset caucus aimed at reinforcing relations between Israeli and Jewish communities abroad, especially in Europe.
Gourary asked Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to “establish a permanent caucus of the Knesset under your leadership to reinforce... relations” and “to see how we can implement the idea that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people.”
Such a move would “be the best response of Israel to the Jewish communities abroad” during a time of increasing anti-Semitism, he said.
In November 2013, with the blessing of Edelstein, the IJC relaunched the European Forum of the Knesset, which is chaired by MK Hilik Bar, to help in this mission, with the further task of strengthening diplomatic relations between Israel and Europe.
While there are many Jewish organizations already active in Europe, such as the European Jewish Congress and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the IJC is necessary because “what distinguishes the Israeli Jewish Congress is that primarily we are first and foremost an Israeli-based organization,” according to Sloutsker.
“Our aim is to work in close partnership with both the government of Israel and Jewish communities in Europe to act as their voice in Israel and bridge to the Jewish state. The main focus of our organization is essentially to integrate the people of Israel and the Jewish community outside of Israel, especially in Europe, into one integral platform,” he said.
Despite the many challenges and dark clouds on the horizon facing Jewish communities in Europe, the IJC believes that progress can be made on all of these.
Sitting in his glass-walled corner office overlooking the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv’s Electra Tower several weeks ago, Sloutsker reiterated the importance of building bridges and holding regular meetings between leaders from geographically dispersed communities.
Speaking with the Post during the run up to the latest trilateral dialogue at the JFNA’s General Assembly outside Washington, Sloutsker says that when “we created this congress, the purpose of it was first of all the consolidation of the Diaspora for the help of the State of Israel.”
It wasn’t “anything new” per se, he explains. It has been known for a long time that “different parts of the Diaspora are living their own lives, not being connected,” and so “one of the main tasks of the IJC was to establish communications and make American, European and other communities feel they are one people with Israel.”
“We considered it would be extremely important to introduce the problems facing the Jewish community in Europe to the Jewish communities and organizations in North America. Now it’s a difficult time, and in this difficult time we need consolidation and consolidation and consolida - tion,” he concludes.