Vladimir Sloutsker, the president of Hakhel - The Israeli Jewish Congress, sits in his comfortable office
in Tel Aviv’s Electra Tower, and voices deep discomfort over the future of
Israel and the Jewish people.
“There is an incredible rise of
anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, and the threats to Israel are not going
away,” he warns. “The challenges and direct threats to world Jewry and the State
of Israel itself are only increasing.”
Comparing the situation to “a
kettle about to reach boiling point,” Sloutsker believes that now is the time
for the entire Jewish people to band together to face the existential threats
“We are doing whatever we can do to get everybody to forget
the conflicts and divergent directions within Jewish communities worldwide,” he
says. “This is not the time to throw stones at one another; it is time to
collect the stones.
This is the time for the Jewish people to
Sloutsker was interviewed ahead of an ICJ international
forum at Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel on Wednesday to mark Israel’s
Attended by leaders of some 15 Jewish communities in
Europe, the forum will be opened by Sloutsker and Cabinet Minister Silvan
It will consist of two panel discussions: The challenges of
anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel in Europe, and building and
strengthening the next generation of Jewish leaders, Jewish identity and
What motivated you to establish the IJC last year?
involved in Jewish politics before my arrival in Israel. I was a senator in
Russia, and one of the official Russian politicians who worked for Israel all
I was also president of the Russian Jewish Congress and vice
president of the European Jewish Congress, and I was quite involved with the
Jewish community worldwide.
When I came to Israel, I received proof of my
belief that cooperation between Israel and the European Jewish community,
especially, needs to be strengthened. But I was quite impressed by the people of
Until you dive, you never know what is in the water,
you know. So until you make aliya, you cannot know the reality of
What is the focus of your organization?
One of the aspects of the
reality of Israel that stood out for me was that there is no unity among the
people of Israel concerning current issues and challenges, not only between
Israel and the Diaspora, but not even among the Israeli people themselves. They
have multiple points of view, left and right, different opinions on the vital
issues which are questions of the life or death of Israel itself.
my friends decided to do our best to make a consolidation of sorts. Whatever we
can do, this is the time to do it. Time is a very critical element now, for both
the State of Israel and for Jewry worldwide.
The main focus of our
organization is to integrate the people of Israel and the Jewish community
outside of Israel, to cement them into one unit, into one integral body. I do
understand that no one organization can perform this task, but we can make our
contribution, make an effort in this direction.
This was the purpose of
Do you feel that you’ve made an impact?
Since we created this
company one and a half years ago – I call it a company because it is a nonprofit
organization – the situation has not improved. It has become even worse. There
are increasing challenges to Israel and Jewry worldwide.
There is an
incredible rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, and the threats to
Israel are not going away. The challenges and direct threats to world Jewry and
the State of Israel itself are only increasing.
The goal of our
activities is not becoming less important, but more important, at least to
ourselves. All our activities are directed to creating a new infrastructure for
the relations between Israel and overseas Jewish communities.
community and the Diaspora in general have to understand that they can exist
only if Israel exists as a powerful, sovereign and respectable state. If Israel
loses this, the Diaspora in general would be facing existential
What are you most worried about?
My friends ask me, why am I so
concerned, so worried? Let us analyze the situation worldwide. Israel has become
known and accepted – by a majority of television viewers, Internet users and
media information consumers worldwide, not only in Europe – as an aggressive
factor in Middle East politics. The image of Israel is one of an aggressive,
violent player in the conflict. But why does the conflict exist, and who is the
real cause? Nobody remembers, yet a negative image of Israel is already deeply
ingrained in the minds of people, and this is very, very dangerous.
is so dangerous?
First of all, the calls on Israel to give up territory are
increasing all the time, and any possible aggression against Israel or the
Diaspora in this situation can be taken as an understandable
For years we have been hearing that Israel is the aggressor,
that it suppresses the rights of the Palestinians.
And the response from
the world is silence, and this is very dangerous. I don’t want to make such
pronouncements, but this could be the preface to a new Shoah.
example, we just heard a war or propaganda campaign from North Korea threatening
to launch a nuclear attack against the US and Japan. Are there demonstrations in
Paris, London, New York or Washington against North Korea? If Israel would
threaten to counterattack terrorists, what would it face? Demonstrations in
Paris, London, New York and worldwide.
Why? Isn’t this a double standard?
In the case of Israel, it’s always worse than in any other case? Also, not
recognizing the Shoah is a direct sign of the current tragedy. Any attempt to
make people forget the Holocaust – not to recall it whenever they can – is a
direct short-cut to tragedy.
Are you referring to the Iranians?
Iranians are one of the factors. But even against the Iranians, did you see any
public demonstrations? Are people coming to the shores of Iran on boats to
protest peacefully? No.
But Israel is now considered one of the most
negative players in the global arena.
And by Israel, they also mean Jews.
And so this negative information about Israel is extremely dangerous. It seems
that world Jewry is very weak. When something happens against Israel, nobody
moves in Europe, even among the Jews.
What can the ICJ and Israel do to
We are doing whatever we can to get everybody to forget the
conflicts and divergent directions within the Jewish communities
This is not a time to throw stones at one another; it is a
time to collect the stones. This is the time for the Jewish people to
We try to establish contacts with all the communities, and
explain to them that Israel is one integral structure with them. Israel is the
state of Jewish people.
I don’t understand why Israel is so sensitive to
what other people think. Israel is a sovereign, powerful and independent state,
and I can’t understand why we need somebody else’s opinion on what we have to
do. I have lived here for two years, and I cannot understand why Israel has such
a big sail trying to catch the wind blowing from somewhere else. Israel has a
nice powerful engine inside its own vehicle, so it can move by itself, in its
sovereign, national interest. Even [US President Barack] Obama, when he was
here, said that he was sure that Israel could manage on its own.
is the situation, in your opinion?
Let me give you an analogy.
the situation now similar to the process of boiling a kettle over a
There are three stages: First, the temperature of the water
increases, then it starts to boil, and finally we get a signal that it is
boiling and the steam comes out of it. The first stage is already completed,
considering the situation of the people of Israel. And in my mind, I call all
Jews the people of Israel, whether they live here or not.
Now we are at
the beginning of the boiling process.
We understand this, but I’m not
sure our audience understand this. But when the steam comes out, it will already
be too late. There are only two solutions: Switch off the fire, or take the pot
away. We have to choose what to do.
So what do you recommend?
take world Jewry to the moon, so we have to decrease or put out the
And bring them here?
Bring them here or strengthen them wherever
they are. It’s impossible to bring everyone here. But we need to improve the
bureaucracy for bringing on aliya those Jews who want to come here. It’s an
offense to stop people from becoming Israelis and getting Israeli passports
because they travel all the time and are not here for six consecutive
Today, any Jewish businessman who wants to make aliya has to make
a firewall between his past and his possible future. He has to burn all his
bridges. For example, in Russia you have to report that you are changing your
residency before you get the documents. It’s an impossible
What do you think of the current government of Israel?
believe the current government is composed of very experienced, knowledgeable
people. It has to choose the geopolitical direction of the country. If somebody
wants to give advice, they first have to come here, make aliya, start their own
business, put their children into school, and before giving any advice on giving
up the territories, they should first locate their families in areas bordering
those territories, which are very dangerous. I still consider myself
inexperienced and incapable of giving advice in the political sphere. I try to
do my job, which is directed at consolidating the State of Israel with the
What exactly are you doing to consolidate this relationship?
have been signing a lot of memoranda of understandings with various Jewish
communities in Europe, including most recently with the Central Board of Jewish
Communities in Greece. We have signed similar agreements with the French and
Hungarian communities, and we are in the process of signing with the Italian,
Spanish and British communities.
We are saying, ‘We are your partner in
Israel.’ As former Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein told us, ‘You can do
what the government of Israel can’t do.
We need an NGO like the IJC to
build a bridge with the Diaspora.’ It’s really cooperation and partnership, and
each community has its own unique needs, but we would like to build a common
This is the purpose of our current forum, the second stage. The
first stage was our establishment last September.
And the third stage
will be the final drafting of a world road map of the relationship between
Israel and Jewish communities abroad.