The Israeli Jewish Congress, a new organization designed to strengthen ties between Israel and the Diaspora, held its inaugural conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.

The new initiative, established by Russian businessman and Jewish communal activist Vladimir Moshe Sloutsker, announced its arrival on the stage of Jewish organizations with a conference on Israel-Diaspora relations and the “deligitimization of Israel.”

Addressing the conference attendees, which included Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and, briefly, Vice Premier and Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom, Sloutsker declared that Israel is “the most important factor” in the lives of Jews wherever they live.

“Anti-Semitism is not disappearing, unfortunately it’s increasing, and so it’s important that all Jews know they have their own country,” said Sloutsker.

“Israel is at the heart of the Jewish world and it is our duty to deliver this message.”

Among other issues the IJC seeks to address is Holocaust denial in Europe, the advancement of solidarity between Diaspora Jews and Israel and the “strengthening of Israel’s Jewish and democratic foundations.”

Edelstein welcomed the new establishment of the IJC, saying that the Diaspora communities constitute “a strategic asset” for Israel.

He expressed concern however over certain incidents in Europe, such as a recent anti-Semitic attack in Austria against a rabbi in Vienna, and Jewish leaders “telling the members of their community people not to wear a yarmulke in public,” saying that such trends did not constitute “a practical approach to how to continue life in normal manner.”

The conference featured two panel discussions mediated by Jerusalem Post Editor- in-Chief Steve Linde dealing with the Israel’s relationship with Diaspora communities, particularly in Europe, as well as efforts of anti-Israel activists to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Speaking on Israel-Diaspora relations, president of the Board of Jewish Deputies in the UK Vivian Wineman said that despite strong challenges, Jewish life in Britain “has never been as vibrant.”

He also pointed out that support for and identification with Israel among British Jewry remains extremely high.

Challenges to Israel’s legitimacy from certain churches, unions and academia nevertheless pose problems for the Jewish community, he noted.

Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF – the Representative Council of the Jewish Institutions of France, voiced similar sentiments, saying that although the overwhelming majority of French Jews had never experienced an anti-Semitic incident, terrorist attacks against the community such as the one in Toulouse in March were extremely worrying for the French Jewish community.

Some existing Jewish groups have expressed reservations about the need for another organization such as the IJC.

A senior official in a central Jewish organization said of the new group that “there is room for everybody and there’s a lot to be done” but that mutual cooperation and cooperation were vital to “avoid cannibalizing what’s being doing at other organizations.”

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