‘Knesset caucus needed to reinforce relations with European Jewry’

CEO of Israeli Jewish Congress emphasized the important role that he believed Israel could play in sustaining Jewish life on the continent.

June 20, 2013 21:43
2 minute read.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein

Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein_370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Israeli parliamentarians must establish a Knesset caucus aimed at “reinforcing” relations between Israeli and Jewish communities abroad and “especially in Europe,” Israeli Jewish Congress CEO Michel Gourary said on Wednesday.

Addressing Knesset Speaker and former Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein during a gathering of European Jewish communal leaders in the Knesset, Gourary emphasized the important role that he believed Israel could play in sustaining Jewish life on the continent.

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Gourary asked 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.

The Israeli Jewish Congress (IJC) was founded last year by Russian oligarch and former Russian Jewish Congress chief Vladimir Sloutsker with the aim of “Reinforcing and tightening mutual relations between the Jewish community in Israel and those in Europe,” according to the organization’s website.

Among those in attendance at the meeting were communal leaders and representatives from several countries, including Belgium, Cyprus, Macedonia, Spain, Hungary and the United States.

Roger Cukiermen, the newly elected president of the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France also attended.

Edelstein responded assuring his audience that “we will have a caucus of that kind. It’s not an issue that I think that we won’t be able to implement.”

There were, he noted, “several members of Knesset who submitted requests under different names to have a caucus for the Jewish nation [and] to have a caucus for the Diaspora.”

Edelstein, whose responsibility for Diaspora affairs was taken over by Naftali Bennett, said that he hoped his successor as minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs would continue to work with those professionals who “started working from my time” and that there would be “continuity” in the efforts to deal with Jewish communities abroad.

Responding to the IJC’s request that he head the caucus, Edelstein said that he was unable to do so as Knesset Speaker and that leadership on such roles belongs to Bennett.

“The fact is that there is a Ministry of Diaspora Affairs,” he said. “Let’s give Minister Bennett some time to find out how he’s functioning, there are several ministries on his hands.”

Sloutsker told The Jerusalem Post that he was “grateful” for Edelstein’s support, both now and when he founded the IJC.

Edelstein “demonstrated that [support] again today, as Speaker of the Knesset, by fully supporting our proposal to establish a permanent forum at the Knesset to promote and strengthen the special bond between the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People and the Diaspora, especially with the Jewish communities in Europe,” he said.

Asked why the IJC is necessary, as there are already a European Jewish Congress and a Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, Sloutsker replied that “what distinguishes the Israeli Jewish Congress is that primarily we are first and foremost, an Israeli-based organization.”

“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.

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