From left: European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilăl, Raya Kalenova of the European Jewish Congress and Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: SERGEY KAMINSKY)
BRUSSELS – Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Isaac Herzog told The Jerusalem Post he was “extremely distraught” to witness the antisemitic sentiments plaguing the British Labour Party and coming from its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
“I’m extremely distraught,” he said. “Labour in England is a sister party of the Labor in Israel where I come from,” said the former MK. “The fact that there is a kind of indifferent attitude to antisemitism and its definition, and to the story of the Holocaust, is very troubling.”
In 2016, Corbyn refused an invitation from Herzog – then leader of the Labor party – to visit Israel and tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
Last year, the Israeli Labor Party officially cut ties with its British counterpart over its handling of antisemitism within the party.
Herzog spoke to the Post
last week on the sidelines of the European Jewish Congress’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the European Parliament. He told the Post
that the State of Israel must work with organizations around Europe and throughout the world to thwart Holocaust denial, boost Shoah education and counter antisemitism.
“This is an international effort. It’s not a standalone effort,” Herzog said. “We are gathered here – leaders of Jewish organizations, ambassadors, the heads of the European Union” – with a common goal of countering antisemitism.
“We have to uproot the plague that’s raising its ugly head,” he said, “and therefore it has to be coordinated efforts. I’m worried. I’m disturbed by political elements in Europe – from the extreme Right to the extreme Left – who are using antisemitism to gain their own political profits at the expense of human values and at the expense of Jews.”
Earlier that day, Herzog spoke forcefully to the gathered crowd of politicians and diplomats about the troubling trends in Europe. The JAFI chairman cited facts and figures from Germany, France, the UK and other countries where antisemitic sentiments are rising.
“All over the continent there are forces that are employing antisemitism as a political vehicle,” Herzog said in his speech. “This spike in antisemitism can be seen across all sectors of the European continent, with no regard to economic, religious or geographic divides. Jews are unsafe walking the streets of Europe.”
Herzog told the group about a previously unreported attempted antisemitic assault in Paris last year.
“Not long ago, Daniel Ben-Haim, the head of the JAFI office in Paris, was walking with six members of the Knesset on the Champs-Élysées,” said Herzog. A man spotted Ben-Haim’s kippah and charged toward him, intending to attack, he said.
“If a Jewish Agency security officer had not stopped the attacker with his own body, this incident could have been an international incident or ended in tragedy,” Herzog told the group.
Herzog added that while JAFI promotes immigration to Israel, he does not want to see Jews fleeing Europe in fear.
“Of course, one of our raisons d’êtres is Jewish identity, and aliya and klita
[absorption],” he said. “And we welcome and we want to see Jews coming to Israel. But that shouldn’t come simply from the rise in antisemitism. It’s a values issue.”
Herzog said JAFI is also committed to ensuring the safety of Jews around the world.
“Protection of Jewish communities abroad and their ability to thrive and exist and raise the next generations of Jews in the Diaspora – this is another one of our objectives,” he said. “We take care of all Jews, and we try to make sure that Jews are not left behind.”
In his speech at the European Parliament ceremony, Herzog reiterated the need to coordinate efforts in Holocaust education.
“We must unite the efforts and goodwill of all Europeans,” he said, “so that we can again overcome hatred and move our societies toward progress. We must teach the lessons of the Shoah. This is the highest tribute we can give to those who perished in the Holocaust, and honor those who survived.”
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