‘Talk to far-Right in gov’t’, says top European rabbi

“Does Israel not speak to Hamas? Israel spoke with Arafat, who clearly hated Jews. Does Israel not talk today with different enemies?”

November 6, 2018 22:23
4 minute read.
Founder and Chairman of the European Jewish Association Rabbi Menachem Margolin speaking at the open

Founder and Chairman of the European Jewish Association Rabbi Menachem Margolin speaking at the opening of the EJA’s annual conference in Brussels on Tuesday. (photo credit: YONI RYKNER)


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BRUSSELS – The chairman of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, said that once a far-Right or populist party joins a coalition government in Europe, efforts should be made to open communications and engage with them.

Concern has grown amongst Jews in Europe over the rise of such parties, including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party; the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), which is part of the country’s governing coalition; and the League Party in Italy which is also in the ruling coalition.

The question of whether or not local Jewish communities should engage with them has become a critical issue.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday at the EJA’s 2018 annual conference in Brussels, Margolin said that if and when such parties come to power in a given country, they then have a strong influence on local Jewish life and therefore it would be necessary to enter into dialogue with them.

Margolin compared the strategy to Israel’s dealings with Hamas and former PLO leader and Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat, saying that despite Israel’s hostility toward them, it has nevertheless engaged in some form of communications or dialogue with such entities.

The rabbi said that efforts should be made to outlaw antisemitic and neo-Nazi parties, but that if a far-Right party enters power, then more sensitivity should employed in relations with them.

“Once a political party has joined a coalition, the discussion should be completely different,” said Margolin.

“Does Israel not speak to Hamas? Israel spoke with Arafat, who clearly hated Jews. Does Israel not talk today with different enemies?” he asked.

Once a far-Right party enters office, he said, “it’s not anymore about us giving them a kosher certificate, it’s about dealing with them and about ensuring the future of the Jewish community [in that country].”

The rabbi said that once such parties are in power, “the future of the Jewish community in this country is in their hands.” If Jews want to try and continue living there, “I believe we have to find different ways of communication without giving a kosher certificate to those who do not deserve it, but I believe some kind of dialogue has to be kept.”

The EJA is set to approve five so-called “redlines” to determine whether or not Jewish communities should engage with these parties, including a clause providing for freedom of religious practice.

The AfD, the FPO and the League all have policies to ban religious slaughter, while other parties have proposed banning or imposing controls on religious circumcision.

The Austrian Jewish community has boycotted all contact with the Freedom Party, while Israel’s foreign ministry also has an official policy of non-contact with the party.

Margolin said that he “understands” these positions, but referred again to dialogue and contacts Israel has held with Arafat and Hamas, declining to say explicitly whether or not the PFO should be boycotted by the European Jewish community due to its policy regarding religious slaughter.

The rabbi said that once the redlines document is finalized and approved, it would then be sent to the various parties in question, and decisions made after responses are received.

“I would ask the Freedom Party in Austria and all political parties in Europe to say whether they are ready to adopt these redlines, and if they are then that is an important signal that we can speak with them,” he said.

The EJA is a Brussels-based lobbying organization with connections to several hundred Jewish communities in Europe, and works to protect and advance Jewish life on the continent.

Still, almost all formal national umbrella Jewish organizations are represented by the European Jewish Congress, and senior European Jewish leaders have told the Post that EJA has little representative authority for European Jewry.

Margolin said in response that numerous Jewish communities have been established since the EJC was formed in the 1980s and that many of these communities are represented by the EJA.

EJA is not formally associated with the Chabad movement, but the rabbinical organization associated with it, the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), has a preponderance of Chabad rabbis on its governing bodies. Three out of the five rabbis on the RCE’s presidium are from the Chabad movement, as are at least eight of the fourteen rabbis on its rabbinical council, while Margolin, who is also from the Chabad community, serves as its general-director.

The organization has an annual budget of approximately 10 million euros.

Speaking more broadly, Margolin said that Jews in Europe are now asking if, given the threats to central aspects of Jewish life such as religious slaughter and circumcision, there is a future for Jewish communities on the continent.

“The idea of this conference is to have leaders of Jewish communities from across the continent sit together and address the issue,” said the rabbi.

The questions, according to Margolin, are: “What are the issues in Europe, what makes the lives of Jewish people in Europe difficult, how can we tackle these issues to ensure our future in Europe and is it then possible to decide what to do?”

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