World Jewish Congress holds historic conference in Berlin for first time since WWII

Despite the general feelings of support and solidarity that were on display on Sunday, the Monday morning sessions were less than cheery.

Amir Elichai addresses the room about his role in Operation Protective Edge. (photo credit: MAYA SHWAYDER)
Amir Elichai addresses the room about his role in Operation Protective Edge.
(photo credit: MAYA SHWAYDER)
BERLIN – For the first time since the Second World War, the World Jewish Congress convened its annual governing board in Berlin, the day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly declared in front of 5,000 spectators that Jewish life belongs in Germany.
Despite the general feelings of support and solidarity that were on display on Sunday, the Monday morning sessions, touching on the Jewish communities in Europe, the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, and the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, were less than cheery.
Shooting out rapid-fire statistics, chairman WJC vice president Vivian Wineman touched on the massive rise of anti-Semitic incidents around the world. Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge in July, Wineman said, the world has seen a 383% increase in anti-Semitic activity. But, he emphasized, Protective Edge wasn’t the only event to blame. In the UK alone, such incidents were occurring at five times previous levels in the past six months, before the Gaza operation started. The same was true in France.
“This shows that this has nothing to do with the Middle East conflict,” Wineman said. “This is anti-Semitism, pure and simple.”
According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, twothirds of Jewish residents of Europe considered anti-Semitism to be a problem, and 46% were worried about being verbally assaulted on the street.
Still, the statistics suggest, the vast majority of anti-Semitic attacks are not being reported.
60 percent of these incidents, or opinions expressed online, involved Muslims.
But, Wineman emphasized, it is not enough for Christian leaders to simply put out solidarity statements with the Jewish community. “Christian leaders are the low-hanging fruit,” Wineman said.
“They will readily condemn anti-Semitism. We need to recruit Muslim leaders to condemn anti-Semitism in their own communities.”
The aftermath of Operation Protective Edge in Israel was the focus of the next talk, which featured MK David Rotem and two members of the WJC-Israel board, Colette Avital and Gadi Arieli, as well as a special surprise presentation from Capt. Amir Elichai, an IDF reservist who was involved in the Shujayyia operation during Protective Edge.
In a short slide show, Elichai outlined how his unit prepared for the operation and what it was like to fight in an “asymmetric war.”
“You have to take into account that you’re fighting against small groups, and against people without uniforms,” he said. “They look like civilians.”
As an example, Elichai recounted how one of the men in his unit – a lone solider from France – was killed by a suicide bomber; an old man who approached his unit asking for humanitarian aid.
“There is the question is what is next,” Colette Avital said. “Are we bound to see another round in two years? Or can we have an exit strategy out of all for this? I think the Israeli public understood the war had no planning, and operated on a day-to-day basis with no strategy. I believe the State of Israel today needs a strategy.”
But what that strategy was suddenly became a contentious point, when MK Rotem answered a question about whether a two-state solution were still possible. “We are dealing with a terrorist organization that wants to fight against Jews,” Rotem said.
“We owe it to the Palestinians to break them [Hamas] down, and not let them have a state.”
This comment did not sit will with Robert Goot, the vice president of WJC-Australia, who spoke up and protested.
“I don’t understand why we’ve all come here at considerable personal cost to be talked to like we don’t know anything about Israel or Gaza,” he said. “The policy of this organization, for better or for worse, is to support two states for two peoples. I don’t understand why we’re talking about a one-state solution and I find it offensive.”
The conversation ended quickly thereafter, with Avital making just one final point: A two-state solution, she said, would be much easier if PA president Abbas and his organization were strengthened.
“There will be no solution in Gaza without the presence of the Palestinian Authority there,” she said.
The evil of Hamas was the focus of the address given by Professor Robert Wstrich of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, and Robin Shepherd, a senior adviser for the Halifax International Security Forum. Beyond the familiar talking points about how anti-Semitic Hamas is, Shepherd in particular focused on the lack of media attention to this one point, referencing a BBC documentary about Hamas that came out several years ago and hardly mentioned Hamas’s anti-Semitic elements. “These journalists aren’t waking up every day and thinking ‘What can I do to down Israel?’” Shepherd said. “But they are drawn from society, and there is a deep-seated narrative [in the media] that Palestinians are victims.”