‘Time for the Jewish people to consolidate’

Ahead of Tel Aviv forum, IJC president Sloutsker talks to the ‘Post’ about the dangers facing world Jewry.

Vladimir Sloutsker 370 (photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
Vladimir Sloutsker 370
(photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
Vladimir Sloutsker, the president of Hakhel - The Israeli Jewish Congress, sits in his comfortable office in Tel Aviv’s Electra Tower, and voices deep discomfort over the future of Israel and the Jewish people.
“There is an incredible rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, and the threats to Israel are not going away,” he warns. “The challenges and direct threats to world Jewry and the State of Israel itself are only increasing.”
Comparing the situation to “a kettle about to reach boiling point,” Sloutsker believes that now is the time for the entire Jewish people to band together to face the existential threats against them.
“We are doing whatever we can do to get everybody to forget the conflicts and divergent directions within Jewish communities worldwide,” he says. “This is not the time to throw stones at one another; it is time to collect the stones.
This is the time for the Jewish people to consolidate.”
Sloutsker was interviewed ahead of an ICJ international forum at Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel on Wednesday to mark Israel’s 65th anniversary.
Attended by leaders of some 15 Jewish communities in Europe, the forum will be opened by Sloutsker and Cabinet Minister Silvan Shalom.
It will consist of two panel discussions: The challenges of anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel in Europe, and building and strengthening the next generation of Jewish leaders, Jewish identity and education.
What motivated you to establish the IJC last year?
I was involved in Jewish politics before my arrival in Israel. I was a senator in Russia, and one of the official Russian politicians who worked for Israel all the time.
I was also president of the Russian Jewish Congress and vice president of the European Jewish Congress, and I was quite involved with the Jewish community worldwide.
When I came to Israel, I received proof of my belief that cooperation between Israel and the European Jewish community, especially, needs to be strengthened. But I was quite impressed by the people of Israel themselves.
Until you dive, you never know what is in the water, you know. So until you make aliya, you cannot know the reality of Israel.
What is the focus of your organization?
One of the aspects of the reality of Israel that stood out for me was that there is no unity among the people of Israel concerning current issues and challenges, not only between Israel and the Diaspora, but not even among the Israeli people themselves. They have multiple points of view, left and right, different opinions on the vital issues which are questions of the life or death of Israel itself.
I and my friends decided to do our best to make a consolidation of sorts. Whatever we can do, this is the time to do it. Time is a very critical element now, for both the State of Israel and for Jewry worldwide.
The main focus of our organization is to integrate the people of Israel and the Jewish community outside of Israel, to cement them into one unit, into one integral body. I do understand that no one organization can perform this task, but we can make our contribution, make an effort in this direction.
This was the purpose of IJC.
Do you feel that you’ve made an impact?
Since we created this company one and a half years ago – I call it a company because it is a nonprofit organization – the situation has not improved. It has become even worse. There are increasing challenges to Israel and Jewry worldwide.
There is an incredible rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, and the threats to Israel are not going away. The challenges and direct threats to world Jewry and the State of Israel itself are only increasing.
The goal of our activities is not becoming less important, but more important, at least to ourselves. All our activities are directed to creating a new infrastructure for the relations between Israel and overseas Jewish communities.
Every community and the Diaspora in general have to understand that they can exist only if Israel exists as a powerful, sovereign and respectable state. If Israel loses this, the Diaspora in general would be facing existential threats.
What are you most worried about?
My friends ask me, why am I so concerned, so worried? Let us analyze the situation worldwide. Israel has become known and accepted – by a majority of television viewers, Internet users and media information consumers worldwide, not only in Europe – as an aggressive factor in Middle East politics. The image of Israel is one of an aggressive, violent player in the conflict. But why does the conflict exist, and who is the real cause? Nobody remembers, yet a negative image of Israel is already deeply ingrained in the minds of people, and this is very, very dangerous.
What is so dangerous?
First of all, the calls on Israel to give up territory are increasing all the time, and any possible aggression against Israel or the Diaspora in this situation can be taken as an understandable reaction.
For years we have been hearing that Israel is the aggressor, that it suppresses the rights of the Palestinians.
And the response from the world is silence, and this is very dangerous. I don’t want to make such pronouncements, but this could be the preface to a new Shoah.
For example, we just heard a war or propaganda campaign from North Korea threatening to launch a nuclear attack against the US and Japan. Are there demonstrations in Paris, London, New York or Washington against North Korea? If Israel would threaten to counterattack terrorists, what would it face? Demonstrations in Paris, London, New York and worldwide.
Why? Isn’t this a double standard? In the case of Israel, it’s always worse than in any other case? Also, not recognizing the Shoah is a direct sign of the current tragedy. Any attempt to make people forget the Holocaust – not to recall it whenever they can – is a direct short-cut to tragedy.
Are you referring to the Iranians?
The Iranians are one of the factors. But even against the Iranians, did you see any public demonstrations? Are people coming to the shores of Iran on boats to protest peacefully? No.
But Israel is now considered one of the most negative players in the global arena.
And by Israel, they also mean Jews. And so this negative information about Israel is extremely dangerous. It seems that world Jewry is very weak. When something happens against Israel, nobody moves in Europe, even among the Jews.
What can the ICJ and Israel do to counter this?
We are doing whatever we can to get everybody to forget the conflicts and divergent directions within the Jewish communities worldwide.
This is not a time to throw stones at one another; it is a time to collect the stones. This is the time for the Jewish people to consolidate.
We try to establish contacts with all the communities, and explain to them that Israel is one integral structure with them. Israel is the state of Jewish people.
I don’t understand why Israel is so sensitive to what other people think. Israel is a sovereign, powerful and independent state, and I can’t understand why we need somebody else’s opinion on what we have to do. I have lived here for two years, and I cannot understand why Israel has such a big sail trying to catch the wind blowing from somewhere else. Israel has a nice powerful engine inside its own vehicle, so it can move by itself, in its sovereign, national interest. Even [US President Barack] Obama, when he was here, said that he was sure that Israel could manage on its own.
How bad is the situation, in your opinion?
Let me give you an analogy.
I consider the situation now similar to the process of boiling a kettle over a fire.
There are three stages: First, the temperature of the water increases, then it starts to boil, and finally we get a signal that it is boiling and the steam comes out of it. The first stage is already completed, considering the situation of the people of Israel. And in my mind, I call all Jews the people of Israel, whether they live here or not.
Now we are at the beginning of the boiling process.
We understand this, but I’m not sure our audience understand this. But when the steam comes out, it will already be too late. There are only two solutions: Switch off the fire, or take the pot away. We have to choose what to do.
So what do you recommend?
We cannot take world Jewry to the moon, so we have to decrease or put out the fire.
And bring them here?
Bring them here or strengthen them wherever they are. It’s impossible to bring everyone here. But we need to improve the bureaucracy for bringing on aliya those Jews who want to come here. It’s an offense to stop people from becoming Israelis and getting Israeli passports because they travel all the time and are not here for six consecutive months.
Today, any Jewish businessman who wants to make aliya has to make a firewall between his past and his possible future. He has to burn all his bridges. For example, in Russia you have to report that you are changing your residency before you get the documents. It’s an impossible situation.
What do you think of the current government of Israel?
I believe the current government is composed of very experienced, knowledgeable people. It has to choose the geopolitical direction of the country. If somebody wants to give advice, they first have to come here, make aliya, start their own business, put their children into school, and before giving any advice on giving up the territories, they should first locate their families in areas bordering those territories, which are very dangerous. I still consider myself inexperienced and incapable of giving advice in the political sphere. I try to do my job, which is directed at consolidating the State of Israel with the Diaspora.
What exactly are you doing to consolidate this relationship?
We have been signing a lot of memoranda of understandings with various Jewish communities in Europe, including most recently with the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. We have signed similar agreements with the French and Hungarian communities, and we are in the process of signing with the Italian, Spanish and British communities.
We are saying, ‘We are your partner in Israel.’ As former Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein told us, ‘You can do what the government of Israel can’t do.
We need an NGO like the IJC to build a bridge with the Diaspora.’ It’s really cooperation and partnership, and each community has its own unique needs, but we would like to build a common agenda.
This is the purpose of our current forum, the second stage. The first stage was our establishment last September.
And the third stage will be the final drafting of a world road map of the relationship between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.