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icjw reports from the world jewish congress plenary

Joan Lurie, one of ICJW's representatives at the WJC, reports on the World Jewish Congress 15th Plenary Assembly, held in New York from April 23-25, 2017. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley were among the keynote speakers over the course of the meeting. The 600 delegates from 90 countries reelected WJC President Ronald S. Lauder for a third term, and voted for several members of the WJC's Executive Committee, 
including ICJW's Sara Winkowski who was re-elected as Vice President. The delegates also approved 10 resolutions on issues facing the Jewish people and Israel.

Opening Dinner

The opening dinner, hosted by Amb. Ronald Lauder, included an observance of Yom Hashoah. Amb. Lauder welcomed the guests and noted that there were representatives of 90 countries. Many of these communities bore the brunt of the Holocaust and will never stop remembering.

The guest of honor was the Secretary General of the UN, H. E. Antonio Guterres. Guterres opened his talk by reminding us the Yom Ha Shoah was the next day and offering his solidarity with all of us against the worst ever crime committed against humanity – Ha Shoah. The Shoah was the culmination of millennia of discrimination and persecution against the Jews; it started with the Romans and went on and on.

The expulsion of the Jews from Portugal due to the absurd idea of blaming the Jews for the murder of Christ was the most stupid mistake and led to centuries of poverty in his home country. Amsterdam became rich and the Netherlands flourished because the Jews went there. When Guterres was the Prime Minister of Portugal, he passed a law revoking the expulsion. He went to Amsterdam to present a copy of the law to the Amsterdam Jews in their synagogue. Regrettably, it was largely empty because of the Nazi extermination.

Now, after all this, there is still anti-Semitism everywhere. The denial of Israel’s right to exist is the modern form of anti-Semitism; he will fight it strongly in the UN. The bias of the UN member states against Israel is out of his control but, as Sec. Gen, he believes that Israel must be treated like every other member state. The right of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbors is absolute. Israelis should be able to live in freedom and enjoy the fruits of their creativity. He has supported the peace process in the past and believes in the two state solution. Only a peaceful solution will protect the extraordinary contributions of the Jewish people to our civilization – where would the world be without Einstein, Freud, Spinoza etc…

President Trump spoke to the dinner by video. He quoted Herzl: “If you will it, it is no dream”.He said: "On Yom HaShoah, we look back at the darkest chapter of human history. We mourn, we remember, we pray, and we pledge: Never again. I say it, never again. The mind cannot fathom the pain, the horror, and the loss. Six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, murdered by the Nazi genocide. They were murdered by an evil that words cannot describe, and that the human heart cannot bear."

A tribute to the late Elie Wiesel followed – Amb. Ronald Lauder spoke of his relationship with Wiesel and how much he had been influenced by him. 

At the Monday Morning Plenary Assembly, WJC President, Ronald Lauder delivered the opening address. 

• In October 2016, WJC polled Jews in US, Israel, Russia, the UK and France – more than 90% of all Jews – and found that the number one concern of Jews is rising anti-Semitism and the number two concern is the rise of radical Islam.

• In our grandfathers’ time anti-Semitism meant closed professions, no jobs for Jews etc. but today’s anti-Semitism is focused on Israel. Israel’s enemies could not destroy Israel on the battlefield so instead use political attacks like BDS and accusations of apartheid. This is not anti-Zionism; it is anti-Semitism; Martin Luther King said that when people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews.

• The current situation has caused the WJC to become proactive, not just reactive. It is fighting BDS, anti-Semitism at the UN, terrorism and other issues as they arise. Concerning the UN, “it has been hijacked by anti-Semites”. A prominent example of this is the Goldstone report which was issued in spite of the fact that the UN knew that Hamas weapons were stored in UN schools. The CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) has declared that Israel is the sole violator of women’s rights in the Middle East.

• Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki Moon once justified Palestinian terrorism by stating that “It is human nature to react to occupation”. Amb. Lauder: “What a difference now that Antonio Guterres has taken office as Secretary General”. At the same time, Nikki Haley became the US Ambassador to the UN. At her first press conference she made it clear that the US “will not tolerate anti-Israel bias at the UN”. He knows President Trump for over 50 years; “we have never had a more pro-Israel President”

• WJC is forming several new departments to fight the new anti-Semitism. Hasbara – why are we losing the propaganda war? We need to fight hate speech on the internet and should not allow our enemies to define us. WJC endorses legal tools to fight BDS and is working with governments to pass laws. 19 states now have anti-BDS laws.

• Ambassador Lauder has opened 25 Jewish schools in Eastern and Central Europe. Children everywhere need to learn reasons to be and stay Jewish.

• There is also a new Jewish Diplomatic Corps consisting of 27 to 45 year olds working with WJC as emissaries to Jewish communities. 43 of JDs from 14 countries were present at the Plenary,

• The only people on earth who can destroy the Jews are the Jews themselves. Except in Israel and among the orthodox, the birth rate is insufficient to maintain the Jewish population.

Dr. Moshe Kantor, WJC Policy Council Chair and President of the European Jewish Congress, discussed changes in the world which pose threats to Jews. The most important trends:
• Judeo-Christian civilization is no longer dominant. China, India and the Moslem world have become central and so a global government based on European culture is no longer feasible.
• Globalization has been a strong trend but, recently, there has been a trend toward isolation (Brexit and “make America great again” were cited). This is accompanied by a trend to “nation states” which are often anti-Semitic.
• Ethical values do not pass from generation to generation but must be re-taught.
• Economic growth is insufficient; the social contract has failed. In many developed countries, including the US, annual income growth has slowed. In the US, median income is down.
• Growth of terrorism is another disturbing trend.

As for the state of worldwide anti-Semitism:
• In the EU there has been a decrease in violent anti-Semitism because of increased security.
• There has been an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in English speaking countries which traditionally been friendly. In the US, such incidents increased by 43%, mostly on campuses.
• It is important for the UN to arrive at a definition of anti-Semitism; perhaps the current Secretary General will be able to accomplish this.

Robert Goot, WJC Policy Council Co-Chair and WJC Credentials Commission Chair, emphasized the need for youth leadership and shared his belief that, despite all that is happening, “Jews are OK”. He announced two new affiliates for WJC both approved by the credentials committee: the Jewish communities of Albania and Bahrain.

WJC Elections

In addition to Amb. Lauder, whose reelection was noted above, other officers were elected.
Since the plenary in 2009, communities are entitled to a number of delegates, based on Della Pérgola´s demographic studies. Israel is entitled to 30 votes, as is the USA; France has 23, Canada 18, U.K. 15, Argentina 9, etc. NGOs  also have voting rights, based on their world importance: ICJW, WIZO and B'nai B´rith International have 3 each, the rest have 2 or only 1.

The plenary voted for President, Treasurer and Chairman of the Governing Board. Ronald Lauder, Chella Safra, and David de Rothschild were elected unopposed for these positions. 12 of the biggest Jewish communities of the world serve as Vice Presidents, (ex-officio), but the plenary has to elect 5 additional affiliated member communities. Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Switzerland and Venezuela were elected, and three NGOs, ICJW, WIZO and WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students). 

Four NGOs had been nominated, and all were very strong. In fact, the fourth NGO was ORT International, and as they did not make it, Mr. Lauder nominated them "ad persona"; he can nominate 5 persons who he understands will be an asset to the organization. The Plenary also elected three Young Adults.

Robert Singer, WJC CEO and Executive Vice President, reported on WJC activities since the prior Plenary Assembly in Budapest in 2013. WJC has rebuilt since 2013 with pride, hope and achievement.

There are now about 15 million Jews in the world; two countries, US and Israel have more than five million each. We must never be silent about anti-Semitism.

He then discussed some of WJC’s efforts:
• Fight BDS – WJC cosponsors the BDS conference at the UN.
• WJC has built a digital network to help fight BDS.
• In 2015, WJC met with the Pope on the 50th anniversary of Nostre Attate.
• There is a Global Jewish Security department at WJC; in 46 countries, this group provides audits of security, advocates with governments and gives training in crisis management.
• WJC is one of the leading Jewish organizations at the UN and advocates for fair treatment of Israel.
• At UNESCO, WJC has worked with Irina Bokova to oppose the anti-Semitic resolutions regarding the holy sites in Jerusalem.
• The Jewish Diplomatic Corps has rejoined WJC. It has 200 members in 43 countries.
Four years ago, WJC was not widely known but in 2016 it reached millions of people around the world with education, advocacy and security.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General
Ms. Bokova asserted that UNESCO fights xenophobia and has an ethical and political commitment against xenophobia in general and anti Semitism in particular. UNESCO runs a global program of Holocaust education and fights Holocaust denial. This work, she said, has never been so important and so difficult as it is now with the global rise of anti-Semitism.

The demonization of Israel is a new form of anti-Semitism but old forms persist as well. UNESCO has helped with this by mounting, in cooperation with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an exhibit depicting 3500 years of the Jewish relationship with the holy land.

Ms. Bokova went on to describe many educational efforts including chairs at some American Universities and publications about the Holocaust. All of these can be used to fight denial efforts but, to be effective, this must be backed up by education. To this end, UNESCO has a strong network of partners in Israel including the Weizmann Institute, the Peres Institute and others.

The Old City of Jerusalem is a world heritage site with holy places for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her responsibility is to strengthen coexistence and work with all member states to preserve culture.

Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada discussed the need for Yom HaShoah and emphasized that Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel. However, as in most of the world, anti-Semitism is resurgent. Jews are less than 1% of the population of Canada but 17% of hate crimes are committed against Jews. The government helps pay for security for Jewish institutions but racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are all growing.

WJC Resolutions

The resolutions prepared by the WJC Resolutions Committee were discussed and voted on. All were approved as amended. Joan had attended the Resolutions committee discussions on Sunday; she presented an amendment to the resolution on Middle East Peace which was later accepted by the Plenary.

Regional Reports and Delegate Interventions

On Sunday, Sara attended the Latin American Jewish Congress, where elections were held and Sara was asked to chair the voting process. The new President of the Latin Americans is Adrian Wertheimer, from Argentina. Mr. Jack Terpins from Brazil, who had been president for 16 years, decided to quit and leave space for the younger. Not only the President, but the new Executive was elected, and with great concern we have to say that there is not even one woman elected to the Executive. Sara wonders if this is part of the Latin America "macho" style, or it is part of the Jewish tradition that women have to be in the home, while men take the leadership roles?

There were also reports from Russia and other regions. Noteworthy, was the report by Professor Chernow on the Euro-Asian Jewish Conference which covers 26 countries from Iraq to Japan including the FSU countries. An interesting note – The Turkmenistan Jewish community is not registered with the government as they don’t meet the requirement for 50,000 signatures! The Albanian community is new to WJC; its leader described Albania as safe and welcoming for Jews.

The Israeli WJC representative reported that there is a large Aliyah from France BUT about 30% return to France. He wants the government to make it a national priority to help with integration of French Jews.

Final Session in Cooperation with the Mission of Israel to the United Nations

The speakers were the United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who stressed "I can safely say that it's a new day for Israel at the United Nations. The United States will no longer be silent as Israel is unfairly attacked at the UN. The anti-Israel bias that has existed for so long at the UN is cut from the same cloth as the BDS movement and the global rise in antisemitism. They seek to delegitimize Israel". 

She added that UN must cease its hypocrisy in singling out Israel and recognized that the true source of instability in the Middle East is Iran. "the facts are these: Israel has the right to exist in peace and security, Israel is America´s best friend in the Middle East. Anti-Semitism must be ended in all its forms in every place in the planet".

Israel Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, stated the changes he is now perceiving at the UN, and the changes he feels in the way Israel is, and will be treated in the future.