European Jewish leaders: New parliament threatens unity


BERLIN (JTA) — A new European Jewish parliament is a threat to Jewish unity in Europe, Jewish leaders from across the continent have charged.

Sixteen Jewish leaders warned in a letter to the heads of the European Union that the European Jewish Union "could disturb the current equilibrium, built on years of hard work and cooperation, and as such is something we completely reject."

The letter was hand-delivered late last week to the offices of European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso. There has been no official response.

In particular, the leaders objected to a European Jewish parliament proposed by the union, which in September initiated an Internet election for the body.

The European Jewish Union responded to the letter in an e-mail.

“We believe that no one has the monopoly on promoting Jewish Interests in Europe,” the union wrote, adding "How can anyone object, in the era we live in, [to] the first ever pan-European, West-East, popular, democratic, all inclusive and transparent elections using the Internet?”

Noting its other actions this year — including launching a Jewish news channel, facilitating a conference for Jewish youth and establishing a task force against anti-Semitism — the e-mail said "[it] is time to use new approaches and technologies to reach out to all the Jews across the Continent."

The election, which concludes Dec. 15, has been conducted via the European Jewish Union’s website. It has been criticized because numerous candidates, including Jewish celebrities, apparently had been nominated without their knowledge. Tomer Orni, the organization’s CEO, said runner-ups would be contacted in the event that any of the winners do not want to be involved.

Orni said the idea of Internet elections was to be as open as possible to Jews of all backgrounds, including those who are not members of Jewish communities. The European Jewish Press — whose editor in chief, Yossi Lempkowicz, is a candidate — reported that more than 170,000 people had voted as of early November. This week, the union said that "over 300,000 voters have subscribed." The last figures available from Google Adplanner showed 52,000 unique visitors in October.

A signer of the critical letter, Tomas Kraus, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, told JTA in a telephone interview that it was “complete nonsense” to suggest that existing Jewish organizations are not representative.

"The European Jewish Congress is consisting of representatives of local Jewish communities who have been democratically elected," said Kraus.

He said it was important for European Jews to speak with one voice, especially during tough economic times when anti-Semitic tendencies increase.

Asked if he could see working with the union, Kraus said it might be possible “If they would be willing to change their strategy,” including dropping the Internet elections.

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