By Robert Singer
In August 1936, when Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and Nahum Goldmann convened the first World Jewish Congress in Geneva, world Jewry was faced with record-high anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany and throughout Europe, and the unforeseeable horrors and atrocities of the Holocaust were just a few years away. The idea of a sovereign state for Jews seemed a remote fantasy.
As Rabbi Wise so poignantly posed at that opening meeting of what would become the preeminent representative international Jewish organization:
What do we expect of a World Jewish Congress? We answer: “No miracles.” The World Jewish Congress will not solve all, or most, or even many of the unsolved problems of the Jewish people. But a World Jewish Congress may perform these functions:
1. Bring Jews together of many different lands and many different views who do not meet together in any other way;
2. Bring Jews together on a new plane, not that of giving and receiving, but for an interchange of views touching every manner of Jewish problems with a view to their solution;
3. Jews of one land will face the problems of Jews of other lands, invite their counsel, and invoke their experience.
In the more than 80 years of the World Jewish Congress’ existence, the need for such an assembly of global Jewry has not waned, notwithstanding the establishment of the sovereign State of Israel.
We have confronted challenges including the near genocide of the Jewish people, endless legal battles to seek restitution for the victims of the Holocaust, the rescue of Jews from oppressive regimes in Africa, the Middle East, and the Soviet Union, and the fight to revoke the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, among others.
The World Jewish Congress represents more than 100 Jewish communities worldwide, each unique in tradition, history and political discourse. But despite our differences, we are tied by our millennia-long identity as a single Jewish people, and by our belief in the Talmudic dictum, Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Bazeh (All of Israel is responsible for one another) both in the Diaspora and the State of Israel.
The State of Israel is strong, but attempts to delegitimize the Jewish right to sovereignty and self-determination in international forums and in civil society worldwide are growing rapidly, a reality that has taken an enormous toll on Jewish communities everywhere.
The prominent Jewish businessman and philanthropist Michael Fridman touched on many of the perilous challenges facing the Jewish people and the State of Israel in his article in these pages (“Israel and Diaspora – a Vision for a New Partnership,” July 19). He rightly references the growing gap between the Diaspora and Israel, and the dangerous effect such distancing has on the perception of the Jewish state in critical international arenas.
In his article, Mr. Fridman calls for “the establishment of a consultative body – for instance, an Assembly (or Congress) of Jewish Communities,” a democratic organization focused on the achievement of the primary objectives to “Assist Israeli leadership in adjusting the political course in a way that would improve Israel’s international reputation,” and “Facilitate the establishment of additional pro-Israel ‘support groups’ among the prominent representatives of the Diaspora.
I am proud to say that precisely such an organization – the World Jewish Congress – exists. As the international democratic consultative body of Jewish communities, the WJC’s leadership deeply agrees with and prioritizes its activities on the very objectives Mr. Fridman enumerates. Mr. Fridman is extremely well-acquainted with the issues facing the WJC and has proven his devotion to the Jewish world, as a tireless philanthropist, co-founder of our affiliate, the Russian Jewish Congress, and co-founder of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which gives boundless support to Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union. We invite Mr. Fridman to join forces with the World Jewish Congress and take an even more active role in pursuing this just and necessary cause.
In the decade that Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder has served as WJC president, as well as in the four years since I was appointed its Chief Executive Officer, we have seen the organization grow immensely both in influence and daily activity. The WJC meets regularly with world leaders and senior UN officials, conveying our communities’ concerns and working to eradicate institutionalized anti-Semitism and defend the security and well-being of Jews everywhere. Our diplomatic team routinely take the floors of the UN, including the Human Rights Council, to speak out against the bias that reins against Israel.
Our relationship with the State of Israel has become immeasurably stronger, and we work in partnership with both the government and its representatives on matters critical to combating the delegitimization of the Jewish state and fighting anti-Semitism in its varying forms, and improving Israel’s image on every possible plain.
The World Jewish Congress strives to defend global Jewry and the specific challenges they face, in accordance with the priorities they dictate.
One of the growing challenges today is the fact that traditional anti-Semitism has become compounded by a wave of anti-Zionism, and Jewish communities worldwide are bearing the brunt, often threatened by violence and persecution. The State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora are inexorably linked. This relationship is fortified by the existence of the World Jewish Congress, which works hand in hand with the Israeli government, international organizations, and governments worldwide to protect and defend all Jewish communities everywhere. We invite Mr. Fridman and all who share this priority to join us and take an active role in and expand this critical pursuit.
Robert Singer is CEO and Executive Vice President, World Jewish Congress.