Ambassadors are Like Rabbis: Reflections from Our Advisory Board Member Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs

October 28, 2020

Every Day during the Corona crisis our Advisory Board Member Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs (NL) writes a diary, on request of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam,  which is published on the website of the NIW, the only Jewish Dutch Magazine. Rabbi Jacobs is the head of Inter Governmental Relationships at the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. We will be regularly publishing a selection of his informative, sometimes light hearted, but always wise pieces.
For our Dutch readers you can follow the diary every day at NIW home page: https://niw.nl and then: scroll down.
Ambassadors are like Rabbis…
Today was all about abroad. The Ambassador of Hungary had invited me to lunch at his embassy. We have known each other for a few years, meet from time to time and so again today. Reason for the visit? No. Just catching up again about kosher slaughter, which was threatening to become a problem in Poland and the relationship between Hungary and Israel.
Because it would not be exactly easy to arrange a kosher meal at the Hungarian embassy, ​we (my wife and I) invited him to lunch with us.
So,the ambassador came to Amersfoort and we not to The Hague. Not wanting to come empty-handed, he brought a huge bouquet of flowers and a bottle of kosher wine.
How did he get that wine? The ambassador called his friend Naor (the ambassador of Israel) and he arranged for a bottle of kosher Israeli wine from the IPC - the Israel Products Center - in Nijkerk to be delivered to the Hungarian embassy that morning. And because the Ambassador of Hungary did not know about the existence of the IPC, which is ten minutes from my house, I took him there after lunch. Of course I made sure that in addition to the tour and explanation about the objective of IPC and Christians for Israel, he also received a pack of cookies. Because: tomorrow the ambassador of Israel will visit the Hungarian ambassador and then it seemed nice that I then pay back the bottle of wine via a roll of kosher Israeli biscuits.
Apart from that, I gave the ambassador a mask with “I love Israel” on it, so that the Hungarian ambassador can wear it when the Israeli ambassador comes to make his appearance.
Networking is something like that. Usually it does not deliver on the spot, but is important nonetheless. Ambassadors do no different, and are a bit like rabbis, at least my kind of rabbis.
Because I believe that the rabbi is of course primarily there for the Jewish community in its full breadth. But for that Jewish community, contact with outside that community is also of vital importance, because we are part of the wider society: Noah had to leave the Ark by order of Gd!
Apart from the importance for the Jewish community, we also have a duty, in my opinion, to contribute to the well-being of the surrounding society. Yesterday I had a visit from another kind of ambassador, namely Dr. Pieter de Boer, member of the deputy Church and Israel of the CGK-Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerken- and spokesperson of the Interkerkelijke Werkgroep. That Working Group had drawn up a statement of guilt on the attitude of the churches during and shortly after the war. Today, that statement of guilt was officially released.
Although for me such a debt declaration is not really necessary, I was especially touched by the comment about what went wrong after the war. My grandfather and grandmother's nephews and nieces were not allowed to be raised with my grandfather and grandmother, but were to remain in the Christian homes where they had been in hiding. Of course, those parents had bonded with the kids, saved their lives, but ... they really hadn't given up their murdered parents with the intention of being raised as Christians.
And whilst with the ambassador: a phone call from Ukraine. One of the rabbis was in a conflict with Christians for Israel supporting him with an adoption project. People in the Netherlands adopt a poverty-stricken Jewish family in Ukraine for € 25 per month. In Kirovograd, communication between the Dutch donors and the local rabbi did not go well. And so I get a call from the rabbi and start mediating or solving, as a kind of ambassador of whom I really don't know, but I am somewhere in between.
After the necessary phone calls, I hope that I have been able to straighten everything out again and that it also runs smoothly in Kirovograd. What is difficult here is that the local rabbi speaks fluent Russian, but no Yiddish, poor English and not optimal Hebrew, and certainly no Dutch! But I believe I've been able to tie things together again. In the meantime, I am waiting for the results of an archival investigation to confirm someone's Jewishness. I feel that it can be checked that way, but not everyone shares my opinion that (almost) everything should be tackled immediately. In principle, I always answer e-mail immediately.
As a result, I sometimes spend late at night behind that stupid computer that has been controlling my whole life!
But Good news! At least in my opinion. Because, of course, it is really not the case that a hundred listeners are more important than ten at a lecture, and the same goes for the number of readers of my diaries, still, I have to admit my weakness in this, I like that my diaries are getting wide read. And so: Good news for me! Coincidentally (although I really believe that coincidence does not exist) the EJA –European Jewish Association- saw one of my diaries, translated it with Google and asked permission to post this diary a few times a week on their website and their Facebook. And thus more readers. My diary is going European!

Additional Articles

New Proposed Bill Limiting Kosher Slaughter In Poland. 

Watch European Jewish Association Chairman, Rabbi Menachem Margolin speaking on the subject of the new proposed bill limiting kosher slaughter in Poland.

Head of EJA Blasts Grotesque and Disgusting Antisemitic Aalst Carnival Flot – Seeks Assurances from City Mayor

The Chairman of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin today blasted the organisers of the Carnival in the Belgian city of Aalst for allowing a float to take part depicting Hasidic Jews with grotesque hooked noses standing on chests of money, and asked the mayor Christoph D'Haese for a full explanation of how this was allowed to happen.
Rabbi Margolin expressed his incredulity as to how such an image, reminiscent of the worst anti-Semitic tropes and propaganda, was allowed to form part of a celebration in Belgium in 2019.
In his letter to the mayor, Rabbi Margolin said,
“When I first saw the images I thought it was a sick joke. I simply find it hard to believe that a carnival float could replicate the most disgusting and prejudiced stereotypes of Jews that are regularly conjured up by right wing extremists, Nazis and fascist sympathisers.
“I write to express not only the deep disgust of our association, that represents Jews from across the continent, but to ask you, as the Mayor - a public servant representing all faiths, colours of society -how this float was even seen on the street, let alone as part of a celebratory carnival.
“I need not explain the deep distress and hurt to Jews not only in Aalst, in Belgium but all over Europe, caused by this grossly offensive depiction of Jews. I sincerely hope and trust that this was a gross oversight, and that not only an apology from the organisers will be forthcoming, but also an assurance from you that all floats will be properly vetted in future and that such a float has no place in someone’s garage, nevermind a public carnival.
“I have long made the case for educational programmes to be put in place in Belgium that combat such negative and patently false stereotypes, the float at the carnival in Aalst are a clear demonstration that this is now a matter of pressing urgency.”

EU steps up fight against antisemitism

The European Jewish Association welcomes the European Council declaration on fighting antisemitism that reaffirms its commitment for a common security approach in Europe to protect Jewish life and make it more visible as part of Europe’s identity.
"We welcome the acknowledgement of the European Council of the Member States shared responsibility to actively protect and support Jewish life in Europe and the acknowledgement of the contribution of Judaism and Jewish life that have indeed considerably shaped European identity and enriched Europe’s cultural, intellectual and religious heritage.  We look forward to working with EU institutions and national governments across policy areas as we continue the fight against antisemitism together," stated EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin.
you can read more about it here:

The European Council welcomed on Friday a declaration on mainstreaming the fight against antisemitism across policy areas.

In its conclusions, the European Council condemned “all forms of attacks on the freedoms of expression and religion or belief, including antisemitism, racism and xenophobia, and underlines the importance of combating incitement to hatred and violence, as well as intolerance.”

The Declaration, which was approved last week by the Justice and Home Affairs Council, describes antisemitism as an EU-wide phenomenon and emphasises that the fight against it is a cross-cutting issue involving various levels of government and policies at local, national and European level.

The Council expressed its concern at the increase in threats to Jewish people in Europe, and the resurgence of conspiracy myths, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the increase in antisemitic incidents and hate crime.

It stresses that antisemitism has developed into various forms and must be combated with complementary public policies. Illegal hate speech and online terrorist content must be removed promptly and consistently by internet service providers. A strong and systematic judicial response to antisemitic acts is also necessary.

Education about the Holocaust, antisemitism and Jewish life remains one of the most important tools in preventing antisemitic prejudices. Sharing good practices to foster media literacy and awareness of conspiracy myths is also key.

The member states welcomed the European Commission’s decision to make the fight against antisemitism a priority, as well as the strengthening of the institutional basis for the coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.

The Declaration states that, “Judaism and Jewish life have contributed considerably to shaping European identity and enriching Europe’s cultural, intellectual and religious heritage. We are grateful that 75 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life, in all its diversity, is deeply rooted and thriving again in Europe. It is our permanent, shared responsibility to actively protect and support Jewish life.”

“As a researcher on contemporary European antisemitism, I welcome the Council Declaration on the fight against antisemitism,” commented Lars Dencik, a Swedish professor in social psychology. “The appeal to fight antisemitism ‘in a holistic way’, i.e. across policy fields and member states, is highly relevant.”

“To organize systematic data collection and analysis of antisemitism across all member states would be most valuable,” he added. “To focus on the upsurge of antisemitic conspiracy myths appears also adequate and necessary. The point of actively protecting and supporting Jewish life and making it more visible as part of European identity is very well taken.”

The European Commission presented also on Wednesday a a new Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the fight against terrorism and violent extremism and boost the EU’s resilience to terrorist threats. Among others, the EU will step up efforts to ensure physical protection of public spaces including places of worship through security by design.

The Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, confirmed at a press conference that special resources will be dedicated to protect churches, mosques and synagogues. “We are giving cities the means to protect open public spaces through good design and we are ensuring that we can respond quickly and more efficiently to attacks and attempted attacks.”

Preventing attacks by addressing radicalisation and countering spread of extremist ideologies online is important and the Commission proposes to adopt rules on removing terrorist content online as a matter of urgency. The same goes for antisemitic hate speech, according to the Council Declaration.

“Antisemitic hate speech, including public condoning, denying or grossly trivialising the Holocaust, is increasingly influential and is shared online often without any consequences for those who produce and/or disseminate it. Crimes committed online should be punished just as crimes offline are and must be adequately addressed by means of effective prosecution and other measures.”

The Declaration underlines that The Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law (2008/913/JHA) must be transposed and effectively implemented by the Member States, including for crimes committed on the internet.

New forms of antisemitism

Dencik, the researcher of antisemitism, is sceptical and thinks that it borders on wishful thinking to have global internet providers monitoring and removing hate speech on their platforms. He adds that somewhat unnoticed in the Council Declaration are emerging problems of “antisemitism in disguise” and “latent antisemitism” and refers to conspiracy theories and attacks on individual Jews and Jewish institution emanating from hatred against Israel.

The Declaration does mention that recent studies, for example by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), show that antisemitism in all its forms is increasingly prevalent in Europe.

Reaffirming their commitment to a previous Council declaration in December 2018 on the fight against antisemitism, the EU member states also referred to the non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

“We welcome the fact that 18 Member States have already followed up on the Council declaration of 6 December 2018 by endorsing the IHRA working definition as a useful guidance tool in education and training. Member States that have not yet done so are invited to join the other Member States and endorse the IHRA working definition as soon as possible.”

The borderline between antisemitism and legitimate criticism of Israel and its government is often blurred and has become politicized, including in Israel. “Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” says the definition and distinguishes between legitimate criticism and verbal attacks against Israel that might be fuelled by antisemitism and antisemitic stereotypes.

The list of such examples includes denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, accusing Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, and applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

The Commission has been forced to strengthen the fight against antisemitism almost every year. “The 20th century had many deseases. The only on that remained incurable is antisemitism,” Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in 2018. He criticised some EU member states for their identity politics. “If you choose identity policy, it will sooner or later refer to minorities and the first minority to be hit is the Jews.”

Read More

Meeting at the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic. 

Yesterday, on 29 October 2019, the European Jewish Association and our partners from the Action and Protection Foundation /Hungary/ have once again travelled abroad to meet with government officials regarding the European Curriculum and Textbook Project against Antisemitism. This time, our destination has been the Slovak capital of Bratislava, situated at the very heart of Europe, in-between the Danube and Morava rivers. 

Alex Benjamin, EJA’s Director of Public Affairs, Ferenc Olti, Board Member of the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association, and Kálmán Szalai, APF’s Secretary, have met with Maria Prekop, Director General at the Department of Minorities and Inclusive Education, and Katarína Baranyaiová, Counsellor at the Department of Bilateral and Multilateral Cooperation of the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic. 

During the meeting, we have had a chance to present the project, its earlier implementation process and the results achieved in Hungary, as well as discuss the Slovak system of education, particularly its emphasis on minority inclusion and social dialogue, and thus briefly touch upon the project’s compatibility with the rules and customs already in place.

It has been agreed that our proposal shall be further carefully examined by the Ministry, with a special attention towards its operational feasibility in case of potential adaptation within the national curriculum.

We greatly appreciate the forthcomingness of the Slovak authorities and the very productive discussion with Ms. Prekop and Ms. Baranyaiová. We thus eagerly look forward to hopeful cooperation with the Ministry, the local Jewish community and other partners on this important initiative.

Additional Communities
United Kingdom
Ukraine
Schweiz
Switzerland
Spain
Slovakia
Serbia
Russia
Romania
Portugal
Poland