Is Israel the best place for Jews to live?
President of the European Jewish Congress, Russian Jewish tycoon Moshe Kantor, says it is the Jews' destiny to live everywhere.
From a spacious room in his huge villa in Herzliya, among modern art works and a 600-year-old giant carpet, Russian Jewish tycoon Moshe Kantor, 58, oversees an empire that employs 2.5 million people. Kantor, who began his career as a student of aeronautics, is today the president of the European Jewish Congress, which represents 42 Jewish communities on the continent. His personal wealth, which amounts to $1.4 billion, stems from his ownership of a fertilizer concern that operates in Russia and China. His economic well-being allows him to devote part of his time to the Jewish world, while moving from one home and office to another in Europe.
Today the annual survey of anti-Semitism conducted by the Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, funded by the European Jewish Congress, will be released.
Where is the best place for Jews to live these days?
That's a very good question, but maybe my answer will upset you. The thing is that Jews should live everywhere. It's the Jews' destiny, and this is not my opinion, but the Bible's. According to it, Jacob instructed Menashe and Efraim to go and lead the minority of the people in Eretz Israel, and the majority should live everywhere in the world, in the Diaspora. I spend my time in many places. First of all we have many communities in Europe. Our head office is in Paris and the second is in Brussels. I live in several places - Israel number one, Russia number two, Switzerland number three and I can continue this list. Most of my family lives in Israel, so I try and need to spend more time here.
The current Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, which was published this week, indicates a decrease in the number of anti-Semitic incidents. Are you satisfied with these results?
Absolutely not. The trend that began in 2008 was so significant that we feel it up to now. The increase in "important" anti-Semitic events during 2009 was twice the usual level. And now it declines, but what is the decline? A few percentage points. The champions in this so-called negative list are Britain, France, the U.S., Germany and other countries that used to be very calm and balanced. Not any more.
It's very clear. All the experts are united on this. First of all we have new types of anti-Semitism now in Europe - it's anti-Israel. The operation in Gaza caused it, which is de facto anti-Semitism. Another reason is the failure of the multiculturalism ideology in Europe. We know that Merkel, Sarkozy and David Cameron spoke a lot about this and called it the failure of multiculturalism, but we know it's not "multi," it's only about the Islamic population. It's only politically correct to say that, but we are talking now about actual details, and that's why we have to say clearly: The uncontrolled growth of the population coming from North Africa and the Middle East is causing this new trend in anti-Semitism. The third reason, which should not be undervalued, is so-called top-intellectual anti-Semitism. When we speak not about street fighters or neo-Nazis, which are traditional. It's the top officials of the EU. We should be very careful now. The further we go from the last catastrophe of World War II, the weaker is the historic memory. Right now they are fed up of the talk about the Holocaust.
What form does anti-Semitism take in 2011?
First of all boycotts of Israeli intellectuals in Europe. What is this? How could it be possible? In united Europe, which is itself, by definition, the greatest example of tolerance, and they, the majority of the countries are boycotting not just some totalitarian country, but a democracy - Israel - which is Europe's biggest ally in the Middle East. Another example is the anti-Semitic Internet websites, books, etc. which are not banned but distributed among national libraries, in schools and universities.
Have you suffered personally from anti-Semitism?
A few years ago, I did the Holocaust commemoration - 65 years since the Babi Yar massacre - in Ukraine together with the president Yushchenko. One of the newspapers attacked me terribly, very ugly, saying that I'm a spy and brought the president some missiles. The headline said that I'm the most terrible person in the world. I sued them, and how did they apologize? They wrote the same article, repeated the whole formula, and then, very small, they wrote: "this is not true." That's why it's not easy. If somebody is lying against you, you have to protect yourself in advance.
What is the European Jewish Congress doing to fight anti-Semitism?
Nahum Goldman, the founder of the World Jewish Congress, said that an anti-Semite is somebody who hates Jews more than necessary. We should not give our opponents the basis to discuss this definition. We support Israel's central interests. For the Jews living outside Israel, the Jewish state is the biggest insurance for the future, and this insurance deserves to be respected and taken care of.
We established a few institutions devoted to values like reconciliation and tolerance. How we do it? Above all is education, education and education. But not in the universities and not in school - in the kindergartens. When you are over six years old forget about it, you won't achieve anything. Secondly, the reconciliation could be possible only on the basis of full recognition of the historical truth. And thirdly - legislation should produce the roadmap for reconciliation.
What are your plans for the coming year?
We are preparing a very significant event on preventing the delegitimization of Israel. It will take place in Poland at the end of the year, with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Polish prime minister Tusk. We will use the Polish presidency of the EU, starting this summer, for this purpose, close to the debate on the recognition of the state of Palestine in the UN. Because these two questions are very closely related: delegitimization of Israel and the recognition of Palestine without negotiations with Israel.
How do you manage an organization that is responsible for 42 communities across the continent?
I have the ability of parallel thinking. Including business, family, public ... everything is combined in my head as it's combined in real life. And I have no office. I work only with my two portfolios, everything is here: Computers, iphones, ipads. That's enough for me. Nothing is a problem for me, because to go from one part of my brain to the other is nothing. And there is no contradiction between my public and family life - both are as Jews.