MONTHLY REPORT - October 2015

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attends ECI co-hosted Tashlich event in honour of Jewish holidays

New York - UN diplomats from over 50 member states have participated in an ECI co-sponsored Tashlich event at the Rose Garden of the UN in New York to mark the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah and prepare for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The event was the culmination of several years of bilateral and multilateral meetings at the UN where ECI - through its UN initiative Forum for Cultural Diplomacy - has introduced UN missions to the universal messages and principles of the Jewish holidays.

The event is the largest and most significant event to date as some 150 people participated at the Rose Garden and, led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, took part in the special Tashlich ceremony by “tossing their sins in the east River in order to start the new year and the 70th session of the UN General Assembly on a clean slate.”

ECI Director for UN Affairs Gregory Lafitte quoted the Chief Rabbi of the great synagogue in Paris, Moshe Sebbag, in explaining that “while the tossing of breadcrumbs in to the river cannot cleanse us of our sins it is a reminder of our need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God and with one another.”

He illustrated this principle by the Jewish prayer of Avinu Malkeinu which reads “Our Father, our King, we have sinned before Thee. Have compassion upon us and our children.”

Lafitte reminded the audience of the many contributions of the Jewish people to the international community and the creation of the UN, from the young Jewish prophet Isaiah, who wrote about the “turning of swords in to ploughshares” to the role of the Jewish communities in the drafting of the UN charter in San Francisco in 1945.

The main objective of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy is to learn from the universal messages of the Jewish holidays, from the lesson of forgiveness and reconciliation in Yom Kippur to the meaning of freedom of slavery in the Passover story and the lessons from freedom of religion in Hanukkah.

ECI has been campaigning for UN recognition of Yom Kippur for over two years. This year the UN recognised for the first time the importance of this holiest day in the Jewish calendar and the UN offices were subsequently closed on Yom Kippur, which this year coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The event was also one of the last appearances of outgoing Israeli Permanent Representative Ron Prosor who spoke about the need for the UN to reform itself and finally become a bastion of freedom and a temple of peace.

The Tashlich ceremony was led by Senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier who called the event “a milestone occasion.”  He went on to say a prayer of thanksgiving “for having kept us alive to witness the first Tashlich ceremony at the UN.”

The evening was moderated by ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell who explained why the European Coalition for Israel is reaching out to the United Nations in honouring and celebrating the Jewish people and their culture.

“The Shoah was made possible because of a lack of respect for the Jewish people and their culture. Tolerance is not the antidote to anti-Semitism. Only by learning to appreciate the Jewish people and their culture can we ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of past generations”, he said.

Apart from Gregory Lafitte and Tomas Sandell, ECI chairman Rudolf Geigy and board member Harald Eckert also attended the event, which was co-hosted by the Permanent Representation of Israel to the UN.

Last picture, from left to right: Harald Eckert, Tomas Sandell, Ambassador Caleb Otto from Palau, Rudolf Geigy and Gregory Lafitte.

Photo credit: Arnold Brower

Cultural events help bring together friends and foes of Israel

New York - Whereas the political situation in the Middle East is getting increasingly polarised, our recent event at the UN proves that cultural events with a spiritual message can help bridge the gap. The high number of UN ambassadors and UN officials who attended the Tashlich event on Monday 21st September proves that there are more nations who are supportive of Israel than those approximately seven UN member states that usually vote in favour of Israel at the UN General Assembly.

In the aftermath of the historic Tashlich ceremony, many noted the presence of ambassadors and diplomats from countries which are not traditionally pro-Israel.  Commentators were especially encouraged by the fact that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself, and many of his closest UN officials, took part in the ceremony, which honoured the Jewish high holy days.

The work of FCD is based on the assumption that given the right approach ? through cultural diplomacy ? we can help Israel make new friends. Until very recently Israel had lacked a platform at the UN where they could be respected and appreciated, but also where they could express their concerns. The Forum for Cultural Diplomacy has quietly developed in to such a group.

EU colloquium gives ECI platform to raise concerns

Brussels - Although the month of September is historically a busy month when the ECI leadership meet in Jerusalem for board meetings and then attend the General Debate of the UN General Assembly in New York, this year we were also able to attend the First Annual European Commission Colloquium on Fundamental Rights in Brussels.

Although ECI does not always see eye to eye with the European Commission with regards to their policies towards Israel, it is important to remain in dialogue and for them to recognise that Israel is not alone, and that there is a non-Jewish voice in support of Israel accredited to the European Union.

As a matter of fact, ECI was born out of the EU dialogue following the second intifada and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in 2003-2004 when then European Commission President Romano Prodi called together a symposium on the fight against anti-Semitism.

Eleven years later, in 2015, the European Commission reacts to the terror attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen with a symposium to discuss anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred. ECI, like many Jewish organisations, finds it disturbing that the European Commission can no longer recognise anti-Semitism as a specific problem without balancing it out with anti-Muslim hatred.

Many speakers noted that the EU-work has taken a few steps backwards after the great awakening in 2004. The old EU definition of anti-Semitism, which included disproportionate criticism of Israel, has been taken off the EU website.

At the round table Tomas Sandell pointed out that “Zionism is not the cause for anti-Semitism but has historically been the solution to it.” Also the convenor of the colloquium, the first Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans (picture), noted that, “anti-Israelism cannot be a cover for anti-Semitism. “

ECI has for many years called upon the European Commission to appoint a special envoy for anti-Semitism, similar to the US and Germany. Last week Mr Timmermans announced his decision to appoint such a coordinator alongside another coordinator for anti-Muslim hatred.

ECI is committed to fighting all forms of racism and xenophobia, including anti-Muslim hatred, but regrets the fact that it is today impossible for the European Commission to discuss the existential threat of anti-Semitism to European Jewry without also speaking about anti-Muslim hatred. There is no correlation. The approach seems to want to cover up the fact that most cases of anti-Semitic violence in France and other major European countries are committed by radical Muslims. This could be the topic of the next EU colloquium.

Belgian Coalition for Israel co-hosts Shalom festival

Brussels - European Coalition for Israel is not only active in government circles but also in grassroots activities through partner organisations such as the Belgian Coalition for Israel. In Belgium the Coalition, together with likeminded Christian and Jewish organisations, have established what they call a Shalom Festival.  The message expresses hope for peace for all nations in the world, despite the painful experience of the past. In early September they organised a Shalom event in Brussels, which was well attended by Christians and Jews. The next shalom event will be organised in Antwerp on 25th October.

For more information please visit http://www.shalomfestival.be/.

Upcoming ECI events  - Important information

It has been decided that the next ECI policy conference will be held in conjunction with the next Prayer Summit from 21 -24 April 2016. This means that those who in the past have had to choose between the two events can now attend both events for the price of one ticket.
We believe this is a good decision to enable as many of our friends as possible to attend our events.

In the meantime we will organise a smaller event in Brussels from 2-3 December, which co-incides with the European Prayer Breakfast on 2 December.
This includes a dinner, a briefing session with ECI and a symposium in the European Parliament:

Wednesday, 2 December, 19.30 Annual Dinner
Thursday, 3 December, 9.00-11.30 Annual ECI briefing
Thursday, 3 December, 13-15.00 ECI symposium in the European Parliament on the Jewish contributions to Europe - now and in the past.

Space is limited, so if you are interested in attending please let us know as soon as possible. More details will follow shortly.
If you are also interested in attending the European Prayer Breakfast, please send us an email and we can put you in contact with the organisers.

21-24 April, 2016
ECI Annual Policy Conference and Prayer Summit in Brussels

Editor Tomas Sandell tomas.sandell@pp.inet.fi

Copyright c European Coalition for Israel