UN recognises Yom Kippur as official holiday!

Holiday miracle in New York:
UN recognises Yom Kippur as official holiday!

New York, December 21st, 2015 - In one of the last working days before Christmas, the United Nations has officially recognised the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur as an official UN holiday. For the first time in its 70-year history UN employees who observe Jewish faith will have the day off and there will be no official meetings on this day. The decision implements General Assembly resolution 69/250 which was adopted last year.  The resolution adds Yom Kippur, Day of Vesak, Diwali, Gurpurab, Orthodox Christmas and Orthodox Good Friday in addition to President´s Day, to a floating holiday which the employees can choose for themselves. Christmas Day, Good Friday, Eid al-Fits and Eid al-Adha have previously been recognised as official UN holidays.

The decision comes after two and a half years of active campaigning by the Israeli Permanent Mission to the UN and the European Coalition for Israel. The idea to have the UN recognise Yom Kippur as a holiday was first floated by ECI in a meeting with the Israeli government in the summer of 2013. On October 1st, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin presented the request to the Deputy Secretary General of the UN Jan Eliasson in conjunction with the High level week of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly.

But it would take until May 12th, 2014 before the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor presented an open letter to all UN member states, requesting their support for the initiative. The request was officially presented at a luncheon of the newly formed ECI initiative Forum for Cultural Diplomacy, which marked 65 years of Israeli membership of the UN.

Sixty-five (38 + 27 EU) UN member states have expressed their support for the request.
The United States, in particular the US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, played a crucial role in agreeing to make the American holiday, President’s day, a floating holiday which can be replaced by any of the new religious holidays. This way the initiative was prevented from being blocked by the anti-Israel majority of the UN. The other religious holidays which were given UN recognition alongside Yom Kippur, were part of a compromise agreement which helped secure the support of UN member states representing other major religions.

In meetings with UN officials in New York on Friday, ECI Director for UN Affairs Gregory Lafitte and ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell expressed their appreciation over the decision which is an important step for better inclusion of Israel and the Jewish people in the family of nations by respecting their most holy day in the calendar year.

The recognition was made possible thanks to the active support of senior UN officials, including the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who on September 21st attended a special Tashlich ceremony at the UN headquarters in preparation for Yom Kippur. The ceremony was hosted by the Israeli Permanent Mission to the UN and the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy.

- This decision shows that Israel has, in fact, many more friends at the UN than those who generally stand with Israel in critical votes. By highlighting the universal values of the Jewish holidays we can bring nations closer to Israel as we at the same time strengthen the values of the UN charter, Lafitte said.

European Coalition for Israel commended the Israeli Permanent Mission to the UN which has tirelessly worked to see the recognition become a reality.

- There could be no better way to commence the Christmas holidays than to celebrate the fact that after 70 years the UN will finally recognise Yom Kippur as an official UN holiday, Sandell concluded.



ECI mobilises grassroots activists in EU member states to oppose EU labelling guidelines

Brussels, December 14th, 2015 - The European Coalition for Israel has mobilised its grassroots constituency across the EU member states in an unprecedented campaign to oppose the EU labelling directive which was published in Brussels on November 11th.  The notice instructs the EU member states to clearly mark Israeli products from the disputed territories in Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. No similar guidelines are given to other disputed territories around the world.

ECI has previously called the guidelines, ”discriminatory, counterproductive and simply wrong” and repeated this in an open debate with senior EU officials at an ECI symposium in the European Parliament in Brussels on 3rd December.  Also many EU member states, among them Greece, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have expressed opposition to the directive. The President of the German Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, has called the guidelines ”unwise.”

In a unique pan-European grassroots campaign to present the main arguments against labelling Israeli products the ECI has mobilised activists in more than 20 of the EU 28 member states to reach their respective Foreign Ministers with an official ECI letter which spells out the flaws of the directive. The reactions have been mostly positive. In one southern EU member state with a track record of being consistently critical of Israel, the Foreign Minister has asked to meet the ECI representative in person after he sent him the ECI letter on Thursday.

The letter summarises the legal and practical arguments against the labelling notice, pointing out that the planned EU measures will further weaken the Palestinian economy by putting at risk job opportunities for over 30 000 Palestinians and by further separating the Palestinians from the Israelis.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council is due to meet in Brussels on Monday, 14th December and although the labelling notice is not on the official agenda it can be raised by any member state.



Newly appointed EU coordinator on anti-Semitism: 
“When the canary no longer sings, Europe is in crisis”

Brussels, December 4th, 2015 - On Tuesday, December 1st, the European Commission appointed its first ever coordinator on combating anti-Semitism. Two days later, on Thursday December 3rd, the newly appointed coordinator, Katharina von Schnurbein, gave her first official speech at an ECI symposium in the European Parliament in Brussels on “Jewish contributions to European culture and values”.

In her speech she compared the situation for Jews in Europe with that of the canary in the coalmine. “When the canary no longer sings, Europe is in crisis”, she warned.
The expression refers to the historical role of canaries in the mining industry. As long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew the air supply was safe to breathe. If the canary died, the mine was immediately evacuated.

At the symposium von Schnurbein spoke about the threat to Jewish life in Europe and the need for an early warning system. She will report directly to the first Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, who announced his decision to appoint two coordinators, one for anti-Semitism and another one for anti-Muslim hatred, at an EU colloquium in Brussels in early October.

The new office will be an EU contact point for anyone who has experienced anti-Semitic incidents and the office will also develop strategies to combat anti-Semitism in Europe. Von Schnurbein reminded the audience that the problem is not with the EU.  She pointed out that “although the EU has outlawed Holocaust denial, only 13 member states out of 28 have implemented the directive”.

In other speeches, EU officials and Members of the European Parliament gave numerous examples of Jewish contributions to European culture and values.

Conference host MEP Hannu Takkula warned that when Jews are afraid in Europe, this is no longer Europe. He asked for better protection for the Jewish communities in Europe as well as good and strong relations with the modern state of Israel.

The Vice-President of the European Parliament, MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, reminded the audience of the long history of Jewish life in his native Poland. According to some sources, the name “Poland” means “safe dwelling” in Hebrew and this helps to explain the fact that at one point in time over 80% of the worldwide Jewish population lived in Poland. During the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust, Poland lost 90% of its Jewish population. However, after the war, Poland was the only country to let the Jews make aliyah to Israel without needing a special visa. Since these early days Poland and Israel have had strong ties, irrespective of party affiliation, and Jewish life has returned to Poland, Czarnecki explained.

Also Ambassador Felix Klein from the German government could testify that his country is experiencing a revival of Jewish life and culture. After the war, most Jews believed that life in Germany was over, but today there are over 200,000 Israelis living in Germany and new synagogues are being opened every other month, he explained. He hoped that this unique experience of successful migration could also be of use in today’s migration crisis.

The new EU Head of Unit for the Middle East, Raoul Fuentes Milani shared about Jewish history in Spain. He acknowledged that Spain lost much of its former glory and identity when the Jews were expelled in 1492. Spain recently decided to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews who can prove their Spanish ancestry from this time period. He quoted the King of Spain who, when addressing the expelled Jews around the world, announced: “We missed you.”

Although all speakers agreed that Europe is richer with flourishing Jewish communities and warm relations with the State of Israel, there was clear disagreement on whether Israel is being fairly treated by the EU today, as demonstrated by the labelling directive that was issued two weeks ago. Whilst the EEAS Director for the Middle East and Northern Africa, Christian Berger, called the decision “a technicality”, Israeli Deputy Ambassador Shuli Davidovich accused the EU of double standards.

Due to a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the week, she was not permitted to comment on the peace process from which the EU has been sidelined.

Conference host, ECI Director Tomas Sandell expressed his disappointment with the labelling directive and promised that ECI will contact member state governments in time for the next council meeting in Brussels on December 14th with a request that the decision be revised.

“When Europe was paralyzed by the terrorist attack in Paris three weeks ago, Israeli intelligence officers were the first to come to our aid and help prevent further attacks in Hanover and elsewhere in Europe”, he said.

“Europe is always better off with good relations with Israel and the Jewish communities. This is not only true for our history but also for our common future”, he concluded.



Israel comes to our assistance as terror strikes at the heart of Europe

Paris - In the last two weeks we have heard a lot about “war and rumours of war”. For one whole week Brussels was in a lockdown and Europe is said to be “at war”.

Following the terrorist attack in Paris on November 13th, ECI European Director Perrine Dufoix has sent a letter of condolence to the President of France with the message that EU and Israel should fight terrorism together.

Many observers, including ECI, have been warning for years of the consequences of not facing the jihadist threat in time. We have pointed out that Israel has been at the frontline in this war against international terrorism for years without getting the proper support and sympathy from Europe. We have also warned that one day this same terror may strike in Europe.

Terror has struck in Europe before, most notably in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005, but the terrorist attacks in Paris on January 7th and again on November 13th have left many in a state of shock.

This is a wake up call to Europe and its political leaders. Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens has noted that “it is no longer just synagogues or Jewish museums that are the targets for the terrorists but mass gatherings and public places”. As the old saying goes: “It starts with the Jews but it never ends with the Jews.” Now we are all targets.

It should be crystal clear that Israel is our best ally in this global war against terrorism. Just one week after the Paris attack it was revealed that IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot had travelled to Brussels for secret meetings with Belgian security officials. According to the German magazine “Stern”, Israeli intelligence provided the crucial information that led German authorities to cancel a scheduled friendly soccer game between Germany and Netherlands at the Hanover stadium on November 17th.

As Israel has been facing regular terror attacks for months, the EU has responded by issuing new directives against Israel (products from the disputed territories) instead of offering help. However, it now seems that Europe is also “disputed territory” in this unfolding war among civilizations. Given the lack of support for Israel in Europe we can count ourselves lucky that Israel is willing to come to our aid.

ECI challenges EU labeling directive in Brussels 
- now the battle comes back to your own capital

Brussels - The European Coalition for Israel has challenged the legality of the EU guidelines for Israeli products from the disputed territories in a written position paper and in private meetings in Brussels during the week which led up to the publishing of the guidelines.

The formal decision was made by the European Council (Foreign Ministers of the EU member states) already in 2012 but was put on the shelf in order to be used at the right time to put political pressure on Israel. The ”right time” turned out to be on November 11th, one day after the 77th anniversary of “Kristallnacht”, the night when the Nazis destroyed thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses in Germany after having first been marked as ”Jewish.”

In Brussels EU officials have assured that the decision is only “a technicality”, but in discussions with senior official it has become clear that the EU is sending a political message to Israel.

The directive is a direct blow to some thirty thousand Palestinians who today work in Israeli businesses in the disputed territories.

Whereas the decision is now settled in Brussels, the directive is now sent to the member states where the respective governments are asked to implement the guidelines. But they can also refuse to do so - or simply put them on hold. Hungary and Greece have already indicated that they will challenge the labelling directive and Germany has also expressed its opposition. In the European Council only 16 Foreign Ministers (out of 28) have actively been pushing for the directive.

Let us hope there are leaders in Europe today who will follow their moral compass instead of giving in to intimidation and irrational directives that do not promote peace. ECI will shortly be in contact with the member state governments with a clear message to support Israel in this time of crisis.

To put it simply. The EU should label terrorists - not Israeli tomatoes.

ECI sends letter to the UN Security Council
- Israeli legislation is the best guarantee for minority rights in Jerusalem

New York - While Israel continues to face terrorist attacks inside its borders, at international institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union Israel faces a different war - known as “international lawfare”. Although this is a war of words, its consequences can be just as deadly as any terrorist attack.

After having neglected the legal history of the State of Israel for many years, the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, has recently taken an interest in the foundational documents behind the creation of the State of Israel and various historical precedents for regimes that provide protection for territories and their inhabitants.

ECI has for many years been raising awareness about the legal foundations of the State of Israel as it relates back to the San Remo Resolution of 1920. In 2012 ECI organized a lecture on this topic with Dr. Jacques Gauthier for ambassadors at the UN Security Council in New York.

In a written submission to the UN Secretary General and the 15 members of the UN Security Council dated  November 17th 2015, ECI provides the blueprint for the status of Jerusalem and the ”West Bank” under international law. The letter calls upon the Security Council to “respect the rights and obligations arising under all existing instruments, in particular the Mandate for Palestine and UN charter principles” and concludes that “Israeli legislation provides the most sophisticated and advanced system for protection of minority rights based on the rule of law in the region”.

In its closing statement ECI calls on the Security Council “to respect the rights of Israel as a sovereign UN Member State to negotiate a resolution of the conflict based on the rights, obligations and principles laid down in existing instruments”.

Local churches make a difference for Israel
 - Sion Church in Vasa, Finland

Vasa, Finland - ECI is only as strong as its own constituency, consisting of local Christians in Europe and around the world who stand behind Israel and ECI in prayer and by giving financially.

Last week Tomas Sandell joined the Sion Church in Vasa, Finland to share about the work of ECI and train activists to become more effective in their support for Israel.

In the evening Israeli ambassador to Finland,Dan Ashbel, joined the seminar where he spoke about the current challenges facing Israel.

Sion Church has been actively supporting Israel for many years and today its former chairman Fredrik Ekholm is the first ever Honorary Counsellor of Israel to Finland. By organizing a whole weekend about Israel, Pastor Stefan Sigfrids wants to take the message about Biblical support for Israel to a new generation of Christians.

Sion is one of many churches across Europe and the world that have decided to stand in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people. We are proud to call them our friends!