2015 ends on a promising note - what will 2016 bring?

Last year could not have ended on a better note than with the UN recognition of Yom Kippur as an official UN holiday (see next article). The UN recognition proves that our efforts have not been in vain. By campaigning consistently for two and a half years we could finally witness concrete results which will enhance the place of Israel in the family of nations. This is the stated goal of the ECI Forum for Cultural Diplomacy.

Last month also illustrated how we as a community of ECI activists can have an impact when we work together. In December we managed - in less than 48 hours - to mobilize our activists and reach the governments in over 20 EU member states with a letter pointing out the flaws of the EU labelling directive for Israeli goods from the disputed territories.

These are but two major achievements that took place in the last month of the year. Let these victories encourage us to work even more closely together in 2016. Together we can make a difference!

Yom Kippur recognized as official UN holiday

New York - A good ECI year ended on a perfect note as the UN on Friday 18th December decided to make Yom Kippur an official UN holiday. The decision came on the last day of an ECI mission to New York and only one week before the Christmas break.

The decision marks the culmination of two and a half years of active campaigning by ECI after having first introduced the initiative to the Israeli government in August 2013.

A few weeks later, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister at that time, Zeev Elkin, made the official request to the Deputy Secretary General of the UN, Jan Eliasson, to coincide with the “High-Level Week” of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly when the agenda items for the session are discussed and agreed.

The campaign gained further momentum as the Israeli Permanent Representative to the UN, Ron Prosor, at the launching event of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy on 12th May 2014 presented the request in the form of a letter to all 192 Permanent Representatives to the UN.

The letter was later signed by 32 Permanent Representatives and at the end a total of 65 Permanent Representatives gave their support to the Israeli request. The US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, played a crucial role in winning the approval of the request by allowing one of the American holidays which are recognized as UN official holidays, Presidents' Day, to become a floating holiday which can be replaced by any of the six other religious holidays, among them Yom Kippur.

In achieving UN recognition for Yom Kippur, other major world religions have also received official status for their holidays and consequently the decision has been seen as a major step towards more equality in the UN system.

ECI attends Hanukkah receptions in Tirana and New York

ECI was invited to official Hanukkah receptions in Tirana, New York and Brussels as an expression of appreciation for the work that ECI does to recognize, promote and learn from Jewish holidays.

Tirana - Already last year UN Director Gregory Lafitte represented ECI and the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy at the Hanukkah reception in Tirana, hosted by the Albanian President Bujar Nishani. This year he was joined by Judy Littler Manners and together they could witness how the Hanukkah reception is becoming an official tradition in a predominately Muslim country. After the reception they had the opportunity to meet privately with the President who shared his convictions to honour and celebrate Hanukkah as a Jewish holiday which has a universal message.

New York - Only three days later Lafitte and Tomas Sandell attended another Hanukkah reception in New York, hosted by the President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, and the new Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Danny Danon. The event was attended by the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin who also made a speech, as well as by UN diplomats, among them the UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson.

ECI meets new Israeli Permanent Representative to the UN

New York - The last visit to the UN for the year by Gregory Lafitte and Tomas Sandell included an introductory meeting with the new Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Danny Danon. Danon took over the post from Ron Prosor in October. Although he is new to the UN, Danny Danon is no stranger to ECI. Already in 2009 Danny Danon, then a new member of the Knesset, and Tomas Sandell met for a private dinner in Stockholm and the friendship has remained. Danon was the official representative of the Israeli government at the 90th anniversary of the San Remo Declaration in April, 2010.

The new ambassador did not need any further introduction to the work of ECI and the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy but was eager to continue and expand the already existing cooperation between the Forum and the Israeli Permanent Mission to the UN.

ECI wishes to welcome the new ambassador and looks forward to serving Israel together with him and his excellent staff, including Deputy Permanent Representative David Roet at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN.

ECI Annual Symposium in Brussels focuses on Jewish contributions to European culture and values

Brussels - Due to the new security situation in Brussels, the 2015 Annual Policy Conference had to be postponed until April 21st, 2016 (see announcement below). But in order to keep up the momentum in Brussels, ECI organized a symposium in the European Parliament on December 2nd-3rd.

Despite a complete lockdown in Brussels only one week before the event, the symposium could take place as planned. At the symposium speakers from the European Parliament and the European Commission as well as from the German government explained how the Jewish communities have contributed to European culture and values over time.
“In the mid-16th century, up to 80 % of the worldwide Jewish population lived in Poland”, commented the Polish Vice-President of the European Parliament, Ryscard Czarnecki. He went on to explain how Poland has been shaped by the continuous presence of Jewish communities in the country, something which is illustrated in the name Poland, which according to some sources means ”safe dwelling” in Hebrew.

German Ambassador Felix Klein mentioned how Jews are once more returning to Germany despite the horrors of the Holocaust. The significant role of Jews in Europe is clearly demonstrated by the proportionally large number of Jews living in Europe who have won Nobel Prizes for their home countries. What would Europe have been without their contribution?
“When speaking about Jews in Europe it is important that we also remember this positive side of Jewish life in Europe”, he said.

A third example of Jewish presence in Europe was illustrated in the case of Spain, which expelled their entire Jewish population in 1492. Spanish European Commission official Raoul Fuentes Milani (picture) acknowledged that Spain lost much of its identity when the Jews were expelled. He quoted the King of Spain as saying: “We have missed you”. Spain recently granted citizenship to Jews who can prove their Spanish ancestry.

Newly appointed EU envoy against anti-Semitism made first appearance at ECI symposium

Brussels - On December 1st, EU official Katharina von Schnurbein was appointed the first ever EU envoy on anti-Semitism. Only two days later, on Thursday, 3rd December, she made her first public appearance in her new role at the ECI symposium in the European Parliament.

At the symposium she explained her role as the first EU envoy against anti-Semitism and looked forward to working together with ECI. Apart from looking at the problem of the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe she spoke about the positive contributions of the Jewish people to European culture and values.
“Perseverance is one such value”, she said. “Through perseverance the Jewish people have continued to contribute to European culture despite many times having faced discrimination and having to live under difficult circumstances.”

Tomas Sandell concluded the symposium by explaining why ECI is focusing on the positive contributions of the Jewish people to European culture.
“We can never fight anti-Semitism in Europe by simply appealing for tolerance”, he said. “Anti-Semitism is based on a deep disrespect for Jewish culture. By first respecting the Jewish people and their culture we can hope to find the antidote to Jew hatred. Jewish people and their culture are not simply to be tolerated but to be celebrated.”

Upcoming events - Save the dates

21 April, 2016 - Annual Policy Conference in the European Parliament in Brussels

22-24 April, 2016 - Annual Prayer Summit in Brussels

This year we have decided to combine the Annual Policy Conference in the European Parliament with the Annual Prayer Summit. By combining the two events we can make it possible for more people to attend without having to travel twice to Brussels. Please reserve the dates and we will shortly come back with more details.

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