(c) Shahar Azran / World Jewish Congress
NEW YORK — With antisemitism on the rise in the United States and globally, today the World Jewish Congress (WJC) concluded its quadrennial gathering addressing key issues affecting Jewish communities and setting policy for the years ahead. During today’s final convening of the WJC’s 16th Plenary Assembly, which has been gathering online since mid-April, the WJC formally announced the election of its leadership, including the reelection of Amb. Ronald S. Lauder as President, to guide the global organization representing103 Jewish communities around the world.
In keynote remarks (full speech transcript available here), Lauder raised the alarm of the frightening rise of antisemitic hatred seen globally during the COVID-19 pandemic. His concerns were echoed by fellow global leaders who participated, including President of the State of Israel Reuven Rivlin, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro and UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay. All congratulated Lauder and the WJC for its leadership on combating antisemitism and intolerance, advancing human rights globally, preserving Holocaust memory and increasing Holocaust education, and developing the next generation of Jewish community leaders. Each emphasized their support of the WJC and global Jewry.
Expressing sharp criticism of members of the U.S. Congress and other international parliamentarians who have failed to defend Jews against antisemitic attacks or stand up for Israel during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, Lauder called on elected officials to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Jewish people and prevent and respond to antisemitism. He said, “Any government leader that does not stand up with a strong voice against antisemitism will know that the World Jewish Congress will be there. … But we must do this as one, united people.”
He applauded world leaders who have supported Israel, “We must hold all politicians accountable who either supported Hamas or stood silent. At the same time, I want to thank President Biden and his administration and all world leaders who understood the difference between a sovereign, democratic country and a terrorist group aimed at killing Jews. We are grateful for their honesty and their support.”
Lauder promised the hundreds of delegates participating in the Plenary in representation of their Jewish communities and organizations that as leader of the WJC, he would take a multi-pronged approach to address current challenges the global Jewish community is confronting, and to drive Jewish unity across Israel and the Diaspora:
- Education -- promoting the establishment of new Jewish schools within the United States and internationally in order to cultivate understanding of what it means to be Jewish early in life, raising money to support scholarships for families in order to ensure that all Jewish children can access Jewish education, and to support synagogues in expanding educational offerings.
- Pluralism and shared Jewish peoplehood -- encouraging Jews of all backgrounds to accept and support each other; “Orthodox Jews must accept the Jews who don’t wear yarmulkas,” he said. “In Israel, Reform and Conservative Jews should be accepted and have the same status as the ultra-Orthodox.” He called for the establishment of prayer spaces for all at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and recognition of non-Orthodox conversions; “If someone wants to be Jewish, we should not turn our back on them,” he said. “We are one people, from the most secular to the most Orthodox. None of us is more Jewish than the other, and we need to hold on to every single Jewish person there is. We desperately need new young Jewish leaders. But we can’t expect this to just happen, we have to make it happen.”
- Support for Israel -- “After all the death and loss and suffering that Jews went through to win back our homeland, we cannot allow it to be lost again. We must stand up and fight for it. We must be loud and relentless.”
- Development and enforcement of stronger, stricter hate crimes legislation
The WJC’s leadership was elected by WJC delegates representing member Jewish communities and organizations, who voted via an anonymous online elections process.
The leadership elected includes:
- President of the WJC – Ronald S. Lauder
- Chair of the Governing Board – David de Rothschild
- Treasurer – Chella Safra
- Policy Council Chair – Moshe Kantor
- Co-Chair of Policy Council – Robert Goot
Full details on the results of the elections can be found here.
Highlights from the remarks of participating leadership of international bodies follow:
WJC President Ronald S. Lauder
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
President of the State of Israel Reuven Rivlin
UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay
Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro
“The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has shown how quickly antisemitic conspiracy myths can spread,” said President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. “The duty to protect the future of the Jewish people starts with remembering the past, but of course it does not end there. Europe can only prosper when its Jewish communities prosper too. Seventy-six years after the Holocaust, Jewish life in Europe is thriving again in synagogues, in schools, in kindergartens and in the heart of our communities. And we must continue to protect it.”
As the ceasefire negotiated between the Israeli government and Hamas holds, many speakers addressed their appreciation for world leaders’ recognition of Israel’s right to defend itself and discussed interventions to combat the outbreaks of antisemitic manifestations in the wake of the conflict.
President of the State of Israel Reuven Rivlin shared with the assembled delegates: “I deeply believe that the future of the Jewish people must be built on unity and diversity -- respect for the many expressions of Jewish identity on the one hand and commitment to the principle of mutual responsibility on the other hand. Protecting the future of the Jewish people, which is the subject of this year’s assembly, also requires an understanding that the security of the Jewish people and the security of the Jewish and democratic state of Israel are closely tied together. We must show zero tolerance for all forms of antisemitism, racism and extremism -- whether against Jewish individuals, Jewish communities or the Jewish state, whether in the streets, online or in the halls of power.”
Secretary General Luis Almagro of Organization of American States added that in Latin America, “We see with concern an increase in the presence of groups linked to terrorism, as are Hamas and Hezbollah in the region.” He continued by warning “of the danger that this represents for the Jewish community and the entire civil society of America. The relationship of these terrorist groups with transnational organized crime, drug trafficking, and human trafficking constitute a growing threat against the stability, democracy, the rule of law and peace of all the states of the hemisphere.”
Added Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), “All human beings are born in equal dignity. We are here to remember that antisemitism is not just an attack on the Jewish people, it’s an attack on our shared humanity. Respect is at the heart of our efforts to fight antisemitism.” UNESCO and the WJC have long partnered to combat antisemitism together, including through the development of AboutHolocaust.org, which connects Facebook users to authoritative information about the Holocaust, and during the pandemic, the launch of #ThinkBeforeSharing, alongside Twitter and the European Commission, to combat the spread of conspiracy myths.
Plenary meetings provide the opportunity for delegates to discuss, amend and vote on policy resolutions proposed by a resolutions committee. The resolutions proposed were all adopted, and addressed the following themes:
- Freedom of Religious Practices
- Endorsing the Abraham Accords
- Unity and inclusivity in Jewish leadership
- Antisemitism in the time of COVID-19
- Continued Iranian Threats to Peace and Security
- The World Jewish Congress on its 85th Anniversary
- Distortion of Historical Truth
- Human Fraternity
- Support for the State of Israel
- Condemnation of the Commemoration of the Durban (South Africa) Process
The Plenary Assembly also included the formal welcome of a new Jewish member community to the WJC - the Jewish Council of the Emirates, headed by President Ross Kriel.
About the WJC Plenary Assembly
The WJC Plenary Assembly takes place every four years and brings together delegates from WJC-affiliated Jewish communities and organizations in more than 100 countries around the world. The Plenary Assembly elects WJC leadership and sets policy for the years ahead. This year, Plenary Assembly delegates have been gathering remotely since mid-April and through the end of May for discussions on key issues affecting Jewish communities.
Among the slate of events, the WJC convened leading level government representatives at the national level whose work focuses on preventing, countering and educating around antisemitism. WJC’s Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism (SECCA) Forum discussed shared strategies and international cooperation, and the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians brought together Jewish legislators and elected officials from around the world to use their platforms to fight antisemitism and advance human rights. Topical discussion sessions covered a conversation with Facebook leadership on its efforts to counter and remove online hate, a Ramadan celebration with leading Islamic representatives from the Muslim World League, Israel’s political future, the Iranian nuclear threat, and the role of young leaders within their communities.
About the World Jewish Congress
West End Strategy Team