BUDAPEST – The 14th Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress ended on Tuesday with a commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust in Hungary and the presentation of the Nahum Goldmann Medal to former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh. In 1989, Németh was instrumental in opening the Iron Curtain and in helping to secure the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union. WJC President Ronald S. Lauder told the 500 delegates and guests representing Jewish communities and organizations in more than 70 countries world-wide that “in the 77 years of the World Jewish Congress there have been few gatherings as important as this one.”
Lauder was re-elected by the delegates for another four-year term as WJC president. He has held the position since 2007. “I see this as the top assignment for the Jewish people and I am excited to serve as President of the World Jewish Congress for another four years,” said Lauder.
Delegates also elected Baron David de Rothschild from France as the new chairman of the WJC Governing Board, which is the highest decision-making body between plenary assemblies. Chella Safra from Brazil was named as the new treasurer of the organization and will oversee the financial management of the WJC.Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, was elected as chairman of the WJC Policy Council, and Mervyn Smith from South Africa will be the co-chairman. The Policy Council advises the Executive Committee on matters of policy, programming and the implementation of the mission of the World Jewish Congress.
The Plenary Assembly also changed the WJC Constitution to ensure that the sitting senior lay leaders of the 12 largest Jewish communities in the world Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Russia, South Africa. Ukraine, United States of America) automatically have a seat on the new WJC Executive.
As ad personam vice-presidents were elected: Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich (Ukraine), Guiora Esrubilsky (Brazil), Robert Goot (Australia), Shai Hermesh (Israel), Ariel Muzicant (Austria), Marcos Peckel (Colombia), Moshe Ronen (Canada), Rabbi Arthur Schneier (United States) and Tamar Shchory (Israel). Representing Young Adults the following were elected as members of the WJC Executive: Andrea Gergely, Lior Herman and Rodrigo Slellat. Three international Jewish organizations (International Council of Jewish Women, World WIZO, World ORT) and five other Jewish communities (Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Venezuela) will also have a vice-president on the WJC Executive. In addition, the chairs of the five regional WJC affiliates (Euro-Asia, Europe, North America, Israel, Latin America) are ex-officio members of the wider WJC leadership.
Also this week, Robert Singer, 56, was presented as new chief executive officer and executive vice president of the WJC. Prior to joining the WJC, Singer, who was born in Ukraine and speaks Russian, spent eleven years in the Israel Defense Forces, twelve years in Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office and 14 years at World ORT, the world’s leading Jewish educational organization.
The gathering in Budapest was notably addressed by Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, who said that “anti-Semitism today in Hungary is unacceptable, and we will show zero tolerance in regards to it.” Introducing Orbán, Ronald Lauder called on Hungary and the government to do more against growing anti-Semitism, notably coming from the extreme-right Jobbik party.
Mazsihisz President Péter Feldmájer said in his speech at the opening dinner: “I believe that the Jews of the world must unite their forces. This day also shows us that we are not alone, we are all listening to each other no matter where we may be living across the globe. The task we have is no little one to handle.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in his keynote address on Monday, which was received with a standing ovation by the delegates: “Anti-Semitism has no place neither in Berlin, nor in Budapest, nor anywhere else in Europe or in the world… We are firmly committed to protecting and nourishing Jewish life in our societies and to countering anti-Semitism across the globe. We have to tackle the root causes of anti-Semitism.”
Discussions about effective ways to combat the rise of neo-Nazi parties in Europe took center-stage in Budapest, and the Plenary Assembly adopted a resolution which called on Hungary “to recognize that Jobbik and its subsidiaries “pose a fundamental threat to Hungary’s democracy” and that “decisive action … must now be taken to take effective measures including by enacting and enforcing legislation, for the protection of all citizens and residents of this country, in particular vulnerable minorities such as the Roma and the Jews, against threats of violence, racist hate and insults and the denial of the Holocaust.”
The WJC also urged national leaders and legislators in Europe to join the 125 legislators from more than 40 countries in signing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism.
In another resolution, the delegates urged the international community to recognize the legitimate rights of Jewish refugees in the Middle East who were forced to flee their countries after 1948.
About World Jewish Congress
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) is the international organization representing Jewish communities in 100 countries to governments, parliaments and international organizations. The Plenary Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the organization. It meets every four years and elects the WJC officers. All affiliated Jewish communities are entitled to send a certain number of delegates, depending on the size of their Jewish population.