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The dangerously weak ‘defenders of Western values’


In context of escalating religious tensions internationally, world leaders must do more…

Religious tension is one of the main drivers of contemporary conflict, yet global leaders woefully neglect this issue in international diplomacy, focusing rather on political engagement and conventional nation state politics. In 2016, when religious wars are raging across the world, it is time for a change of tack that will meaningfully address the root cause of global insecurity. This change depends on courageous leadership, not just from those in government, but also from international religious organisations, which are best place to tackle this ever-growing threat.

Important lessons can be learned from examples of the weak governance of such organisations. The haphazard leadership of world Jewry is sowing seeds of instability that will eventually grow into serious security concerns for the entire international community. Massive migration from traditionally antisemitic societies has whipped up an antisemitic and anti-Israeli frenzy throughout Europe. Even many purported «leftists» are not unsympathetic to the mood, and that is not just the maverick anarchists among them. Members of the altogether respectable British Labour establishment and even ruling Swedish Social Democrats are cozying up to blatant Islamists. A dangerous wave of antisemitism is sweeping across a continent, yet no global action has been taken.

The US Presidential elections provide many lessons in how political leadership can tackle social and cultural tension. The US has traditionally been the guardian of international security and democratic freedoms, having paid dearly over two world wars as it came to Europe’s aid. Both main parties’ frontrunners have publicly vowed to fight Islamic radicalism and maintain the time-tested alliance with Israel. Both the Clinton and Trump families have personal connections with the Jewish community in the US.

All the same, as the election campaign hits fever pitch with the fierce jockeying for the Jewish vote, the familiar, wary – if not suspicious – Republican attitude to Jews and Jewish community interests becomes palpable. One has only to think of Trump supporters’ recent smear campaign against New Republic female journalist Julia Ioffe, in which her Jewish origins were pointedly emphasised. Of course, Donald Trump has a long way to go to match his notorious fellow Republican, Barry Goldwater, who ran for President in the 60’s as a populist and ardent anti-Semite. The real question, though is who are the people standing behind the Republican nominee and how will this influence their leadership capabilities? Amazingly one of those is the head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, a long-time Republican donor.

As another vitally important world leader, one would imagine that the head of the World Jewish Congress would take a balanced, sensible stance, securing assurances from Presidential hopefuls that Jewish interests will be truly safe in the US, Europe and other parts of the world. This is unlikely to be achieved by backing one candidate alone, or indeed a single party, the way WJC President Ronald Lauder has consistently done.

A partisan alignment for an international organisation makes it incapable of global leadership, and it is for partly this reason – and partly the totalitarian organisational structure, which sees questionable elections held in secret and reportedly undemocratic processes re-elect the same leadership year on year – that the role of the WJC is under increased scrutiny. The absence of political neutrality, or indeed democratic processes, is a cause for real concern, especially given the influence of the WJC in international affairs.

Another cause for concern is the blatant self-interest in which Mr Lauder acts. Though his rhetoric promotes the values of democracy and freedom, his track record contradicts this to an alarming extent. For instance, the well known claims of his opportunistic and shady involvement in the media in Eastern Europe. Today, Mr Lauder’s business partner, Adrian Sârbu, who, together with Lauder, founded the scandalous Media Pro company, is currently under investigation, and, in the admission of many independent non-profit organizations, Sârbu and Lauder «are sapping the very bases of democratic development and freedom of the press in developing countries.»

In addition to Lauder the other key figure is World Jewish Congress Chief Executive Robert Singer. His voice understandably carries a lot of weight at the WJC, given that he controls the finances. And he who controls the finances has the last say in crucial decisions of WJC. Indeed, since time immemorial, it’s not the President who rules; it the one running the counting house. However, it is not merely the money that does the talking in this instance. Mr Singer has a degree of legitimacy as he, the experienced campaigner and fighter for the Jewish cause, far overshadows the WJC President, who has never been particularly passionate or pro-active in combating antisemitism. It would seem that Mr Lauder is the mouthpiece, but Mr Singer is the brains behind the operation.

This disunity of leadership and failing of governance – while Europe is still reeling from the monstrous consequences of Islamist terror, and US presidential candidates are vying with one another to put forward proposals for a reasonable settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – is unacceptable, and significantly weakens the West in its quest for security and stability. Furthermore, it is dividing the global Jewish community at a time when it should be working together for the continued peace and stability that was fought so hard for.

We must ask why Mr Lauder so vehemently clings to a role that he is not only unfit for, but for which he has no genuine personal interest. To fight for a cause as noble as the Jewish people, a passion is not merely desired, but essential. Mr Singer’s motivation is clear in this respect. We might find some explanation in the murky past of Mr Lauder, whose Hungarian family are alleged to have collaborated with the Nazis. A shameful past for anyone, but a Jewish immigrant in New York, as Mr Lauder was, this history would have been simply unacceptable. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility to conclude that his motivation to lead the WJC was an attempt to distance himself from the horrors of his family’s past. It is unfortunate that his personal shame has become world Jewry’s cross to bear, as his weak leadership continues to undermine the effectiveness of the organisation.

The credibility of the WJC leadership matters because it is not merely heads of states, or those who lead our multilateral organisations, who are responsible for addressing the causes of contemporary conflict. In failing to champion the needs of world Jewry, the World Jewish Congress leadership is neglecting its duty of care to the Jewish people and undermining global security. Stronger leadership and a non-partisan commitment to the cause will be essential to the future success of the organisation, but more importantly, to sustaining peace in the world today.

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