A Political Portrait of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress
28.04.2012, Communities of Eurasia
The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (hereinafter referred to as EAJC) immediately after its appearance on the international arena of Jewish life in 2001 attracted attention of those, who closely observed the life of the Jewish Diaspora since the objective of the Congress was to meet the needs of numerous and diverse Jewish communities of the region.
The appearance of the Congress was unexpected and inexplicable for many observers. However, the EAJC has a rather long history of its development on the background. It goes back to the period of rebirth of Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union as if out of nowhere.
The Soviet Jewry was the last big part of a big Jewish nation forcibly deprived of any ties with Israel or the world Jewry by the state power. One of the tasks of independent Jewish movement in the USSR in the 1960-1980s was to regain natural ties with their people. For many of its participants the only way to implement this objective was aliyah to Israel or emigration to Western countries. There were not many, who could foresee a dramatic collapse of the Soviet power and the breakup of the Soviet Union. The striving of Jewish activists in the USSR found response of Jewish leaders in Israel and in the Diaspora. In the 1970s the powerful public political movement for “rescue of Soviet Jews” aimed at the preservation of Jews of the Soviet Union as a part of the Jewish nation developed. Needless to say how very significant this movement was for the Jews living in the Soviet Union, particularly for the active part of them. However, the Soviet Jewry Movement, as it was called in English, meant a lot for Western Jews and for Israeli people. The very problem of Soviet Jews became the chief ideological and practical imperative tying them to the Jewry for two generations of Jewish young people in the Diaspora. Various Jewish groupings, organizations and religious strands united in their struggle for Soviet Jews. It goes without saying that both in the USSR and outside both movements were Zionist from the ideological point, i.e., they viewed solution of the problems the Soviet Jews faced in the aliyah. Therefore, this movement was often called movement for the freedom of emigration, which determined its remedial character and created the grounds for its connection with the dissident democratic movement in the USSR defending human rights including freedom of emigration.
By the middle 1970s the nature of the movement “for Soviet Jews” finally formed as Zionist, so nobody took into account that at that time the dominating number of Soviet Jews did not plan emigration, were afraid of it, and feared about their relatives even more, if they were going to take over this path. The idea that any form of Jewish national and religious life might be restored in the USSR seemed Utopian. Any activities aimed at the establishment of a dialogue with the Soviet power in this regard were considered to be detrimental since they might distract from the main task of putting pressure on the Soviet leadership in order to get freedom of emigration of Jews to Israel.
Though inside the Jewish movement in the USSR the idea of organization of Jewish life inside the country was not very popular, but it was promoted by a number of activists, particularly those, who belonged to the so-called “culture-based” strand. Thus, the author of these lines submitted a report to the symposium “Jewish culture in the USSR: the status and perspectives” dispersed by authorities back in 1976. This report reviewed possibilities of Jewish community life in the USSR. The first sociological poll of Soviet Jews, conducted within this symposium, detected existence of a big group of people, who were tying their future to the life in the Soviet Union, though were unwilling to lose ties with the Jewry.
Among various participants of the movement of Soviet Jews in the West some had to take into account a possibility of existence of a Jewish community in the USSR. This was in the first turn the World Jewish Congress (WJC) uniting Jewish communities of various countries of the world. This very organization became the first international Jewish structure that tried to establish relations with Soviet state authorities during the period of perestroika to not only obtain freedom of Jewish departure from the USSR, but also, to induce authorities to allow some legal forms of the Jewish community religious and national life inside the country. Back in autumn 1988 Izi Libler, leader of the Australian Jewry, who was and is president of the WJC, arrived in Moscow and jointly with the Soviet Ministry of Culture initiated establishment of the Mikhoels Jewish cultural center on the base of the existing Chamber Jewish Musical Theater. In February 1989 prominent leaders of the Jewish Diaspora arrived at the opening ceremony of this center in Moscow for the first time.
In December 1989 the first Congress of Jews of the USSR took place in Moscow. It declared creation of the first “Roof” organization of the Soviet Jewry, which was called the Vaad. The WJC delegation attended this congress, and this was the first time the question of the place that the Soviet Jewry, which opened and became free so unexpectedly, was to take in the family of Jewish communities of the world. It is significant that the Vaad program identified the objective of “reintegration of the Soviet Jewry into the world Jewry” to be its priority task. The Vaad leaders were invited to start negotiations about joining the WJC. However, the situation was far from easy. The end of 1989 was marked by the start of a mass exodus of Soviet Jews into emigration, which lead over 1.5 million Soviet Jews to other countries, first of all Israel, USA and later the FRG in under one and a half decades. Let us remind you that the start of a big wave of emigration falls on 1989, while that year the prevailing numbers of Jews leaving the country headed to America, rather than Israel. Right in autumn 1989 the Israeli diplomats managed to have the immigration rules of the USA changed. If before this change any Jew, who had left the USSR and arrived in Vienna with the documents issued for departure to Israel, could enter the USA as a refugee freely and without any obstacles, only those, who had first-level relatives living in America were granted entry to the country since October that year. The goal of this reform was clear – to turn the Jewish emigration movement that was growing stronger to Israel.
This goal was reached, and as we can remember, in 1990-1991 hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews became residents of Israel. The position of Israel and the Zionist establishment was unambiguous and it consisted in the fact that Jews were leaving the terrains of “one/sixth of mainland” to move – “repatriate” to their historical Motherland. The Israelites and the movement of Soviet Jews on the whole viewed anything that impeded this process as violation of the set tasks. Of course, emigration to Western countries, the so-called “neshira”, with which Israelites tried to fight without much success during the Soviet period, was believed to be the main impediment, but then the new Jewish movement in the USSR (the Vaad movement) declaring rebirth of the Jewish community in the USSR to be one of its goals also began to be viewed as one of such impediments. The Israeli and international Zionist organizations that had undertaken the responsibility for implementation of mass aliyah believed that the exodus of Soviet Jews would be completed within about ten years leaving only old people, who were not strong enough for emigration, and some occasional Jews, mostly assimilated, and, therefore, lost for the Jewish nation, behind. In this case the task of the organized world Jewry is to support old and weak people providing material assistance to them to help them live the rest of their life at their place of residence. It’s clear that this ideological prerequisite did not anticipate for active support of those, who strived to establish Jewish communities in the Union.
In spring 1991 Vaad joined the World Jewish Congress at the triumphant ceremony on behalf of Jews of the USSR. The “chair” for Soviet Jews that had been vacant for 70 years happened to be formally occupied, but the situation was not so simple or clear. The position of the USSR in the last year of its existence was believed to be extremely unstable and dangerous, and there were sufficient grounds for this belief, therefore, the world Jewry was trying to intensify its efforts directed at the total “evacuation” of all Jews. The Soviet community organizations emerging at this time were declared “communities in transition”, i.e., not quite law competent, but rather existing under the patronage of Israel and the world Zionist movement. There was some pressure put on the WJC with regards to not looking at Jewish organizations in the USSR as equal members of the organization.
Under these circumstances, when the first Jewish organizations were bound to fight for acknowledgment as best as they could, the issue of the place of Vaad within the WJC structure emerged. Already in the middle of 1990 the leaders of Vaad offered the World Jewish Congress to establish a new continental section along with already existing North American, Latin American, European and Israeli sections. This offer was rejected, and the Vaad position remained uncertain. In 1992, few months after the breakup of the USSR, stand-alone communities began to emerge in FSU republics that became independent states. The Vaad of the FSU existed for some time, but its influence became weaker. It was formally eliminated in 2001. The former close ties between the communities of FSU states also began to fall apart, and by the middle 1990s they were almost exclusively supported by personal relations between their leaders, who had been involved in the establishment of the Vaad few years before. The need of some form of unification of Jews on the FSU terrain, at least with the goal of “reintegration” into the world Jewry, was becoming evident. Therefore, back in 1991 the delegation of Soviet Jews declared the establishment of the Euro-Asian section of the WJC at the WJC congress, and few months later it was named the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. The author of these lines was elected its president. The EAJC enclosed communities of all CIS countries, except Turkmenistan, represented by an observer. It is also clear that communities of the Baltic Republics did not join the EAJC either since the Baltic States did not join the CIS.
The WJC had an ambivalent attitude to this decision. On one hand, it sort of recognized this union, but this mainly expressed in allowing time for discussions of delegates from “Euro-Asia” at its congresses. On the other hand, the WJC continued to regard the membership of communities from the FSU sort of provisional, as such that did not possess full rights. In the middle of the 1990s some of our communities undertook the path of integration with the European Jewry, which quite corresponded to general political programs of the post-soviet states striving to become “European” states. The Baltic communities were the first to join the European Jewish Congress (EJC). For them this act symbolized the end of their “dependence” on Moscow and “return to the European family of nations”. They were followed by community organizations of Ukraine, Byelorussia and Moldavia, and later even by communities of a number of Transcaucasian and Central Asian countries. In 1998 the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), the “roof” Russian Jewish organization established shortly before, also joined the EJC. This was a rather delicate situation of the “double citizenship”, when community organizations of various countries were choosing between various continental sections, when joining the WJC – EJC and the EAJC. Many were enlisted in few.
Today, summarizing the almost 10-year period of “European integration”, we may come to the conclusion that this process turned out to be non-constructive for the Jewish communities of CIS countries. Three circumstances determined the poor luck of the Jewish communities entering the European family. The first lies in the character of our Jewish identification, i.e., in our understanding of what “Jews” are. As is well known, in the former USSR we are regarded, and we regard ourselves as individual people, nation, even that we have our own religion. For any resident of the former Soviet Union the notion of “Jew’ stands in the synonymic line with such notions as “Russian”, “Tatar”, “Polish”, etc. Such understanding determines behavior of Soviet Jews in many situations to a great extent. Many hardships of emigration that our compatriots faced in Israel and Western countries were caused by the inconsistency between our understanding of what a Jew is and the understanding they dealt with in the societies that they were trying to integrate with. In the Western Diaspora the Jews and the society the live in perceive the Jewry as religious communal commonality. For a Parisian, for example, the notion of “Jew” is associated in the synonymic line with such words as “Catholic”, “Protestant”, “Muslim”, rather than “French” or “Spanish”. An American Jew has the nationality of “American”, “French” or “British”, but he is a “Jew” by religion like Western European Jews. The European Jewry indents to position itself in the new united Europe as a religious community. It is clear that the difference between the European and “Russian” forms of Jewish identification is big, and in practice the interface with European Jews happened to be not easy – they did not understand what we wanted and we often shrugged our shoulders looking at them.
The contemporary Jewish geopolitics became the second circumstance, perhaps no less important, though superficial with regards to Jewish life. By the late 1990s it became clear that Europe became aware of its new borders and was ready to stand up for them. This is not the old slogan of de Golle about the united Europe from the Atlantics to the Ural, but the set geopolitical reality of the European Union. Today the eastern border between Europe and “non-Europe” goes along the CIS border line. In the foreseeable future Europe will include Eastern Europe. Bulgaria and Romania are already in line for accession to the EU in 2007, and then later will come the turn of Yugoslavia and Albania. These dates are already being scheduled in the corridors of the EU. The CIS countries are not in line to accession to the EU or NATO in reality (however eager some of them might be). This circumstance also determines the situation of the Jewish communities of our countries with regards to the uniting fencing off Europe since Jewish communities of the Diaspora always represent an integral part of the societies of the countries they live in.
And finally, the third circumstance impeding the European integration lies in our non-competitiveness compared to well-organized communities of France and Great Britain dominating on the European Jewish arena.
This is to a great extent a result of the deep difference of the cultural character rather than just our inexperience and “youth”, though this factor also has a place. Soviet Jews have lived and formed in the cultural and linguistic environment ultimately different from the Western European environment. Therefore, three significant political and historical and cultural factors lead the CIS Jewish communities to the new understanding of the need to find their place in the world Jewry at the start of the new millennium.
This actually happened in autumn 2001, during a regular congress of the WJC in Jerusalem. A big delegation of Jewish communities of the CIS countries, or “Euro-Asia”, as it was officially named in the program of the congress, decided to establish an independent electoral curia for election to the leading bodies of the WJC and confirm the actuality of the EAJC thereof. Iosif Zisels, President of Vaad, Ukraine, Alexandr Mashkevich, President of the Jewish Congress of Kazakhstan, and the author of these lines, President of Vaad, Russia, were elected to the executive committee of the WJC by secret vote. Few months later, on 5 March 2002, on the symbolic day of Stalin’s death, the EAJC Congress gathered in Moscow and elected Alexandr Mashkevich the new President of this organization.
The new impulse that the said events gave to the EAJC again made the territorial issue urgent – where should the borders of our region lie? At first glance the answer is very simple. As long as this story with the EAJC relates to the search of the ways of reintegration of the Soviet Jewry into the world Jewry, the borders should naturally coincide with the borders of the former USSR. In practice, the problem happened to be more complicated. We’ve mentioned above the Baltic countries, whose little Jewish communities followed the governments of their countries clearly determining themselves as a part of Europe, began to fight for their place in the new united European community. Therefore, the western border line of the region left the Baltic countries beyond the bounds of the Euro-Asian community. However, the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, of the former countries of the socialist community, present no minor problem. The thing is, the international Jewish discourse began to widely use the notion of “Eastern Europe” including the former USSR and such dependent on it countries as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, in the middle of the 1990s. After the communities of our region began to join the “roof” European structures the international Jewish organizations, such as the Joint American Distribution Committee (Joint), Jewish Agency for Israel (Sohnut), organization for Material Claims of the Jewish people to Germany (the Claims Conference), the World Jewish Restitution organization (WGRO) and others, began to place former Soviet Jews and their Eastern European fellow nationals into one group of the “Eastern Europeans” within the “European Jewry”.
I will illustrate this situation with one practical example. For a long time there were no representatives from Europe in the WGRO, i.e., the very communities that were destroyed by the Nazi, and for the return of whose community property this organization was to fight for, actually. The WJC was assumed to represent communities of all countries. In the late 1990s two competing “roof” organizations of European Jews – the EJC and the European Council of Jewish communities (ECJC), being under the influence of the Joint, claimed their rights for representation in this very important organization and involvement in the decision making process. Both organizations were stating that they include the whole Europe to as far as the Pacific Ocean, including the Pamirs and the Tien Shan. The WJRO leaders wisely decided to provide one vote for them to share this one vote between them and appoint within this vote a representative of some “united Eastern Europe”. This latter place remained vacant for a quite clear reason. In 1998 leaders of all eastern European communities got together in Saloniki to discuss how much interested they were the establishment of a joint Eastern European committee for restitution that would undertake a great deal of work related to preparation of the restitution process and stand up for the interests in this respect before the European and world Jewry. There was a voting, and its results showed that all (but Polish) Eastern European communities were against such union, while all post-Soviet countries, including the Baltic ones, were for it. The unification did not take place, but the very fact of this voting clearly showed no existing real political unit enclosing all Eastern European countries either in the Jewish or in the common context. Moreover, such union, if any, was not in the interest of big Jewish communities, Russian, in particular, whose interests, therefore, would be equaled to the interests of rather small Jewish communities of the countries of the former socialist camp.
This circumstance was also among the factors promoting renewal of the EAJC. However, one should not think that the problem of Jewish communities of Eastern Europe exhausts here. The historical ties between us are rather deep, in many cases (Poland, Slovakia, Romania) Eastern European Jews are successors of the same Eastern Ashkenazi as we are. Their recent ancestors spoke Yiddish, lived in small towns, in short, they belonged to the same culture that the majority of Jews of Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia belonged to. Besides, the leaders fighting for independence of such countries as Ukraine, Byelorussia, Lithuania, including Jews, often thought about themselves in the context of Eastern Europe. The tribute to this idea was admission of the Jewish community of Bulgaria, as the country having close ties with the USSR in the past and standing close to Russia and Ukraine to the maximum extent in the cultural respect (close language, Christianity, as religion of the majority of population, etc.) to the EAJC. However, with this only exception, the western border of the EAJC coincides with the up-to-date and scheduled eastern borders of the EU and NATO.
The eastern border of our region was even lass clear. It lay for sure along the Pacific border of the Russian Far East. However, this very circumstance determined the vicinity of Russian Jews to small and known little Jewish communities of Japan, China and South Eastern Asia. The latter, like the rest of the Oceania region, traditionally existed in the sphere of attention of the large Jewish community of Australia. All of these countries in the Jewish regard were located on the remote periphery of the organized part of the world Jewry, the foundation of which lies on the “Jerusalem – New York axis”. Like Jews of the former USSR, Jews of not only Japan and the Philippines, but also Australia and New Zealand never established any regional unions, and the Jewish world hardly remembered about their existence at times. Same lie Jews of the CIS they felt themselves as stepsons of the Jewish world to some extent. Therefore, the invitation to join the EAJC found response among Jewish communities in India, Japan, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. The renewed EAJC supported the establishment of the Society of the Mongol-Jewish Interface in Mongolia, which undertook the function of representation of a small number of Jews in this country. Thus, along with the influential and large Jewish community of Australia, the EAJC enclosed the Jewish communities of Asia and Oceania, which had insignificant and weak ties with the rest of the world.
As a matter of fact, the largest Jewish communities of Asia live in Turkey today (about 20 thousand people) and Iran (about 15 thousand people). The situation in Iran closely reminds the Soviet situation – Jews are formally recognized as a tolerant religious minority (dzimmi) in the Iranian society and even have their representation in the Mejlis, but Iranian Jews have no ties with the Jewish nation; they are not represented in one international organization. The EAJC leadership is trying to establish some contacts with Jews of Iran, but with no visible effect as yet. As for the Turkish Jewish community, it has provided no positive response to our invitation to join the EAJC since it is fighting for a place in European structures, which is certainly the consequence of the intention of the government of this country to become a part of the European community. However, there have been good ties established with the Turkish community: they occasionally take part in the EAJC activities as observers. No Chinese communities, or the small, but influential Hong Kong community, have joined the EAJC as yet. The Hong Kong has had contacts with the Jewish world through the British Commonwealth of Nations, also having a Jewish section. Now the negotiations regarding possible annexation of small communities of Singapore and Thailand are in the process.
The EAJC interface with the largest communities of the region – Russian and Ukrainian, was also quite a problem. It is well known that in these countries, as well as in all large Jewish communities in the world, there is no existing single uniting center. It often happens that large Jewish organizations compete with one another for influence in the community and access to resources. The EAJC, never trying to replace communities of certain countries, was still interested in the maximal representation. All large “roof” Jewish organizations of the region have received invitations to become co-founders of the EAJC as the regional coordination center, and, if they give their consent, send their representatives to the General Council of the EAJC. In Russia two of three main “roof” organizations – Vaad of Russia and the RJC, responded to this invitation. In Ukraine the Vaad Ukraine and the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine became co-founders. Other countries are represented by existing main “roof” Jewish organizations. Besides communities of individual countries, also international unions conducting their activities in our region, have joined the EAJC. They include the Indo-Pacific Jewish Congress, uniting small communities of South Eastern Asia and Oceania, the World Congress of Mountainous Jews, the World Congress of Georgian Jews, the Association of Jewish community centers of the CIS, the Association of CIS Makkabi clubs, the Association of former prisoners of ghettos and concentration camps of the CIS, the Center of scientific workers and teachers of Judaic in higher educational institutions of the CIS and Baltia “Sefer”, etc. The geographical and organizational membership of the EAJC developed in recent two years made it the most representative Jewish organization of our region, in essence, the only one that actually unites the Jewish communities despite their largeness or religious or political profiles.
The idea of the total inevitable exodus of Jews of the former USSR prevailing in the past century are not currently included in the official programs of even Zionist Jewish organizations, like, for example, the World Zionist Organization or the Jewish Agency for Israel. The World Jewish Congress particularly does not share these ideas. The renascence of Jewish communities in our region has become a reality that nobody argues with. Based on this reality, in 2003 the WJC officially recognized the EAJC as one of five continental sections. However, this does not mean that EAJC is just a subdivision of the WJC on the territory of Euro-Asia. The EAJC was initially established thanks to the initiative of community leaders of CIS countries, and it emerged rather despite than thanks to the World Jewish Congress. Therefore, the EAJC is an independent regional coordination organization giving the World Jewish Congress an opportunity to work with our region and execute its function of a coordinator in the world scale.
The EAJC international contacts are actively developing in the world. Close relations have been established with the government of Israel and Knesset, regular consulting meetings are held with the Israel leadership. A number of programs are implemented jointly with the largest American Jewish organizations. Particularly friendly relations tie us with the Conference of presidents of the main Jewish organizations, American Jewish committee, National conference for Soviet Jews. The EAJC cooperates with both European “roof” structures of the EJC and the EUJO, maintains ties with Jewish organizations of Latin America and South Africa. Practical interface with the Federation of Jewish communities of CIS (FJC CIS), and the religious union acting under the guidance of the Hasid movement HaBaD-Lubavich has been developed. Though the FJC is not represented in the General Council, the EAJC member communities have executed an individual agreement with the Federation, jointly appearing as co-founders of the important international organization of the World Congress of Russian-speaking Jews (WCRSJ), which set the goal of maintaining ties between various communities of recent residents of the USSR. The Coordination Council of WCRSJ has our representatives.
Having developed as described above, the EAJC understands itself as a public organization resolving community and political tasks. The main community program is aimed at the support of ties and contacts between various Jewish communities within the EAJC. This is executed by various methods: meetings, visits, co-participation in decision making processes on the level of the General Council, but to a much bigger extent – through joint programs of educational, religious, cultural character, in which representatives of more than one community take part. The EAJC does not provide financial assistance to support community programs implemented just in one country believing that this is a responsibility and obligation of the national Jewish communities of these countries. We, nevertheless, provide various types of support to small and weak communities that are not able to establish the programs of providing services to its members.
Support of Israel occupies a special place in the program of the Congress. It is based on recognition of the Jewish state as a center of the Jewish world and on the principle of support of democratically elected government of Israel. This means that we, like any respectable large Jewish organization of the Diaspora, do not stand out against the policy of the government of Israel, unless it violates the basic values of the Jewish and the world civilization. At the same time, we are not directly involved in the political process of Israel and do not directly support Israel political parties. Our support, first of all, has a humanitarian character and is also aimed at all possible development of political, economic and cultural ties and friendship between Israel and the countries of our region.
Addressing the inner problems that our communities face, we need to point out our concern that anti-Semitism still presents a serious problem creating threat to individual Jews and the Jewish communities on the whole. The EAJC, being the main Jewish organization of the region, carefully watches over the tendencies of development of anti-Semitism in various countries, maintains contacts with the state structures meant to comply with the law and not allow fomentation of hatred and international and interreligious animosity, interfaces with international organizations attracting their attention to this problem ailing for Jews. In the recent two years we’ve prepared annual reviews of the status of anti-Semitism in the region and take part if work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which started development of the strategy of opposition to anti-Semitism on the interstate level last year. It should be noted that anti-Semitism continues to have relatively traditional character in such countries as Russia and Ukraine and has not changed much lately. Its carriers are the right radicals and neo-Nazi, as well as religious fundamentalists, as usual. Our region has not been touched by the so-called new anti-Semitism, broadly spread in Western Europe within the latest four years. Its driving force is left radicalism, anti-globalism, anti-Zionism and Islamism.
On the whole, our political task is development of relations of Jewish communities of our region with the Jewish world, i.e., execution of the above mentioned reintegration of the Soviet Jewry into the Jewish world. Implementation of the programs aimed at the establishment of harmony and accord in the relations with the societies, of which we are a part, and the states where we live seems to be no less important. Of course, the life of a Jewish community in the Diaspora is not always filled with harmony and accord. Our history knows a lot more tragedies than fair days. Even more so, we try to use whatever positive we have in our current life and lay the basics of a constructive dialogue with the partners, to whom our trust may be darkened by the events happening in the world, particularly by what the latest historical and philosophical works and even more so, the world mass media call the “confrontation of civilizations”. This term was launched by Samuel Huntington, a prominent American thinker, in the early 1990s. In his opinion, the global conflicts will have a cultural nature in the future rather than an ideological or economic character, as they have before. They will happen between various civilizations, so the deep-laid contradictions between them will dominate in the global policy. The events of 11 September 2001 seemed to confirm this thought, and the major line of break-up, as it seems to many people, has occurred between the world of Islam and the western civilization, which some people call Judaic/Christian.
A significant part off communities within the EAJC is in the countries where Islam is the dominating religion of the main population. They are, in the first turn, the countries of Central Asia and Transcaucasia where still a big number of Jews reside. However, other communities, such as Russian, Ukrainian, Indian, Australian, Bulgarian, are located in the countries with numerous Muslim population or border on big Muslim countries. In Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and a number of other countries of the region Jews have lived in the Muslim surrounding for many centuries and established peaceful and harmonious relations with the surrounding population. They have gained great experience of mutual understanding and mutual communication in all life processes – from everyday to public and political life.
It is important to realize that the Islamic world is huge, extremely diverse and does not limit to just Arabic people or Eastern Mediterranean area. A bigger part of Muslims of the world reside in South or South Eastern Asia, and Indonesia is the country with more Muslims than wherever else. Just in India there are likely to be more Muslims that in all Arabic countries. The Central Asian region belongs to one of the most ancient parts of the world where various specific forms of the Islamic civilization have developed. These countries have not been directly involved in the Middle East conflict, and, it seems, are not interested in instigation of destructive confrontations with the rest of mankind. Even more so, through many centuries the Islamic civilization in this region has developed forms of rather constructive interface with representatives of other religions, including interface with Jews.
It is true that a new aggressive force, which has emerged recently, and which may be called Islamist, but not Muslim, and which tries to instigate unprecedented hatred and war with the western countries exists in the world now. His force is a carrier of an open and undisguised anti-Semitic ideology and therefore, presents enormous threat for the Jewish nation. But should we call radical fanatics legitimate representatives of the Islamic civilization? Don’t they carry a bigger threat to the Muslim people and Muslim states? Since after the fall of the Talib regime in Afghanistan there are no more states in the world that would openly declare solidarity with Islamists. The prevailing majority of states with the Muslim majority of population realizes the danger of Islamism and tries to suppress it within their borders as much as they can.
We have proceeded from the idea that Islamism is not a form of the Islamic civilization, but vice versa, its distortion, and violation of fundamental values, common for all global civilizations. Like the crusades or inquisition, mercilessly suppressing any forms of different thinking, are never viewed nowadays as a normal form of Christian ideology, the Islamism should be perceived as the ideology contradicting the values of the world religions, including the Islam. The basis of our effort to understand this phenomenon is our confidence that civilizations can unite for the common protection of what they recognize as their values.
Of course, this past is not easy, since numerous factors of momentary political or economic confrontation, various conflicts, occurring in the current world, including the tragic confrontation on the Holy Land, where Islamism hampers the peaceful resolution of the fight for land between two nations impede the process. However, a constructive dialogue is necessary to reach understanding between two different civilizations. Spiritual and political leaders need to reach an agreement regarding what can be determined as common values for all.
This understanding of problems of the modern world makes the basis of EAJC activities related to organization of an interconfessional, international and intercivilizational dialogue that we view as the priority direction of our work. Such program started from the meeting of a delegation of the Euro-Asian Rabbi Council with leaders of the Religious Headquarters of Muslims of Kazakhstan in late 2002. Israeli rabbis also took part in it. The meeting ended with execution of the first dialogue-related memorandum of this kind, where the parties stepped closer to the articulation of common positions. In February 2003 the EAJC, the Kazakh MFA and the government took part in the First International Conference of Peace and Accord in Alma-Ata, the participants of which were state leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Afghanistan, as well as a representative delegation of the EAJC and American Jewry. Based on the results of this Conference the fundamental documents containing the basic principles of the dialogue between Muslim states and the world Jewry enabling to continue taking efforts in this direction were published. In autumn 2003 the EAJC took part in organization of a Congress of the world and traditional national religions in Astana, where unprecedented contacts of chief rabbi of Israel Jonah Metzger, who arrived in the Kazakh capital at the invitation of the EAJC, and the biggest religious leaders of the world Islam took place. Now the EAJC is actively involved in preparation of the Second Conference of Peace and Accord, which will probably take place in one of North African countries. It should be noted that the efforts of EAJC related to organization of an intercivilizational dialogue meet full understanding and support of President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and the Kazakh government.
Today, we shall repeat, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress is recognized as the most serious and influential regional Jewish organization uniting the Jewish communities of the CIS and the Asian-Pacific region. It has established business relations with Israel and all Jewish communities of the world, and with all large Jewish organizations. Our representatives work in all management bodies of the World Jewish Congress, World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency for Israel and a number of other big Jewish international associations. The main objectives that the EAJC is working on associate with development of ties and interface between the recently uncoordinated Jewish communities of the Euro-Asian region; support and coordination of efforts to resolve specific problems of community development; integration of Jewish communities of Euro-Asia into the world Jewry; development of interface with power structures of the states where our communities live; organization of an intercivilizational, interreligious and international dialogue; opposition to anti-Semitism; humanitarian and general political support of Israel.