BRUSSELS (EJP) --- Moshe Kantor, president of the Russian Jewish Congress, was elected President of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) for a two-year term by its general assembly Tuesday in Brussels.
The 53-year-old Kantor, got 55 votes out of 87 delegates from 40 Jewish communities throughout Europe.
The Russian industrialist defeated the EJC's outgoing president, French Pierre Besnainou, who got 30 votes. Two delegates abstained.
The number of votes for each country is proportional to its Jewish population. The largest communities are France (13 votes), Russia (7), UK (6), Ukraine (3), and Germany (3).
The general assembly took place in a Brussels hotel.
It is the first time that a representative from an Eastern European country is elected at the head of the Jewish pan-European body. The precedent presidents were either French, German, British or Italian.
Kantor, who is also president of the European Jewish Fund, has vowed to change the EJC's priorities and to unite the diverse Jewish communities in Europe.
He told the EJC’s general assembly that he is "a great believer in European Jewry" and that the organisation needs a "deep vision."
“This is a critical period for European Jewry and I am honored to have been elected to this position of immense responsibility,” he said.
“There are many issues to address which concern all of the European communities in different ways," he said.
Kantor, whose close association with Russian president Vladimir Putin has been questioned by some delegates, said that European Jewry is facing many challenges: assimilation, conversion, anti-Semitism, concern about the threat posed to Israel, especially the Iranian nuclear and terror.
"The game is not over because I am a great believer in European jewry. Together we can overcome all our challenges in a very systematically and profesionnal way," he said.
"I will never compromise with the security of the Jews in Europe and with the security of the state of Israel."
A team of vice-presidents
He stressed that as president of the European Jewish Congress he will depart from what he called the "one-man show" of his predecessor.
"I will appoint a team of vice-presidents with goals and responsilities for each of them "to make the European Jewish Congress a dominant force in protecting and nurturing Jewish life in Europe, and to offer our strong support for the State of Israel.”
Among others, Kantor is likely to name a vice-president to deal with the European Union institutions and open an EJC office in Brussels. Charlotte Knoblauch, current president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, could take over the post, an informed source told EJP.
Flo Kaufmann, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, was elected chairman of the EJC’s Board of Governors.
Lauder: need for unity
Ronald Lauder, the recently elected president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), who attended the Brussels general assembly, stressed in a speech that the election was not between Eastern and western Europe.
Russian Moshe Kantor (R), elected new president of the European Jewish Congress, attends a press conference in a Brussels hotel Tuesday 26 June with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.
"Time has come for unity in a period where we are in a great peril because anti-Semitism is on the rise as well as Islamic fundamentalism, and Israel is under siege". "We have enough people to fight against. We don’t have to fight between ourselves," he said.
He also stressed the importance of education and of relations with other religions.
He announced that he received a "wonderful" letter from Morrocon King Mohammed VI in which he calls for strengthened relations between Jews and Moslims.
The EJC is affiliated to the WJC.
"I am delighted that Moshe Kantor has been chosen to lead the EJC during the challenging years ahead. His broad vision for a stronger Jewish Europe, together with his impressive programs and events on behalf of European Jewry, are a strong platform for success in enhancing Jewish standing in Europe," Lauder said.
"I look forward to working harmoniously with him to invigorate world Jewry with a sense of pride and accomplishment.”
An industrialist, space entrepreneur and philanthropist, Moshe Kantor is chairman of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation.
Until this presidential election, he was the Chairman of the EJC Board of Governors.
Born in Moscow, he holds a PhD in spacecraft automatic control and an honorary doctorate from the Tel Aviv University.
He is the son of a Jewish Red Army soldier from Zaporusia in Ukraine. He lost the majority of his family in the Holocaust.
The author of more than 30 scientific works and inventions, is one of the most respected chief executives in the production sector in Russia.
For several years, he has chaired the coordinating board of the Acron Holding, one of the biggest Russian fertilizer producers.
Jewish diaspora activity
Particularly active in Jewish diaspora affairs in Russia and Europe, Kantor helped to open synagogues and Jewish cultural centres in Veliky Novgorod, Russia, and in Geneva.
“Eastern European Jewry doesn’t want to be in the shadow or under the patronage of some Western European communities. They want to be listened to and respected,” Kantor declared while campaigning for the EJC top.
He founded the World Holocaust Forum Foundation which organized the international forum “Let My People Live” in 2005 in Krakow, Poland, an event dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
One year later a second forum was organised in Kiev, Ukraine, to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, in presence of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko.
His European Jewish Fund organized last May in Luxembourg a world meeting of experts on nuclear proliferation which drew some controversy in Israel.
Asked about his close association with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kantor said Tuesday:"He doesn't say that he is associated with me."
Living in Moscow, Geneva and Herzliya, Israel, Kantor is married and has two children