Jewish leaders from across Europe gathered in Brussels on Thursday to mark the historic opening of the European Jewish Parliament — a new initiative from the European Jewish Union seeking to represent the continent’s Jewish communities. The inauguration of the European Jewish Parliament was attended by 120 MPs who were elected via an online ballot that was held in late 2011 with over 400,000 votes cast. Parliament members include rabbis, politicians, professionals, and cultural figures from many European countries. The European Jewish Parliament is expected to hold its first General Assembly in April.
The inaugural meeting of the 120 elected members of the first ever European Jewish Parliament (EJP), described as a new and innovative forum to voice the thoughts, beliefs and ideas as well as concerns of European Jews, took place on Thursday at the European Parliament building in Brussels.
The Parliament members, who represent 47 countries, have been elected by more than 400,000 people from East, Central and Western Europe who voted online and showed an unprecedented interest and demand across the continent for a new, fresh, up-to-date, transparent and democratically elected organization in Europe, says the European Jewish Union (EJU), the organization which initiated the creation of this parliament.
Among the elected MEJPs are several well-known leading figures of European Jewry such as Pierre Besnainou from France, Cefi Jozef Camhi from Turkey, Nathan Gelbart from Germany, Oliver Mischon from the UK, Joel Rubinfeld from Belgium, as well as an important number of young emerging personalities and leaders.
In her opening address to the inaugural meeting on behalf of the European Parliament, MEP Antonyia Parvanova hailed the historic meeting which she said will mark the future of the Jews in Europe and beyond”.
“I am proud and honoured to be in front of all of you today. For the first time, we have here gathered in this room the representatives of organizations representing more than 3.5 millions Jewish citizens across our continent,” she said.
She continued: “For the first time in history, the European Jewish people is coming today as one man or I should say as one assembly standing for one cause. »
She stressed that the new established European Jewish Parliament will be « the voice representing and empowering the Jewish community in Europe. »
« Debates and discussions are always a driving force in family and there can be sometime differences of opinion. But I am confident that the European Jewish Parliament will be a strong voice which will contribute positively to the European development. »
She ended her speech with a traditional Jewish blessing. “I light the candle, symbol of peace. I light the candle of this assembly and of the first session of the European Jewish Parliament” and with the Hebrew words “Mazal Tov” (Good Luck).
Tomer Orni, CEO of the European Jewish Union (EJU), the organization which initiated the founding of the new parliament, declared: « The vision of a European Jewish Parliament is now a reality. This is an historic event as the new parliament is a major milestone for Jewish representation in Europe. We are deeply convinced that the parliament will be a positive force in meeting the changing conditions and big challenges the European Jewry is facing. »
The members of the parliament are individuals with various backgrounds who are respected in various Jewish communities. Their common denominator is their Jewish identity and passion for furthering Jewish interests on an international scale.
« The fact that the European Jewish Parliament is gathering in the same building as the European Parliament, the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union (EU), is « more than symbolic, » said Joel Rubinfeld from Belgium, a former president of the umbrella group of Belgian Jewish organizations, who was chosen to co-chair the new parliament together with Vadim Rabinovich, EJU Vice-President. They will lead the works towards the Parliament’s first General Assembly.
Rubinfeld stressed that the challenges “which concern nothing less than the future and the place of 3 million European Jews in their respective countries are huge.”
He mentioned anti-Semitism, the delegitimization of Israel but also the promotion of Jewish values and opening to other communities among these challenges.
“But after today’s meeting, I am confident that we can meet these challenges,” he said.
The idea of a European Jewish Parliament first came from Israeli President Shimon Peres who predicted the success of this new structure.
The Parliament is headquartered in Brussels where the annual regular General Assemblies will be held.
A Parliament Constitution will be prepared during the first year.
The inauguration of the European Jewish Parliament coincided with the visit to Brussels of a delegation of 40 leading members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations led by its Executive Vice Chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein.
The delegation held talks with EU, NATO and Belgian officials, and discussed issues such as anti-Semitism in Europe, Iran and Syria.
European and American Jewish community leaders were to join the members of the European Jewish Parliament to celebrate together the launch of the parliament at a gala dinner Thursday night in the presence of Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Reynders, and German MEP Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.