BRUSSELS — A fight is erupting over an upstart Chabad-dominated rabbinical organization that critics say is waging an intense political struggle to become the main Jewish representative to the European Union.
Critics say that the Center of European Rabbis, a fairly new organization that is associated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement, is attempting to supplant the Conference of European Rabbis, a veteran organization that has been representing the continent’s chief rabbis for half a century. Two weeks ago, the embattled Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, sided with the Chabad group, raising a few eyebrows at the E.U. and generating a storm in Brussels.
Those familiar with the clash say that the dispute centers on the question of who will represent the Jews in the E.U., since the position grants its holder power and influence throughout Europe. The organization with better connections to top E.U. officials presumably will be in a better position to win support and funding, and to influence E.U. policy and Jewish affairs. The Chabad-dominated organization, located only five minutes away from the office of E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana, was established by Italy-based members of the Hasidic movement in 2000. The organization’s director, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, said that his goal is to use his contacts with the E.U. to assist rabbis asking for help from all over Europe.
But leaders of the Conference of European Rabbis don’t think that their rival will stop at its stated objective. Sources close to the conference accused the Chabad organization of trying to get its foot permanently in the door of E.U. institutions in an effort to erode the conference’s standing as the representative of European rabbis — a step that, some critics of Chabad say, could lead to a rift among European Jewish communities.
The latest flap took place in the wake of a May 30 interfaith conference to which rabbis from the more established group, but not rabbis from the Chabad organization, were invited — an omission that led to Metzger’s involvement in the dispute.
The interfaith conference, which took place here, was organized by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and attended by the Dalai Lama. Four days before the conference, Metzger’s office sent a letter making a “special request that a representative of the Center of European Rabbis, an organization that cooperates closely with the chief rabbinate in Israel, be present at the conference.”
Metzger’s office said it intervened on behalf of Margolin’s group because that was the only Jewish organization that asked for its help. “If another organization had turned to us, we would have been happy to help,” Metzger’s office said in a statement.
The Conference of European Rabbis protested Metzger’s recent intervention, calling it inappropriate.
Two months ago, Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided to close an investigation of claims that Metzger accepted improper perks and double billed the Israeli government for living expenses. But Mazuz released a report calling for Metzger to resign as chief rabbi “in the face of deficiencies in his conduct.”