Facing a troubling surge in anti-Semitism in Europe, the Anti-Defamation League has entered a partnership with a powerful, and at the same time controversial, European Jewish organization.
ADL announced on January 27 that it had signed an agreement with the European Jewish Congress that would “heighten ADL’s relations with European Jewish communities at a time when rising anti-Semitism and security are of paramount concern.”
Critics, however, point to the partner chosen by the venerable American organization, specifically to its leader, Moshe Kantor, a Russian billionaire, as a source of concern, given his close ties with Russia’s authoritarian president, Vladimir Putin, and with other oligarchs surrounding him.
It is the first major move taken by Jonathan Greenblatt, who assumed the helm of the ADL as national director and CEO after a three-decades-long era defined by his predecessor, Abraham Foxman.
“I’ve only been in this position for six months, but I think it is incumbent on me to do all I can to battle these phenomena of radical Islam on the one hand and of right-wing parties gaining ground on the other hand,” Greenblatt told the Forward in a January 28 interview.
ADL’s expansion into Europe, Greenblatt said, is driven by rising incidents of anti-Semitism in France and other Western European countries, and by the gains made recently in France by right-wing extremist political parties.
“I deeply believe that working in coalitions makes us grow and that we can learn from our compatriots in Europe,” Greenblatt said. “We don’t intend to open offices in Europe. We’d rather build coalitions with the communities and benefit from their insight.”
Kantor, in a written statement to the Forward, said the partnership was a “natural outcome” of the two groups’ work in recent years.
“We will work together to create and craft common messages for decision-makers on both continents which could assist with both European decision-makers visiting the US and American decision-makers visiting Europe,” Kantor said, adding that this cooperation “will also allow us to share the concerns that we hear while meeting with officials and produce a better coordination between Jewish organizations across the Atlantic.”
ADL and EJC have signed a memorandum of understanding, although funding for joint programs has not yet been announced.
Up till now, ADL’s only full-fledged office outside the United States has been in Israel. But the American Jewish community is already deeply involved in Europe, mainly through the work of the American Jewish Committee, which has a network of global offices and has cultivated ties with European leaders for many years. The World Jewish Congress, which is based in the United States and has historically been led by Americans, also plays a key role in advocating on behalf of European Jews.
Neither of these groups was willing to comment on the ADL’s new move. But one source involved in Jewish life, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to avoid hurting his relations with ADL, said: “There are so many actors now in Europe. Who needs a new one now, and what will the new actor bring that other actors don’t already bring?” The source attributed the ADL’s new European partnership to “organizational ego” and argued that it would not be effective.
Greenblatt forcefully rejected these claims, calling it “rather silly” to accuse the partnership of ineffectiveness before it had taken any action. “EJC will be able to benefit from ADL’s expertise and experience in many areas, including security, law enforcement, hate crimes, hate on the Internet and religious freedom. So it is really a win-win,” he said.
But other questions relate to the ADL’s chosen partner for this venture.
EJC, founded in 1986, has been led since 2007 by Kantor, a Russian-born oligarch who now resides in London. Kantor was elected in January to a third term as EJC president in an uncontested vote. He made his fortune, estimated at $2.7 billion, by purchasing major fertilizer producers after the fall of the Soviet Union.
A February 1 article in Haaretz depicted Kantor as such a close ally to Putin that he even agreed to consider a proposal by the Russian leader to resettle Jews in Russia. “They should come here, to Russia. We are ready to accept them,” Putin told Kantor at a January 19 meeting with EJC leaders, referring to Jews fearful of anti-Semitism in Europe.
“We will certainly discuss it at the congress,” Kantor responded, according to a transcript of the meeting. “I hope we will support you.”
The image of Putin, recently described by a senior U.S. Treasury official, Adam Szubin, as a “picture of corruption,” so close at Kantor’s side raises questions for some, especially in view of White House presidential spokesman Josh Earnest’s quick support for Szubin’s view as one that “best reflects the administration’s view.”
“No one is really close to Putin as an equal,” the Jewish communal source critical of the move said. “What this means is that [Kantor] is under Putin’s thumb.”
A spokesperson for EJC rejected claims that Kantor has special ties with Putin, saying, “Dr. Kantor, in his capacity as EJC president, has a good professional working relations with leaders and senior officials from the 42 nations under the EJC mandate, including Russian President Putin, as the leader of the largest country and the second largest Jewish community on the continent.”
Greenblatt sought to distinguish between ADL’s partnership with EJC, which is a representative group of European communities, and the individual heading the organization. “The organization is more than Moshe Kantor,” he said. Greenblatt would not comment on Kantor’s apparent willingness to entertain Putin’s idea of inviting Jews to resettle in Russia.
The partnership could provide a foothold in Europe for the ADL and give it parity with other American groups already active in what is now the primary front in the battle against anti-Semitism.
But EJC and its president may have more to gain. EJC is an affiliated organization of the WJC, but, according to two sources within the Jewish organizational world, Kantor may be interested in running next year for the position of WJC president, challenging American billionaire businessman Ronald Lauder, who has led the group since 2007. Partnership with a major American organization, the sources said, could go a long way toward giving Kantor the legitimacy he needs to credibly challenge Lauder’s position.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.