European Jewry’s Bizarre Election

European Jewry’s Bizarre Election

If the slate of candidates is any indication, the European Jewish Parliament faces an uphill battle to be taken seriously.

Among the candidates for election announced by the new body: soccer star David Beckham, filmmaker Roman Polanski, comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, and other famous and less-famous European Jews who likely never expressed an interest in running — if they even knew anything of the planned parliament at all.

In addition to the nomination process, the voting — done via the Internet, with no verification procedures (an American-born New York-based Jewish Week editor was allowed to cast a vote as an Albanian) — doesn’t exactly meet the Carter Center’s democratic election standards.

The proposed parliament, which aims to bring issues of Jewish concern to the European Union, is the brainchild of billionaires Igor Kolomoisky and Vadim Rabinovitch. The two Ukrainian Jewish businessmen and philanthropists have been seeking leadership positions recently in European Jewish life, and in the spring they launched a new organization called the European Jewish Union. Last month they also established a new pro-Israel channel on YouTube called Jewish News One, or JN1.

According to Tomer Orni, CEO of the European Jewish Union, the Jewish parliament will have offices adjacent to the European Parliament in Brussels and will hold regular assemblies there. Its budget will be covered by the European Jewish Union, and the agenda is to be set by elected members.

Orni said the idea of the parliament — inspired by Israeli President Shimon Peres’ call for a Knesset of the Jewish Diaspora — is to be a “platform for Jews from all corners of the continent,” including the former Soviet countries.

But the parliamentary election process has sparked annoyance and irritation among many European Jewish leaders.

After European Jewish Congress leaders began receiving calls from members confused at how they had landed on the list of candidates, the organization circulated a memo assuring members that they are “not connected in any way to this initiative and do not support it.”

“Let’s be honest, it does not look serious,” Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the Brussels-based EJC, told JTA. “How can you bypass organized European Jewry and through the Internet call for people to elect or appoint whomever they have selected on whatever ground, on what basis God knows? It does not bring any plus to organized European Jewry and will only create tension in a time when it is necessary to be strong and united.”

The parliament brouhaha comes a year after Kolomoisky tried to become president of the European Council of Jewish Communities — a low-profile organization founded more than 40 years ago — by pledging $14 million to the group over five years. Rabinovitch already was an ECJC vice president.

But after members of the ECJC resigned in protest over his unilateral appointment, Kolomoisky withdrew his bid, Rabinovitch quit his post and the two instead decided to create a new group with a grand-sounding name, the European Jewish Union.

For its part, the ECJC urged members to decide for themselves if they want to be candidates and to inform the union if they did not.

Meanwhile, elections continue, and it is not clear how long they will last. A few controversial names have been dropped from the list, including French entertainer Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has been prosecuted in France for anti-Semitic remarks, and German nationalist extremist Constantin von Hoffmeister. Other names, such as Beckham and fashion designer Stella McCartney, remain.

“The legal team has predetermined that if someone is elected and doesn’t want to take part, the next one with the second biggest number of votes will be elected instead,” Orni said.

He said that more than 1,000 candidates have registered or been registered by others.

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