World ORT resumes role in international organisations


26 March 2009 World ORT resumes role in international organisations World ORT has invited some of its most senior lay leaders to take up representative roles in major transnational organisations which in some cases have lain dormant for years. The move is in response to concerns raised at Januarys Board of Representatives meeting in Mexico about increasing levels of antisemitism in Europe and Latin America. We are renewing our membership in several organisations so that we can contribute to policy development on issues of tolerance, World ORT Director General Robert Singer said. Skilled lay leaders who have the time and the resources to cover their own expenses have been asked to perform this increasingly important role. They will show governments and NGOs that ORT, as an education organisation, deals with issues of tolerance and connected with the Holocaust in schools around the world; so World ORT has an important role to play in the use of education to bring people together. The organisations at which World ORT is planning to be more proactive include the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the Council of Europe. There has been considerable media commentary on the upsurge in antisemitic incidents following Israels military response in January to years of rocket attacks from Gaza. However, World ORT Past President Sir Maurice Hatter noted four years ago that the tide of antisemitism throughout the world is rising. This year, the Board of Representatives heard personal accounts of the first attack on a Jewish target in Mumbai and of living as a Jew in Venezuela. And every ORT delegation from Europe where anti-Jewish incidents have reached a 20-year high expressed concern about the situation. The Board resolved to appoint lay leaders to fill positions World ORT has on various international bodies so that it can contribute to policy development on the issue, Mr Singer said. ORT Bulgaria Chairman Emil Kalo has been representing World ORT at the EJC for three years and welcomed the move to upgrade the organisations profile at transnational bodies. Its absolutely a good idea, Mr Kalo said. We have to be there. We have to present ourselves and our projects in order to find potential partners for our work. It is education, education, education which is the main way of struggling against antisemitism. Already, the former Director of World ORTs International Cooperation in Geneva, Henri Levy (pictured ORT Mali representative Boubacar Doumbia), has been coaxed out of retirement to represent the organisation at meetings of the NGO-UNESCO Liaison Committee. Mr Levy lives in Paris, where UNESCO is headquartered, and his lifelong involvement with World ORT means that he is perfectly placed to activate the organisations membership. I will be going to meetings regularly so that ORTs presence becomes known, Mr Levy said. I have already disseminated material to members so they know about ORT. Its very exciting because the more that World ORT participates, the more we will tell them about what we do around the world. From now on, World ORTs voice will join those of other NGOs so that UNESCOs policies and objectives do not rely entirely on the representations of governments. Mr Levy said that highlighting the nature of World ORTs work would be effective in undermining antisemitic stereotypes. Its very important that organs of the United Nations can see what a Jewish organisation like World ORT does both for Jews and for non-Jews, he said. This is a point that has been raised in relation to World ORTs successful participation in the Council of Europe thanks to the dynamic representation of veteran ORT lay leader Jean-Hugues Leopold-Metzger. Following World ORTs election to the Board of OING-Service, which helps NGOs accredited with the Council of Europe to participate in the pan-European organisations activities, Mr Leopold-Metzger said: Everyone knows that World ORT is a Jewish organisation, but we are recognised because we work for people of all backgrounds This is particularly important now as European attitudes towards Jews are at their most problematic since the war. Our work is a weapon against antisemitism. And Gilbert Roos, the consular representative of the Israeli parliament at the Council of Europe, said a presentation which Mr Singer made at a Council forum impressed delegates for demonstrating how a major Jewish organisation was helping people from all ethno-religious backgrounds. ORTs openness serves to break some stereotypes about Jewish philanthropy that are not uncommon in Europe today, Mr Roos said. Mr Singer said World ORT sought to replicate the increasingly productive participation at the Council of Europe with other similarly prestigious multilateral bodies. World ORT became the first Jewish organisation to gain participatory status at the Council of Europe which has allowed us to be involved in the definition of the Councils policies, programmes and action, Mr Singer said. It has also resulted in Council backing for some ORT projects. By being similarly proactive in other bodies, World ORT is engaging with a dynamic system the benefits from which can extend way beyond our core stakeholders.