Jewish group suspends membership of Estonia's national minority council

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Alla Jakobson
Alla Jakobson Source: ETV+

The Jewish Community of Estonia (EJK) suspended its membership in the Cultural Council of National Minorities on Wednesday after the approval of former EKRE MP Ruuben Kaalep as an Integration Foundation board member. The group believes Kaalep holds anti-Semitic views.

EJK Chairman Alla Jakobson sent a letter to the Minister of Culture Heidy Purga (Reform) on Wednesday announcing the group's membership suspension.

Purga allowed Kaalep to become a board member after he stood down as an MP at the last election and confirmed his appointment this week.

The EJK has been a member of the national minorities council, which represents minority groups in Estonia, since it was founded in 2008.

"However, it is with great regret that we find it unacceptable that a former member of parliament, whose contemptuous attitude towards Jews is no secret, has been appointed a second time to the board of the Integration Foundation," Jakobson wrote.

The inaugural sitting of the XIV Riigikogu began Thursday morning at 11:00 EEST. 4 April 2019. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The chairman referred to a 2019 investigation by Eesti Ekspress into Kaalep's activities titled "Everything is one big coincidence! Or how Ruuben Kaalep continues to justify anti-Semitism". 

"Unfortunately, you decided to reappoint him as a member of the Integration Foundation's board, without taking into account the protest previously expressed by the Jewish Community of Estonia, regarding this person's public anti-Semitic views, which are incompatible with the aims of the Integration Foundation," Jakobson stated.

In January, former culture minister Piret Hartman (SDE) recalled members of the Integration Foundation Council and appointed new ones.

EKRE appointed Kaalep as its representative but Hartman blocked his appointment as she said sitting MPs cannot be members. ERKE was asked to appoint a new person to the role but did not do so.

The EJK also made a complaint about the issue at the time, which was dismissed by Kaalep.

As Kaalep did not stand in the March election, he is no longer an MP, and can now be appointed to the board.

Heidy Purga: I do not have power to block Kaalep appointment to board

Sitting Minister of Culture Heidy Purga (Reform) said Thursday that she did not have the powers to block Kaalep's appointment to the Integration Foundation board, now that he is no longer a sitting MP.

In a statement to ERR which follows in its entirety, Purga said: "As minister, I do not have the right to decline to nominate him," referring to Kaalep.

"Naturally, I understand that this represents provocation, this second nomination in particular, and it is my hope that these earlier statements, which have caused great offense to the Jewish community – something I find unforgivable – remain firmly in the past."

"The Integration Foundation has 12 members, each of whom holds one vote. I would hope that their cooperation will go smoothly, but in the light of the statement, I confirm that, as minister, I stand side-by-side with the Jewish community."

"Nonetheless, we have a parliamentary democracy in Estonia, and, if members of the EKRE group are elected by the people to the Riigikogu, then they have the right to nominate their choice to this board. We may or may not like the fact that substantive assessments have to be asked of this political party, but as a minister, I had no alternative."

Editor's note: This article was updated to include the statement from Minister of Culture Heidy Purga.


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Editor: Urmet Kook, Helen Wright, Andrew Whyte

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