Fingers in the dyke…

November 26, 2010
Richard Kuper

jcFor once it’s worth reading the Jewish Chronicle!
Last week we reported on Mick Davis’s call for critical debate in the Jewish community, under the title A dam has burst… Somon Rocker updates us in his report Leaders trade blows over Mick Davis Israel criticism. But for Lord Kalms its all fingers to the dyke! Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Lord Janner and others are much more receptive…

Leaders trade blows over Mick Davis Israel criticism

By Simon Rocker, November 25, 2010

A group of prominent British Jews rallied behind UJIA chairman Mick Davis as arguments over his outspoken criticism of Israel reverberated across the community this week.

An open letter signed by 22 men and women, including nine current or past members of the Jewish Leadership Council, backed “public and honest discussion” over Israel and voiced support for Mr Davis for encouraging debate.

The signatories included former UJIA leaders Sir Trevor Chinn and David Cohen, donor Sir Harry Solomon, Bicom chairman Poju Zabludowicz and new peer, JLC vice-president Stanley Fink.

Israel’s embassy in London kept out of the public fray, but elsewhere strong reaction against Mr Davis’s intervention began to surface, particularly among Jewish leaders in the north.

Mr Davis, who chairs the JLC executive, last week criticised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, encouraged the airing of moral concerns over Israeli policy and warned that Israel could become an apartheid state if a two-state solution failed to materialise.

He also suggested that Israeli actions had as significant an impact on diaspora Jews as on Israelis themselves.

JLC member Lucille Cohen, the president of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, doubted whether his opinions “reflect the majority view” there.

She said: “The danger lies in the public airing of democratic debate when it is picked up and utilised to fan the flames of a virulent deligitimisation of Israel.”

While some Zionist youth movements came out in support of Mr Davis, Mrs Cohen said: “We see a growing misguided influence of post-Zionism on our youth which is detrimental to their understanding of Israel.”

Martin Harris, chairman of Leeds UJIA, worried that Mr Davis was “tarring UJIA with these views which should not have been expressed in public”.

He added: “I don’t believe he has the right to criticise the Netanyahu government and it could not have come at a worse time, with the delicate nature of the peace talks.”

Myer Green, co-founder of Scottish Friends of Israel, said that although some of Israel’s policies had “sorely taxed” its supporters, he was “taken aback” that Mr Davis “should legitimise the language and perception of Israel’s enemies by suggesting that Israel’s might be heading along the path to apartheid”.

Hilton Lorie, the president of Leeds Jewish Representative Council, dismissing the JLC as “a self-appointed body that does not represent anybody”, observed that wisdom lay in knowing “when to keep shtum”.

Taking a more measured line, Joshua Rowe, president of Manchester UJIA, said: “It is perfectly legitimate for him to express his views, but what it tells me is that Israel and the Israel’s supporting communities are not getting the message across.”

But praise for the UJIA leader came from former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who saluted “his very brave and impressive comments” in a Twitter post.

Hannah Weisfeld – the leader of efforts to set up a doveish Israel campaign group in the UK inspired by America’s J Street – welcomed the “opportunity” for open discussion.

In an even-handed statement issued on Tuesday, the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, said that there was “much to be gained by an honest debate within the Jewish community about its attitudes to Israel, so long as it is made clear throughout that our commitment to the state and its people is unshakeable”.

He said that Israelis should have no doubt that they enjoy the “loyal support” of British Jewry but – appearing to differ with Mr Davis – went on: “For it is the people of Israel who suffer the direct consequences of the forces ranged against them and it is their children who are in the front line of its defence.”

Lord Sacks’s adviser on Israel, Rabbi Barry Marcus, took a sharper line: “I am not saying people can’t or shouldn’t make comments,” he said. “But what Mick has done does not benefit Israel,” he said. He said that Israelis had “enough Katyushas to live with without more missiles coming from here”.

Grassroots anger was visible when several members of an audience at a JC-sponsored Any Questions evening at a north London synagogue on Monday called on Mr Davis to resign.

But the UJIA head could take heart from Habonim and the Liberal and Reform Zionist youth movements which jointly signed a letter headed “At last the silence is broken”. They stood “wholeheartedly in support” and declared: “We should define our Zionism independently of anti-Zionism, not as a response to those who wish to see Israel pushed into the sea.”

Mick Davis: the fallout from his Israel comments

Last week, the chairman of the UJIA called for the diaspora to openly criticise Israel. Now the community weighs in

Lord Kalms, 25 November 2010

The JLC may be self-appointed, but even self-appointed leaders should try to speak and behave like leaders. Mick Davis’s recent comments show a startling lack of leadership and sense.Everybody is entitled to their opinion but can anybody really hold a straight face and say the UK Jewish community is unwilling to criticise Israel? Most of us see no lack of debate.

It is simply not the case that British Jews do not speak out about their concerns relating to Israel. Every week across the national and Jewish press, in synagogues and community meetings, the widest imaginable (and often unimaginable) range of views are expressed. They run the gamut of opinions, from the most security-focused Likud sympathiser to those Jews who devote every waking hour to ending the existence of the Jewish state.

If his general points are off the mark, then Mr Davis’s specifics are no nearer to it. It is nonsense to claim that leaders did not speak out against the ‘loyalty-oath’. The UK media, like the Israeli media, was replete with people speaking out against such a ludicrous and repugnant idea.

Mr Davis has given Israel’s enemies more daggers to use against us

Others of the ideas put forward by Mr Davis also lack any grounding in reality. It is very easy – as well as pleasant – for Mr Davis to sit in a London hall with a like-minded critic of Israeli policy and denounce Binyamin Netanyahu as not having the ‘courage’ to advance the peace process.

There are many criticisms that can be made of the Israeli Prime Minister, as of any politician, but the claim that he lacks ‘courage’ is preposterous. His political and military career suggest otherwise.

What he lacks, like his predecessors, is a sincere and capable negotiating partner. The facts of this situation may have been lost on Mr Davis, but the significance of his comments will certainly not be lost on our mutual antagonists.

If someone is going to declare themselves a leader, then they have to take on the responsibilities which such a role brings. First among them is the responsibility to speak the truth. Mr Davis has not done that. He has entrenched lies. No more obvious example could exist than the fact that he has taken up the obscene language of ‘apartheid’.

To even start to talk in this language, as Mr Davis has done, dignifies a lie and eventually turns a lie into a possibility. This will give incalculable support to the most fevered haters of Israel.

Israel is no more going in the direction of apartheid than is Great Britain. But such terms have been created and chosen for a reason: to make Israel a state apart. Only Israel gets spoken about in this way. To join this, particularly as a ‘leader’, is to give an incalculable boon to those who wish to destroy Israel. It is to suggest that if they keep going long enough, continually raising the pitch of vilification, delegitimisation and exceptionalism, then eventually everybody will agree with them. At which point the debate can turn to the one they really want to have – how Israel can be ended.

Mr Davis does a double disservice because of the terrible damage that all this does to our friends. There are many here and abroad who support Israel or simply regard it as having the same rights as any other state. Such people are finding it harder and harder to hold the sane line against a tidal-wave of global insanity. Often beleaguered and all-too-often ignored, for such people Mr Davis’ comments will be disheartening. Once again the feeling will be reinforced that they are alone – and that not even their so-called leadership is with them.

Earlier this month a column in a leading Egyptian paper claimed that the very existence of Israel was at risk because the Diaspora was losing support for it. Mr Davis’ comments tragically confirm this. And he should know that this direction only has one end. As one of the heads of the latest Gaza convoy said a few days ago: “The Mujahideen have told us that they decided not to defeat the oppressive Jews by gunfire, but instead, by daggers. When I asked them why, they said: they are not worth wasting a bullet on… Israel will be annihilated soon.”

Mr Davis has given Israel’s enemies more daggers. They will be used. If this is what the JLC aim to achieve then our community – and Israel – would be better off without them.

Lord Kalms is life president of DSG International plc

Israel is only ours by virtue of our conduct

Jonathan Wittenberg, November 25, 2010

I welcome Mick Davis’ courage and comments. They come from a man deeply committed to Israel.

We worry lest the Jewish state cease to exist because of a military defeat. More recently we’ve become concerned Israel may no longer be Jewish because of demographic factors. But it is also possible that Israel ceases to be a ‘Jewish’ state for ethical reasons, because it fails to remain faithful to the 3000-year-old ethical traditions of Judaism.

Justice and compassion are the heart of Jewish ethics. They are the due and duty of everyone, irrespective of race or religion, because of the dignity bestowed by God upon every person.

The often unequal treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the degradation imposed by the wall and by road blocks, the destruction of olive groves and the confiscation of lands are matters of the deepest moral concern.

I avoid comparisons with apartheid, because the original causes of these ills lie not in wanton expansionism but in the complex conflict for which Israel’s enemies must bear a profound share of responsibility. Nevertheless, the resultant injustices present us with one of the greatest crises not only in the history of Israel, but of Judaism.

Throughout the Bible, the premise is not that Israel is ours by right, but only by virtue of how we conduct ourselves morally in the land. Our responsibility is to perform what we believe to be God’s will, to do what is right.

If we silence this debate out of fear of Israel’s delegitimisers, sadly well-founded, we allow our enemies to rob us of our own culture, of the discourse which is the essence of Judaism.

Further, we let down those numerous and remarkable Israelis who stand up for the human rights of all, even while risking their lives to defend the country they love. We also close ourselves off from those Palestinians and Muslims who want to share a dialogue about a peaceful future. And we render Israel seemingly irrelevant; or, worse, a matter of shame to those many young Jews who have grown up in pluralist Diasporas with liberal values.

However, it is equally central to the Jewish tradition that the privilege of comment is accompanied by the responsibility of commitment. Our support for Israel’s right to exist, our readiness to stand up against the country’s many unjust detractors, must be staunch, fearless and backed up by visiting and giving to the country.

We do not have the liberty of debating on one front only but, like Israelis, must do so on many. We cannot avoid the issues.

Jonathan Wittenberg is Senior Rabbi of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues UK

It is our obligation to speak against injustice

Lord Janner, 25  November 2010

Israel is a democratic State – as is Britain. But that does not mean I agree with all the policies of either government. Indeed, in Britain, I am an active parliamentarian in an opposition party. And regrettably, there are many policies of Israel’s government with whichI also disagree.

Some 13 years ago, I spent time in the Arab Israeli town of Sakhnin. There, I made true and lasting friends with some of the most honourable Israelis. They regarded themselves as proud Arab citizens of Israel. What is currently occurring with the Arab population of sovereign Israel is of deep concern.

Sadly, in recent years, much has changed about Israeli society. Fundamental red lines are being crossed that threaten to undermine what many of us have worked so hard for. As a Jew and as a proud Zionist, this deeply troubles me.

I accept, of course, that all Jews should robustly and proudly defend the rights of Israel as a Jewish State, and that all Jews should celebrate Israel’s great achievements since 1948. I have always proudly spoken out for Israel over the many years of my communal service – and publicly defended her, when she has been under attack, whether in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and in the media, or even in the United Nations. And I shall continue to do so.

I cannot be silent when the pursuit of peace is being compromised by inaction

Anglo-Jewry can be proud of what we do to educate ourselves about Israeli Arabs and the work in Israel we support that benefits all Israeli citizens, through projects such as the newly-established UK Task Force for Israeli Arabs and the work of the UJIA in the Galil.

Sadly, I have recently seen actions by this Israeli Government which have departed from the high moral purpose enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which I proudly remember my hero and friend David Ben-Gurion signing. I cannot be silent when I know of unequal treatment afforded to some of Israel’s minorities and when the pursuit of peace is being compromised by inaction.

Mick Davis has reminded us that our obligation is to speak out against injustice, even when it is extremely awkward and fraught
to do so.

Of course, we have an equivalent obligation to defend Israel from its enemies.

If Israel loses the support of the West and becomes a besieged State, that will not only be serious and damaging for Israelis, but for all Jews. Our destinies are linked.

I would ask Israeli ministers to listen to the convictions of those Diaspora Jews who love Israel, such as myself and Mick Davis.

By expressing our heartfelt convictions, we put before the public the views of many fellow Jews and Zionists, whether they are in Israel or in the Diaspora.

Lord Janner of Braunstone Q.C
Former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
Vice President, World Jewish Congress
Vice President, the Jewish Leadership Council

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