Israeli diplomats back BoD critic of Israel

June 27, 2014
Sarah Benton

Report of  support for Laurence Brass from Israeli diplomats and politicians, the letter they wrote and a report of the original comments by Laurence Brass.

 Laurence Brass

Envoys support Laurence Brass in Israel criticism row

By Simon Rocker, Jewish Chronicle
June 26, 2014

A group of former Israeli diplomats and politicians have sprung to the defence of Board of Deputies treasurer Laurence Brass over his outspoken comments about the situation of Palestinians on the West Bank.

Mr Brass has been under fire for expressing shock after a recent visit to the area with British campaign group Yachad.

In a letter to the JC this week, his Israeli supporters praised his “willingness to see the grim reality on the ground in the West Bank” and to highlight his concerns.

They added: “What a shame that there are not more leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community willing to tackle these troubling issues.”

The letter was signed by four former Israeli ambassadors, including Ilan Baruch and Aron Liel, who both served in South Africa, as well as former consul-general in New York Colette Avital, former attorney general Michael Benyair, New Israel Fund president and former Knesset deputy speaker Naomi Chazan, and former Education Minister Yossi Sarid.

Mr Brass, who said that he had gone with Yachad in a private capacity, spoke out at the “miserable” conditions of Palestinian villagers and their fears of attacks by settlers.

His one-day trip to Susiya on the West Bank was led by a guide from anti-occupation Israeli army veterans’ group Breaking the Silence.

But other deputies have objected to him making his views public, with former Board vice-president Eric Moonman saying that Mr Brass should apologise or face calls for his resignation.

Criticism came also this week from the head of a group which scrutinises anti-Israel activity abroad, Professor Gerald Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor.

Responding to the pro-Brass letter, he said that Breaking the Silence and figures such as Ms Chazan and Mr Liel “are not the people to be provide ethical grades to diaspora Jewish leaders”.

He added that it was “a problem when the leader of an umbrella organisation like the British Board of Deputies takes a radical position based on what he is told and sees through the lens of a very narrow Israeli constituency.”

Yoaz Hendel, chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies and a former communications director for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said: “If someone comes to Israel and… hears the point of view of only one side, and is not aware of the efforts made by the state of Israel and the IDF on behalf of Palestinian citizens in the area, or of the challenges, obstacles and limitations we face but encounters only a point of view that is used to delegitimise Israel, he should ask himself about his continued service as a leader of the Jewish community.”

Mr Brass, who has a home in Israel, said this week that the letter of support had been “reassuring”.

Yachad runs around 10 day-trips to the West Bank or East Jerusalem a year, as well as a number of longer tours for lawyers, students and women and a half-day programme on Jerusalem for 400 youth on Israel tours.

Its director Hannah Weisfeld said that the group had no intention of ending its association with Breaking the Silence. “I am yet to see all those voices that have criticised Laurence Brass to actually get out into the field and see for themselves what Laurence saw,” she said.

Brass dared to speak the truth on West Bank

Letters, Jewish Chronicle [not published online]
June 27, 2014

We commend Lawrence Brass, the treasurer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for his willingness to see the grim reality on the ground in the West Bank and to speak openly and highlight his concerns.

Those who accuse him of “falling for anti-Jewish-settler propaganda” do no justice to Israel and its future as a Jewish and democratic state by blindly attacking an important friend who dares to speak the hard truth.

We, a group of Israelis who are deeply concerned for the future of our country, invite the critics of Mr Brass to visit and see the reality for themselves. What a shame that there are not more leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community willing to tackle these troubling issues. To our friends in the UK Jewish community: we ask you to speak louder and more boldly, for it is your voice Israel needs now, more than ever.

Ilan Baruch
Former Ambassador to South Africa

Alon Liel
Former Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry
Former Ambassador to South Africa

Yossi Sarid
Former Minister of Education
Former Minister of the Environment

Naomi Chazan
Former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset
President of the New Israel Fund

Michael Benyair
Former Attorney-General of the State of Israel

Colette Avital
Former Consul-General in New York
Former MP, Labour Party

Avi Primor
Former Ambassador to the European Union
Former Ambassador to Germany

Elie Bar Navi
Former Ambassador to France
Professor of history Tel Aviv University

Board of Deputies treasurer ‘shocked’ by visit to West Bank

By Simon Rocker, Jewish Chronicle
May 02, 2014

Board of Deputies treasurer Laurence Brass has said he was horrified at what he witnessed during a visit to a West Bank village, describing it as an “eye-opener”.

Mr Brass, who was spending Pesach in Israel, took part in a private capacity in a one-day trip organised by Yachad UK and led by a guide from the anti-occupation Israeli army veterans’ group, Breaking the Silence.

His experience, as one of around a dozen Anglo-Jewish participants taken to the Palestinian village of Susiya, was shocking, he said.

“The village spokesman told us that he was very worried at the prospect of local Palestinian children being attacked by settlers on their way to school.

“Just 48 hours after we left, a six-year-old girl from the neighbouring village of Atuwani was admitted to hospital with head wounds after being stoned on her way to school, just as we had been warned might occur.

“I was shocked that this type of behaviour goes unchecked by the IDF.”

Mr Brass added that the abiding memory of his visit would be “the sight of an old rusty car being dumped down the village well, thus preventing the locals from having fresh water.

“I had also not known previously that, on the majority of the road signs in the area, the Arabic words have been deliberately obliterated. I had also not previously appreciated the ever increasing number of settler outposts which have sprung up all over Area C, which, although illegal, no one appears willing to prevent.”

“Area C” represents West Bank zones under the control of Israel.

Mr Brass said: “The miserable existence of the Palestinian villagers we met will stay with me for a long time. It was difficult to reconcile that we were celebrating the festival of freedom, while these villagers were surviving in such squalid surroundings. I returned very depressed.”

Yachad, which campaigns for a two-state solution, ran 17 trips to East Jerusalem or the West Bank in 2013, for over 400 members of Zionist youth movements.

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