02 November 2009
‘Perfidious Albion’ and Jewish leaders

The British and French foreign ministers, both of whom have Jewish ancestors, are now among the most vociferous European critics of Israel. This was reaffirmed by their odious “absence” from the vote on the Goldstone Report at the UN Human Rights Council.

Under these circumstances one would expect leaders of the well-established Anglo-Jewish community to have lobbied their government in advance and made it aware of the sentiments shared by the vast majority of British Jews.

However, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which purports to be the voice of Anglo-Jewry, procrastinated until after the UN vote. This was no surprise because Anglo-Jewish leaders have a long tradition of burying their heads in the sand, determined not to rock the boat under any circumstances.

A few years ago, Henry Grunwald, the recently retired president of the Board of Deputies, even wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post expressing pride in the effectiveness of a policy based on “whispering” rather than “shouting.”

That approach is reflected by public demonstrations of solidarity with the Jewish state being deferred until forced under pressure from the Jewish street; inadequately confronting anti-Semites like the former mayor of London; and insufficiently opposing those seeking to boycott and delegitimize Israel.

THREE RECENT disconcerting events signal that the newly elected Board of Deputies president, Vivian Wineman (a former head of the UK branches of Peace Now and the New Israel Fund) is unlikely to deviate from this craven approach.

The first relates to Robin Shepherd, a distinguished non-Jewish academic who until recently was a senior research fellow in charge of the European program of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). In 2008 Shepherd was forced to resign after having incurred the wrath of Chatham House director Robert Niblett over an article published in The Times expressing a more balanced approach to Israel. He currently serves as head of the Henry Jackson Society, and has just released a new book titled A State Beyond the Pale – Europe’s Problem with Israel. It is a chilling but outstanding analysis of why Europe has turned against Israel, which I commend as essential reading for anyone engaged in Jewish advocacy.

Three months ago Shepherd wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post reviewing the dramatic upsurge of anti-Israeli feelings in the United Kingdom, and warned that with a partial arms embargo already in place and the British unions advocating trade and academic boycotts, “the darkness is closing in… for the Jews of Britain.” He also predicted that “the prospect of increasing anti-Semitism… is only too clear.”

In lieu of conveying appreciation to a scholar of Shepherd’s caliber for courageously exposing the hypocritical behavior of his government toward Israel, Wineman wrote to The Jerusalem Post lambasting Shepherd as “being misguided and alarmist.” Disregarding public opinion polls in which Israel emerges as the greatest threat to world peace, Wineman insisted that Israel bashers represented an inconsequential minority, and that the state of UK-Israel relations was no worse than other countries.

This incident was a mere curtain raiser for subsequent events.

At a time when Jewish communities worldwide were intensively lobbying their governments to vote against endorsing the Goldstone Report, the Board of Deputies remained passive until after Britain had shamefully “absented” itself from the vote, by which time a board statement condemning government behavior could no longer influence policy.

Prior to the vote, Jonathan Hoffman, a vice president of the Zionist Federation, had initiated a petition urging the British government to reject the Goldstone Report at the UN Human Rights Council. Instead of commending his initiative, the vice president of the Board of Deputies, Jerry Lewis, whose role is to “promote advocacy on behalf of the Jewish community” and who had maintained a deafening silence on the Goldstone Report, engaged in a vitriolic public outburst defaming Hoffman. He alleged that “given his position he [Hoffman] should be far more cognizant of the necessity of acting with common sense, and not unilaterally in ways which damage both Israel’s case and beyond.”

THE MOST bizarre act of all was yet to come. On October 19 the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) hosted a banquet to honor the retired Board of Deputies president, Henry Grunwald. The JLC is comprised primarily of wealthy individuals who contribute generously to the Jewish community and consider themselves accountable to nobody. They provide funds to operate the board, which in return is expected to toe their line. Needless to say problems arise because whereas wealth and political astuteness are not necessarily incompatible, some tycoons prove to be political buffoons.

What transpired when 100 “leaders” of Anglo-Jewry assembled to express tribute to Grunwald boggles the mind.

The guest of honor was none other than the British Foreign Minister David Miliband. Prior to the dinner, a board subcommittee “decided” that as this was a “social” event, the speakers must avoid “embarrassing” the foreign minister, and were prohibited from even mentioning Goldstone’s name in his presence.

Like disciplined soldiers, the chairman of the evening, Mick Davis, who heads the JLC executive committee and UJIA, Wineman and the other speakers all followed orders. In the presence of their foreign minister none of them made any effort toward conveying the distress of the Jewish community over the government’s behavior with respect to the Goldstone Report. Indeed, not only was a curtain of silence imposed relating to Goldstone, but aside from a few asinine remarks by Grunwald (apparently after Miliband’s departure) about the visit to the UK by President Shimon Peres and Israel’s 60th anniversary, Israel was not even mentioned.

Miliband was thus able to inform his parliamentary colleagues that the Jewish community was not problematic and that its leaders had not only ignored the Goldstone Report but even failed to relate to Israel in any meaningful manner.

One is compelled to ask: How is it possible in the immediate wake of such shameful behavior by their government that self-respecting leaders of a major Jewish community can behave in such a cowardly manner in the presence of their foreign minister? Such conduct explains why the British Jewish anti-Zionist fringe groups seem to make a greater impact on the media than the spineless communal establishment.

The time has surely come for British Jews to say enough is enough. They should replace these “trembling Israelites” with leaders who recognize that silence is not always golden but is sometimes just yellow, and that Jewish self-respect demands that we speak up and present a dignified viewpoint as proud Jews.


This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post 

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Isi Leibler

Isi Leibler is a veteran international Jewish leader with a distinguished record of contributions to the Jewish world and the cause of human rights, including the struggle for Soviet Jewry. He was head of the Jewish community in Australia for many years and made aliya in 1999. Leibler has held senior roles in the World Jewish Congress, including chairman of the governing board and senior vice president. Today, he writes prolifically and is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post and Yisrael Hayom.

(13) Readers Comments

  1. “Bleached Albion” I call it. IMO that says it all.

  2. This article is riddled with inaccuracies and distortions, and was compiled without reference to official sources in the groups that its author unfairly criticises.

    The position of the UK communal leadership in relation to ‘Goldstone’ is encapsulated in the following statement issued by the Jewish Leadership Council:

    \At a meeting of the JLC last Thursday, members expressed concern at the atmosphere of increasing delegitimisation of Israel in the UK. The JLC discussed the possible impact of the one-sided ‘Goldstone Report’ in this context. JLC members expressed their deep disappointment that the British Government failed to vote against the UNHRC resolution adopting the report. They noted that the resolution (which is even more unbalanced than the report) was criticised by Judge Goldstone himself. JLC members expressed their sincere hope that the Government will take a stance of balanced principled opposition to the further progress of this report within and beyond the UN.\ [2 Nov 2009]

  3. I stand by what I wrote. There was no public campaign to try to persuade the British government to vote against the Goldstone Report. If there were “discrete whispers” to the government that nobody was aware of they certainly had no impact. The only public announcements were, as I mentioned in my column, after the vote had taken place.

    See also Melanie Philipps in her latest column ‘Britain’s Timid Jews

  4. “This article is riddled with inaccuracies and distortions”

    Why not list them then ….

  5. Maybe Mr Newmark can be more specific about the ‘inaccuracies and distortions’ ? – most of Leibler’s article is from published sources

  6. Jeremy Newmark said “This article is riddled with inaccuracies and distortions, and was compiled without reference to official sources in the groups that its author unfairly criticises.”

    Mr. Newmark can you please substantiate your statement. I suspect that Mr. Leibler struck a raw nerve and that your reaction only serves to confirm Mr. Leibler’s observations about the British Jewish community.

  7. Jeremy Newmark – I’ve been folloing this in the JP and on CifWatch and no-one seems to be convinced that there are inaccuracies. If you think there are, you should provide them.

    Looking at the British Jewish scene from the US, in the face of obvious, documented, and increasingly violent anti0Semitism and virulent anti-Israeli activity in Britain, I am amazed at the supoine nature of British Jewry’s response via its leadership.

  8. Europe is congenitally anti-Semitic and drenched centuries of in Jewish blood.

    There is obviously no future for Jews in Islaophiliac Europe. “Lech lecha” – Jews should get out and give their prodigious talents only the the “new” countries which respect and support Jewish rights – namely, Israel, USA, Canada, Australia, …

  9. I will be grateful if Jeremy Newmark could specify some of the “inaccuracies and distortions” as stated by him. It could well be that Isi Liebler’s comments have hit the right spot. Leaders of British Jewry should hang their heads in shame. Israel at all times and specifically at this time has to have the full support of Jewish organisations and Jewish public figures – even in the UK! We are fortunate to have a powerful voice such as Melanie Philips who is not afraid to speak out – perhaps she will inspire others to follow her example.

  10. In response to the comments above here are just a few of the many errors, inaccuracies material falsehoods and misrepresentations which appear in the article:

    The Board of Deputies and other communal organisations did make their rejection of the Goldstone Report clear to the British Government and elsewhere through public statements and directly to politicians and officials.

    The suggestion of communal leaders not rocking the boat is false. In just the last 18 months, public events in the centre of London and replicated in Manchester have seen tens of thousands of British Jews and other friends of Israel gather for a Salute to Israel Parade and Rally on Israel’s 60th Anniversary, and again during the Gaza Campaign in January, the latter event having been organised in a matter of four days. A very public BUYcott campaign is currently underway to face down those who would boycott Israeli goods and the stores that stock them. Leading politicians from all Parties have condemned boycotts and supportive Parliamentarians speak in the Commons and the Lords on a regular basis to make the case for Israel. Public and private meetings take place in which robust and searching questions are put to senior politicians, and just three days after the dinner referred to in Mr Leibler’s article, David Miliband addressed and was questioned by a large audience in north London at just one such meeting.

    The Board lodged a complaint to the Standards Board for England regarding the comments made by Mayor Livingstone which ultimately saw him suspended and only cleared on a technicality on appeal. The AUT boycott policy was challenged and overturned after a month, and despite threats and attempts to introduce boycotts by Trade Unions subsequently, no actual boycott has ever been effected against Israel. Similarly, the Church of England rejected attempts to force divestment from Caterpillar which has surfaced at its own Synod. All of these results were achieved through the efforts of communal organisations not forced to do so by ‘the Jewish street’, but in order to protect the interests of the community as they are mandated to do.

    Robin Shepherd is not ‘head’ of the Henry Jackson Society, but on its staff. Mr Leibler then misrepresents Vivian Wineman’s response in paragraph 9.

    The dinner (not a banquet) to thank Henry Grunwald for his years of communal service, was a private social occasion arranged by the JLC. The JLC consists of the duly appointed lay leaders of major Jewish organisations, including synagogal bodies, together with some ad personam members appointed in recognition of their role as communal leaders. Accordingly they are not ‘primarily … wealthy’ and nor are they ‘accountable to nobody’. They do not fund the Board of Deputies, which is principally supported by ordinary members of the community through the communal levy and representation fees.

    David Miliband attended the dinner as a private guest in a private capacity. The guest of honour was Mr Grunwald. No subcommittee of the Board would had any role whatsoever in determining anything to do with the dinner. Such a comment again simply displays Mr Leibler’s complete detachment from the facts. Mr Miliband was and is well aware of the communal leadership’s views on Goldstone and the UK Government’s response, as explained above, and the matter was again broached with him on that occasion. Mr Miliband himself mentioned his visits to Israel and his support for the country, and so the suggestion that Israel was not mentioned is false.

    There are many more errors in the article which strays into the realm of fantasy at many points.

  11. Mr. Newmark’s remarks are, to say the least, disingenuous. He has failed to refute any of the issues raised in my article.

    That the Board of Deputies condemned the odious behavior of the British government for their contrived absence at the vote in the UN Human Rights Committee AFTER the vote had taken place – was never in dispute. My article asserted that the voice of Anglo Jewry should have been heard before the event. Hopefully, in future the Board of Deputies will make it’s impact felt when it is still in a position to influence events.

    Mr. Newmark’s claim that the Board has been exemplary in its public advocacy on behalf of Israel would be challenged by many British Jews, a considerable number of whom have written to me directly.
    Mr. Newmark claims I misrepresented Vivian Wineman, the Board of Deputies president, who attacked Robin Shepherd for “exaggerating “anti-Semitism in the UK. I stand by my position and invite readers to review the exchange of views between Shepherd and Wineman and judge for themselves.

    New era as British hostility reaches crescendo

    The Status of Israel and of Jews in the UK: ‘Darkness closing’ or business as usual?

    Right of Reply: British criticism of Israel is nothing special

    The fact that David Miliband was “questioned” by a large audience 3 days after the dinner by Anglo Jewish leaders in no way invalidates the remarks made in my article.

    As to the “dinner”. Yes, I may have mistakenly referred to the “dinner” as a “banquet”. For this I apologize. However, I stand by my assertion that the behavior of the speakers at the “dinner”, attended by close to 100 major Jewish leaders, highlighted the impotence of the established Anglo Jewish leadership. The event took place only a few days after the reprehensible UN vote. The Foreign Minister participated (in his “personal” capacity or otherwise) and it was disgraceful that all the speakers conspicuously avoided “embarrassing” Mr. Miliband and failed to refer to the Goldstone Report.
    Alas, that sort of behavior sums up why Anglo Jewish leaders are so frequently referred to as “trembling Israelites”.

    It is ironical that the Channel 4 TV program accusing Anglo Jewry of maintaining a highly effective secret pro-Israel lobby appeared only a few weeks later. Alas, the program, which misrepresents the situation and panders to anti-Semitic elements, reflects the widespread anti-Israeli hysteria prevailing in the UK rather than depicting a courageous Jewish leadership.

  12. “David Miliband attended the dinner as a private guest in a private capacity” – this statement says it all.

    For a Jewish leader to be defending a UK Foreign Minister three days after the UK’s failure to vote in Geneva by saying he was at the dinner “in a private capacity” just says it all. When a Minister is at the theatre with his wife that is a “private capacity” and it would not be right to express fury at the UK’s ambivalence on Goldstone.

    But when the Minister is at a dinner with Jewish leaders, that is NOT a “private capacity” – and he should have left that dinner with his ears stinging with fury and condemntation.

  13. How many Jews died in WWII waiting for the madness to “blow over”? How many died because they refused to see the threat before them, even when word of the mass executions & death camps began to spread? I can understand their attitude in 1941-’43. But, 70 yrs later, with 20/20 hindsight? It’s absurd! When will the the Jewish leadership open their eyes and grow a set? When a British Jew is convicted of assault for defending himself against an Arab street gang? Or, when a Jew is convicted of incitement for complaining about Muslim harassment? Or, when they begin torching synagoges while the police stand about doing nothing? Didn’t the Holocaust teach us anything?

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