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