Don’t give a platform to Israel-bashing

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During a recent visit to London, I was depressed to observe that the utterly distorted PC-thinking about Israel prevailing in Britain has now begun to influence Anglo-Jewish leaders. This is reflected in the growing trend of providing respectability to marginal Jewish defamers of the Jewish state by honoring them with invitations to participate in leading community cultural and educational events.

The prime example is Limmud, the wunderkind of Anglo Jewry, a highly successful annual gathering involving thousands of Jews in educational seminars and lectures covering the entire range of Jewish civilization.

If one accepts the premise that Jewish education is designed to strengthen Jewish identity, it is incomprehensible that Limmud organizers are now regularly inviting speakers who represent the antithesis of Jewish values.

The precedent originated some years ago, when an invitation was extended to the non-Jewish anti-Israeli journalist Robert Fisk. It was followed at a subsequent session, when Limmud invited
Jacqueline Rose, the Jewish author of a fiercely anti-Zionist book which is today an established icon in the promotional literature of enemies of the Jewish state. Rose was also one of the founders of Independent Jewish Voices, a considerable proportion of whose members only became actively involved in Jewish life as a by-product of condemning mainstream Jewish support for Israel.

At the December 2007 Limmud conference, one of the keynote speakers was Avrum Burg, former head of the Jewish Agency and a previous speaker of the Knesset. Even Burg’s closest former Israeli political allies have unequivocally condemned him for repeatedly bracketing the behavior of Israelis with Nazis and urging his kinsmen to obtain European passports.

Limmud organizers took evenhandedness a step forward by inviting PA spokesman Saeb Erekat, boasting that this would be “the first time that Erekat had addressed an exclusively Jewish audience.” Erekat had just proclaimed his determination never to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, prompting London Jewish Chronicle columnist Geoffrey Alderman to express his “disgust� dismay� and outrage” that Limmud could invite as a keynote speaker “one of the most prominent living enemies of the Jewish people.”

Erekat initially accepted the invitation but declined at the last moment, presumably in deference to his anti-Semitic constituency.

It is surely grotesque for Limmud to justify such participation on the grounds that “for the sake of learning� we try to get a wide range of presenters.” Even more bizarre is the suggestion “that politicians, ours and theirs [Palestinians], take a hard line in public statements” and “it is important to emphasize informal human contact.”

The same approach is manifested at Jewish Book Week (JBW), another premier Jewish cultural event that encompasses many talented Anglo-Jewish and international Jewish writers and scholars. Here again, the organizers saw fit to invite a number of guests who would never previously have participated at such an event. They include Jacqueline Rose, who is billed to discuss the concept of evil and suicide bombers. To chair that session, the organizers invited Dr. Anthony Lerman, the controversial head of the Jewish Policy Research (JPR) think tank.

Last year Lerman was the center of a major controversy when he refused to step down from his position after having adopted a public stance calling for the dismemberment of the Jewish state – which he termed a failed Zionist vision – and its replacement with a binational state.

To top it off, the keynote speaker at the concluding JBW session titled “The Last Word” is Alan Rusbridger, editor of the
Guardian, a newspaper which has developed a somewhat notorious reputation in relation to its coverage of Israel. To “balance” Rusbridger, the respondent on the panel is non other than Haaretz editor David Landau, who was recently involved in a global media stir when it was disclosed that he had told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Israel needed to be “raped” into a settlement with the Palestinians.

The participation of these individuals is disconcerting. Not because their presence will persuade participants to reject Israel, and not because the programs are one-sided since a wide variety of viewpoints are represented. But Jewish values are debased when Jewish gatherings elevate and provide respectability to those who consistently demonize and delegitimize Israel – especially in today’s climate of post-modernism.

Nor is this an issue of freedom of expression. In the UK, Israel-bashing is sufficiently prevalent without needing to promote it at Jewish cultural events. If reputable Jewish institutions provide platforms for those who demonize Israel, it becomes next to impossible to protest when mainstream media bodies such as the BBC utilize marginal anti-Israeli Jews as de-facto spokesmen for the Jewish community.

The recent debate at the Oxford University Union on the motion “This House Believes that the State of Israel Has a Right to Exist” is another example. Outrageous as the title is, even more preposterously, all four participants – those for the motion and those against – preach the delegitimization and boycott of the Jewish state. Norman Finkelstein, who “defended” Israel (but voted against the motion), and Ilan Pappe, who argued against Israel’s right to exist, have long qualified as defamers of the Zionist enterprise.

Providing Jews against Zion with platforms at mainstream Jewish events also provides an imprimatur for such scandalous acts as the British Council appointment of Judy Price, an activist for Jews for Justice to Palestinians, as curator for archival film screenings for the Israel’s 60th anniversary film festival.

This lamentable state of affairs unquestionably also relates to the Israeli leadership crisis. Twenty years ago, without doubt, Israeli leaders and Israeli ambassadors would have intervened and encouraged local Jewish leaders to find the courage to stand up and be counted.

Over the years I have been critical of the failures of the Anglo-Jewish leadership, exemplified by the British Board of Deputies, which is reluctant to engage in public protest and insists that the most effective means of combating adversaries of Israel and anti-Semites is by “whispering” rather than “shouting.” Regrettably, the Board has also avoided raising its voice in the above matter also, failing to condemn or even pass judgment on the morality of inviting Jewish demonizers of Israel to assume leading roles at Jewish communal or cultural events.

The responsibility for taking remedial action therefore rests with the silent majority of British Jews who continue to support Israel and are unquestionably sickened by these developments. It is imperative that they make themselves heard and insist that their leaders act.

Failing that, they should demand those leaders’ dismissal.
Unless this rot is soon reversed, the decline of Anglo-Jewry will, alas, accelerate.

The writer is a veteran international Jewish leader.
ileibler@netvision.net.il

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