In these pages last week, Jonathan Freedland accused me of indulging in a “viciously personal” attack on, and misrepresenting the views of, Mick Davis.
Let me begin with a clarification. My source was the Jewish Chronicle itself, which summarised Davis’s remarks by stating: “One of British Jewry’s most senior leaders this week shattered a long-standing taboo by publicly criticising Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the peace process, voicing moral reservations about some of Israel’s policies and calling for criticism of Israel to be voiced freely throughout the community.”
In an exchange of correspondence initiated by Mr Davis, who also claimed I misrepresented him, I responded that if the JC report was incorrect or if quotations attributed to him were false, he was duty bound to request a correction – something he failed to do for obvious reasons.
I am personally unacquainted with Mick Davis and hold no animus against him even when he depicts me as “that mad Australian who attacks everyone”.
My criticism was not about freedom of expression or the right of Davis to criticise Israel. My concern is about the propriety of a person holding one of the most senior positions in a major Jewish community publicly questioning the morality and “courage” of the democratically elected leadership of Israel and, from the vantage-point of London, having the gall to challenge Israeli security policies which have life-and-death implications for Israelis.
It is in this context that Davis made the bizarre statement: “I think the government of Israel has to recognise that their actions directly impact on me as a Jew living in London, the UK. When they do good things, it is good for me, when they do bad things it’s bad for me. And the impact on me is as significant as it is on Jews living in Israel… I want them to recognise that.”
I am also appalled that, instead of rallying Jews to support an embattled Jewish state, Davis called on them to join in the criticism of Israel. It is not surprising that Freedland, who admits he condemned Davis for speaking at a rally supporting Israel, now rushes to defend him.
Having occupied senior leadership positions in national and global Jewish organisations, I reaffirm the view that a person heading bodies like the UJIA and JLC is totally out of line in making such remarks. I would further submit that, in the United Kingdom, where demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel – not to mention antisemitism – have reached record levels, it is the height of irresponsibility for a communal leader to behave in this manner, knowing that such remarks represent fuel for our enemies.
No other Jewish community in the world would tolerate such outbursts from a leader. American Jews are more inclined towards liberalism than their Anglo-Jewish counterparts but one could not visualise any mainstream American Jewish leader expressing such views.
My vexation is not merely that Davis still fails to appreciate that he was out of line, but that most Anglo-leaders lack the backbone to condemn his behaviour or have become so adjusted to living in an environment hostile to Israel that they cannot even appreciate the lack of propriety when one of their leaders acts in such a manner.
It was shameful that Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom was obliged to intervene and say what should have been conveyed to Mick Davis by his peers.
I hope Mr Davis resumes his positive work on behalf of Israel but refrains from unleashing his personal criticism until such time as he retires from his leadership positions. Had he not held office when he made his remarks, I doubt whether anyone would have noticed.
Anglo-Zionist pioneers of the calibre of Chaim Weizmann would turn in their graves were they aware that those who consider themselves Jewish leaders could voice public condemnations of Israel, when the embattled Jewish state is a facing such enormous pressures from a biased and largely hostile world.
Isi Leibler is a contributor to the Jerusalem Post and a former head of Australian Jewry
This column was originally published in the Jewish Chronicle (UK)