The growing trend to provide respectability to Jewish defamers of Israel by inviting them to participate at leading community cultural events suggests that the distorted “politically correct thinking” about Israel prevailing in Britain is now impacting on Anglo-Jewish leaders.
For example, the organisers of the forthcoming prestigious Jewish Book Week include a sprinkling of speakers notorious for demonising and delegitimising the Jewish state. The most noteworthy is Jacqueline Rose, who will review the concept of evil and suicide bombers. Rose is one of the founders of Independent Jewish Voices, a group whose raison d’être is primarily based on Israel-bashing. Last week they published a prominent advertisement in The Times condemning Israel’s actions against Gaza as a breach of international law. Rose is also the author of a fiercely anti-Zionist book which is today promoted as a required text for enemies of the Jewish state.
To chair the Rose session, the organisers invited Antony Lerman, the polemical head of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. Last year Lerman was the centre 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 — a failed Zionist vision — and its replacement by a bi-national state.
The keynote speaker at the concluding session, titled “The Last Word”, is Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian — a newspaper regarded as hostile towards Israel.
The respondent on his panel, who is unlikely to refute his viewpoint, will be Ha’aretz editor David Landau, who was recently involved in a global media stir after confirming that he had “implored” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that it would be like “a wet dream” for him if the United States would “rape Israel” for its own good.
Israel-bashers representing the antithesis of Jewish values are also invited to Limmud, the educational wunderkind of Anglo Jewry. At their last conference, one keynote speaker was Avram Burg, former head of the Jewish Agency and a previous Speaker of the Knesset. Even Burg’s closest former Israeli political allies unequivocally condemn him for repeatedly bracketing Israelis with Nazis and urging them to obtain European passports.
At that conference, Limmud organisers took “even-handedness” to its ultimate end by inviting the PA spokesman, Saeb Erekat, boasting that this would be “the first time that Erekat had addressed an exclusively Jewish audience”. Erekat, who had just reiterated his determination never to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, initially accepted the invitation but declined at the last moment, presumably in deference to his antisemitic constituency.
Even though a wide variety of mainstream viewpoints are also represented on such programmes, Jewish organisations unquestionably debase themselves by providing platforms for those who demonise and delegitimise Israel. Freedom of expression has no bearing on this issue. In the UK, demonisation of Israel is surely sufficiently widespread without a need to promote it at Jewish cultural events. Besides, would Jewish organisations contemplate providing platforms at their events for traditional antisemites like David Irving to promote their views? Or is delegitimisation of Israel considered more kosher than antisemitism?
If reputable Jewish institutions fail to marginalise Jews who demonise Israel, it is difficult to protest when bodies like the BBC utilise similar people as de facto spokesmen for the Jewish community. It also provides an imprimatur for such scandalous acts as the British Council appointment of Judy Price, an activist for Jews for Justice for Palestinians, to be the curator for archival film screenings for the Israeli 60th-anniversary film festival. Or to the Oxford Union, which designated Norman Finkelstein, a feral demoniser of Israel, to present the Israel case in a debate.
Over the years I have been critical of the failures of Anglo-Jewish leadership, exemplified by the reluctance of the Board of Deputies to engage in public protest. They insist that the most effective means of combating adversaries of Israel and antisemites is by “whispering” rather than “shouting”. Regrettably, in these matters, the Board also fails to condemn or even pass judgment on the morality of inviting Jewish demonisers of Israel to assume leading roles at Jewish cultural events.
The silent majority of British Jews unquestionably support Israel and are doubtlessly sickened by these developments. They should raise their voices in protest and insist that their leaders act like leaders. Failing that, they should call for their dismissal. Alas, unless this rot is soon reversed, the decline of Anglo-Jewry will surely accelerate.
Isi Leibler is the former head of the Australian Jewish community and former chairman of the World Jewish Congress Governing Board. He is now a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post.