Mick Davis, the South African-born chief executive of the powerful mining group Xstrata, is chairman of Anglo Jewry’s United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) – the principal fund-raising institution for Israel of the UK Jewish community.
He also heads a body known as the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) – essentially comprised of a group of wealthy British Jews and their acolytes who, by virtue of their financial largesse, assume a dominant influence on many levels of communal life. The power represented by their collective wealth enables them not to be accountable to anyone and few would dare question their policies.
Anglo Jewry has been blessed in the past with rich philanthropists, many of whom were also endowed with wisdom. Despite his immense wealth and access to the most important leaders in the land, Sir Moses Montefiore was devoted to his people and, far from radiating hubris or arrogance, generated respect and love.
In striking contrast, Mick Davis, also known as “Big Mick,” displays characteristics associated with the nouveau riche, akin to the behavior of some of the Russian- Jewish oligarchs. His opinions are rarely challenged and he contemptuously rejects the suggestion that holding a communal role in any way precludes him from publicly expressing views which would normally be considered incompatible for anyone occupying such a position.
Needless to say, Davis is fully entitled to say whatever comes to his mind. Nobody seeks to deprive him of freedom of expression.
Many Jews are critical of Israeli governments.
But for a person holding senior public office in a major Diaspora community to indulge in crude public attacks on Israeli leaders and relate to Israel’s security requirements in relation to their impact on his image in non-Jewish circles is surely bizarre and utterly unconscionable.
While occupying the role of chairman of the UIJA in a country in which hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism have reached record levels, Davis brazenly incites his fellow Jews to criticize Israel.
RESIDENT IN London, he had the chutzpa to berate the Israeli prime minister “for lacking the courage to take the steps” to advance the peace process, arguing that “I don’t understand the lack of strategy in Israel.” He also employed the terminology of our enemies, predicting an “apartheid state” unless Israel was able to achieve a two-state solution – unashamedly blaming Israelis rather than Palestinians for being the obstacle to peace.
His sheer arrogance was best demonstrated in his most outrageous remark: “I think the government of Israel has to recognize that their actions directly impact on me as a Jew living in London, UK.
When they do good things, it is good for me; when they do bad things, it is bad for me. And the impact on me is as significant as it is on Jews living in Israel… I want them to recognize that.”
Aside from implying that Israel is responsible for the anti-Semitism he is encountering, Davis is effectively warning that when considering defense issues which may have life-or-death implications for Israelis, the government must be sure not to create problems for him in his non- Jewish social circles. From his London mansion, he blithely brushes aside suicide bombers, rockets launched against our children and the threat of nuclear annihilation because his gentile friends might complain about the behavior of his Israeli friends.
Jonathan Hoffman, vice president of the UK Zionist Federation (one of the few Anglo-Jewish leaders courageous enough to criticize Davis), expressed outrage that the UIJA chairman could make such a remark. “We are not aware that Hampstead is within range of Iranian or Hamas missiles, nor that its residents have to send their children to the IDF for three years,” he said.
It is telling that over recent years, Davis has not been renowned for condemning the shameful policies of British governments in relation to Israel. And it is no coincidence that immediately after the UK abstained from the UN vote on the Goldstone Report, Davis chaired a JLC reception at which former foreign minister David Miliband was the key speaker. On that occasion, the “outspoken” Davis felt constrained not to express a single word of complaint or disappointment at the perfidious behavior of the British government in relation to this issue.
Admittedly, Davis’ latest outburst is neither intellectually challenging nor persuasive.
But emanating from a Jewish “leader” in the anti-Semitic UK environment in which campaigns to boycott and delegitimize Israel are at an all-time high, and at a time when Israel is under siege and fighting for its existence, it surely represents a level of unprecedented vulgarity.
IN ANY self-respecting Diaspora Jewish community, Davis would have been obliged to tender his resignation immediately after making such outrageous remarks.
Not so in sunny London.
Instead of condemning him, the Anglo- Jewish establishment groveled. Many even seemed delighted that one of their leading spokesmen had distanced himself from what many of them may regard as the unsavory government which the people of Israel had democratically elected.
With the exception of Jewish National Fund head Samuel Hayek, not a single member of the JLC criticized Davis.
The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Vivian Wineman, said, “Mick Davis is entitled to make his remarks – there are a wide range of views in the country and in Israel on these issues.”
Simon Hochhauser, president of the Orthodox United Synagogue and a JLC trustee, may one day regret and feel ashamed for having stated that “there is nothing in the quoted comments I would disagree with.”
Former UIA chairman Brian Kerner said that he was “broadly supportive” of the views expressed by Davis, but questioned voicing them in public because “it is only picked up by our enemies, distorted and used against us.”
Harvey Rose, chairman of the Zionist Federation, also agreed with “much” of the position expressed by Davis, noting that “how Israel is perceived in the UK has a direct bearing on our comfort levels in Britain.”
The non-Orthodox groups, some of whom had always been inclined against Zionism, applauded Davis as “a remarkable leader and a true Zionist leader.”
Anglo-Jewish leaders share a long tradition of burying their head in the sand, avoiding confrontation and displaying a determination not to rock the boat under any circumstances. One of their leaders actually wrote in The Jerusalem Post, proudly boasting how their pro-Israel advocacy approach was based on “whispering” rather than “shouting.”
Today, by lacking the courage to challenge the propriety of one of its most senior “leaders” indulging in coarse public condemnations of Israel, the trembling Israelite establishment has further undermined the standing of the UK Jewish community.
When one proudly recalls the outstanding contribution of British Jews to the development of Zionism, and the role played by leaders of the caliber of Chaim Weizmann, one is left with a sense of profound sadness. The Anglo- Jewish Zionist pioneers would turn in their graves were they aware of the irresponsible behavior of those who have currently assumed the mantle of leadership of their community.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post
My column on Anglo Jewry elicted much feedback. Below are four links
An article in the Jewish Chronicle reveals that Israel Ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor accues Davis of ‘using our opponents language.’
A blog post about the controversy
December 15th Update
Member of Parliament Gerald Kaufman cites Davis in support of the universal jurisdiction anamoly (by Jonathan Hoffman in the Jewish Chronicle)