Yesterday evening I was briefly interviewed by the same BBC program in which the Board of Deputies treasurer Laurence Brass made his outrageous remarks expressing regret that President Obama failed to succeed in forcing the Netanyahu government to extend the settlement freeze to also include Jerusalem. He had also stated that the Board of Deputies must not be seen as an extension of the Israeli Embassy which he accused the previous Board of Deputies of having been. (Needless to say, he was flattering them as they too, had achieved a reputation for “whispering” and burying their heads in the sand).
It is pleasing to note that there were some U.K. Jewish organizations and leaders who were not prepared to stand by silently in the face of the comments of Brass. They protested vigorously and in response the Board of Deputies finally released the following asinine statement:
“The Board of Deputies of British Jews stands Full Square behind the State of Israel and in particular in its quest for security. The Board does not formulate positions on particular aspects of Israeli government policy, including, in this case, on the issue of a settlement freeze. These are matters for the democratically elected government of Israel, and for the citizens of Israel who elected it. As an organization representing the breadth of the British Jewish community, each of our 260 Deputies, themselves elected by their constituencies, will have their own particular views on Israel, and on all manner of other issues. However, unless and until such individual views are discussed and endorsed by the entire Board, they cannot be taken as constituting the policy of the Board.”
In other words, the Board avoided making direct reference to the remarks of Brass, or any attempt to formally censure him or to distance the mainstream community from his viewpoints. Instead, a rather vague statement that the Board supports Israel but incorporates constituents representing many views.
To their credit the UK Zionist Federation whilst protesting against the unprecedented and discriminatory Government controlled Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) initiative to label merchandise produced in West Bank also deplored the lukewarm attitude of the Board of Deputies towards Israel.
“The ZF was appalled to see the DEFRA guidelines (published on 10 December) on labeling of goods produced in the West Bank. About eight months ago the ZF led a delegation to the British Ambassador in Israel. This included representatives of the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel, the Histadrut and COHAV (an international Israel advocacy organisation). At that meeting the Ambassador was asked which consumers had requested the labeling transparency which the government claims as a reason for issuing the guidelines.
The answer was Oxfam and War on Want- two of the most viciously anti-Israel NGOs. The government should listen to those 30,000 Palestinians dependent on settlements for their income. Local Palestinians have repeatedly said that they do not want a boycott and that a boycott would increase unemployment and hinder economic development in the Palestinian territories. The economy of the West Bank is growing very rapidly and this guidance will be bad for growth and therefore bad for peace.
The Zionist Federation asks whether these mythical British consumers are more concerned about products from the West Bank than products from other disputed areas, such as Tibet , Kashmir, northern Cyprus , Chechnya , Kosovo, parts of Bosnia or even places like Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland.
As the British Jewish leadership lights the Menorah in Downing Street this week, they should reflect on the Maccabees and what they stood for and then compare that to their own roles. The ZF does not believe it is a coincidence that a few days ago the Treasurer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the constitution of which states that the Board is required to ‘advance Israel’s security, welfare and standing’, publicly expressed regret that the settlement freeze announced by PM Netanyahu did not include Jerusalem. One can surmise that the British government, which has been reflecting on the labeling issue for over a year, would take this as a sign that the Board’s leadership is lukewarm in its support of Israel.
The British Jewish Community has to face the fact that this Government is the most anti-Israel Government in many years and (together with the Swedish government) is the most anti-Israel Government in the EU. This is demonstrated by its recent actions over the Goldstone Report, the UNHRC meeting in Geneva, its support for the original Swedish Resolution on East Jerusalem and now by its stand on labeling”.
Chairman, Zionist Federation
No additional comment is needed to this forthright statement. It is to be hoped that rank and file British Jews will support the Zionist Federation which is providing desperately needed leadership and maintaining the dignity of the Jewish community during this period of crisis.
One other question should be raised about these issues which have generated considerable controversy in Anglo-Jewish quarters over the past few weeks. Yet the information and ensuing developments were largely restricted to the internet and the Jerusalem Post. Where was the Anglo Jewish media? Where was the Jewish Chronicle which failed to report on this and the earlier criticisms of Anglo Jewish leadership which were widely being debated?
To top this off I urge you to read the dramatic address delivered at the Anglo Jewish Association’s 60th anniversary dinner by Andrew Roberts one of Britain’s most respected historians:
“….. it seems to me that for all the undoubted statesmanship implicit in Arthur Balfour’s Declaration of November 1917, promising ‘a National Home for the Jewish People’, it doesn’t mean that Britain has ever been much more than a fair-weather friend to Jewish national aspirations…..(click here to read the rest of the address )