By Jonathan Hoffman
January 16, 2011
As trailed in the JC (page 28: 'Deputies' Bloody Sunday?') the Board of Deputies of British Jews had its Israel debate today. The motion under discussion was from the Executive:
Whilst acknowledging the diversity of opinion both in the UK Jewish Community and in Israel, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (i) supports Israel's efforts to seek a lasting negotiated peace with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution ensuring Israel's security and respect for the welfare of all of the people in the region and (ii) reaffirms its commitment to fighting the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions directed at Israel.
The motion was defeated by 79-51. This may be surprising but it needs to be set in context. Most importantly, the Constitution already obliges the Board to "take such appropriate action as lies within its power to advance Israel's security, welfare and standing". Many of us felt that that was sufficient and that the first part of today's motion unnecessarily restricted the freedom of action of future Israeli governments. Also no amendments to the motion were accepted for discussion and neither was a motion that "the motion be not put".
Others felt that the phrase "two-state solution" is too imprecise: there are a number of versions of this in practice.
Of course the result does not mean either that Deputies support BDS or that they do not support the current government's goal of eventually welcoming a Palestinian State.
Here was my speech (a full version, the version I gave was shorter):
This motion is weaker than what we have already in the Constitution and it should not be put. The Constitution enjoins us to "Take such appropriate action as lies within its power to advance Israel's security, welfare and standing". Opposing BDS falls squarely within this objective. How about a Palestinian State? Well it may be that a Palestinian State will not at some future time represent the best hope for peace. In that case we should not tie our hands into supporting it. And how about “respect for the welfare of all the people in the region?” No – we should NOT have respect for Hamas. No - we should not have respect for vile murderers such as Samir Kuntar.
I should add that of the other eight objectives of the Board, four clearly require the Board to act in the face of Israel-based antisemitism:
(a) "Protect, support and defend the interests ... of Jews and the Jewish Community"
(c) Defend and ensure the security, safety, well-being and standing of British Jews ...
(e) Support and seek to protect Jews and Jewish communities outside the UK
(g) Promote a better understanding of the Jewish Community
Deputies, I am afraid that this Executive is failing to “take such appropriate action as lies within its power to advance Israel's security, welfare and standing". Let me tell you why.
First: By visiting Judea and Samaria, Mr President, you are AT BEST conferring legitimacy on a regime whish does not recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. In addition it is highly likely that your trip will include meetings with individuals who do not recognise Israel’s right to exist and will be organised by institutions which try to delegitimise Israel. Your response may be “If I don’t see it, how can I talk to the NGOs?” My response is: I have not seen the treatment of women or gays in Iran, but that does not preclude my having an opinion and asserting the right to have one. We have reliable media which tell us about Iran just as it tells us about Judea and Samaria. You don’t need to ‘see it for yourself’.
Second: The Executive was asked to issue the following statement “The Board of Deputies is the only democratically elected body representing the British Jewish community and therefore we regret the views of Mick Davis. Those views do not reflect those of the Board or the wider Jewish community. The Board’s views are fully set out in our constitution”. The Executive did not issue this statement and did not give its reasons. We have been left in the position where Davis’ views have gone unopposed by the Board. Unopposed by the Board but used by the odious Gerald Kaufman to support his argument that there should be no change to Universal Jurisdiction.
Third: The Board has issued a document which purports to be “a Jewish response to Kairos”. It is nothing of the sort. Kairos refers to Israeli occupation as “a sin against God.“ There is no response to that. Liberal Rabbi Danny Rich even expresses his preparedness to give up the Jewish State: “At one time a binational state might have been a possibility, but in the absence of support for it from the mainstream of either side partition seems to be the only viable option.” This is a document which should never have been published under the Board’s auspices. If the International Division had been consulted, it would not have been. The Executive was not even consulted. Mr President, it is a disgrace.
Fourth: We have a Treasurer who wants to invite the Palestinian Representative here. A man who only yesterday at SOAS yet again demonised Israel with all the usual tropes such as “ethnic cleansing” and “colonisation”. A man who does not recognise Israel’s right to exist, who has defended the firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas and who has praised Hezbollah as saviours of Arabs.
In conclusion this President and this Executive is failing to “take such appropriate action as lies within its power to advance Israel's security, welfare and standing".
“Careless talk costs lives” – that was a poster seen in London during World War Two. And Lebanon is imploding once again and Hamas in Gaza is gearing up. Careless talk on Israel may well cost lives, if the terrorists of Hamas and Hizbolla are convinced that world Jewry does not stand full square behind Israel.
We must do all we can to to “take such appropriate action as lies within our power to advance Israel's security, welfare and standing". That is what the Constitution demands and that is therefore what the Executive and you, Mr President, must do.