By Jonathan Hoffman
March 25, 2012
Writing in the Jerusalem Post recently, Vivian Wineman says that Isi Leibler's column (March 7) is “a long way from reality” but promptly shoots himself in the foot by implicitly conceding (by not challenging it) that most of what Mr Leibler wrote was correct. (There really isn’t much difference between the two men’s versions of Mr Wineman’s “access/influence” statement).
Most of the resistance to BDS is being done by grassroots activists, not by the Board of Deputies. StandWithUs and British Israel Coalition are both doing a great job.
In London there are now at least two anti-Israel public meetings every week where antisemitic discourse flows freely. It is a handful of activists (principally Richard Millett and myself) who go to these meetings to make our voices heard and ensure that what is said gets published. Only very occasionally do we see anyone from the Executive of the Board of Deputies and they never make their voice heard.
I myself organised both the fortnightly counter-demonstrations (with leafletting) against the Ahava boycotters and those against the Veolia demonstrators at the Natural History Museum. The Zionist Federation (of which I am co-vice chair) is often referred to by the most senior Board of Deputies members as a “fringe organisation”.
I – not the Board - referred the Charity “ War on Want” to the Charities Commission for telling lies about Israel and met the Commissioners.
I – not the Board - have written to the authorities of the Houses of Parliament about the antisemitic meetings held there in the evenings.
As for Judge Bathurst-Norman, it was me – not the Board - who obtained the transcript of the biased summing–up and wrote about it on cifwatch.com.
Many people – yes including the Board – then complained to the Office for Judicial Complaints but it was I who did the spadework.
The truth is that the Board has sometimes been downright obstructive to activists. An example was the recent motion I brought to the Board suggesting that the Guardian – a newspaper which has unremittingly vilified Israel and on occasions has hosted antisemitism – should be the subject of a Board statement encouraging a boycott by readers and advertisers. By a cynical procedural manoeuvre the Board’s Executive contrived to ensure my motion was never even discussed.
And so on. Mr Wineman contests Mr Leibler’s statement that the situation at universities is “absolutely horrendous”.
It is indeed horrendous. The survey from which Mr Wineman quotes also found that 48% of students who feel “very positive” about Israel experience antisemitism at University.
In other words: Advocate for Israel at a British university and there is a 1 in 2 chance you will be the recipient of antisemitic abuse.... Perhaps Mr Wineman can tell us how bad it has to get before it becomes ‘horrendous’?
Many Jewish students are scared to speak up for Israel.
Yet Mr Wineman claims “the situation on campus has measurably improved …” (!)
He also claims that the Board has “helped stem the growth of a fierce BDS movement in the churches.” But the Methodist Church Conference voted nearly two years ago to boycott goods from Judea and Samaria and there has been no sign of this being rescinded. And on universal jurisdisction: Yes the new government elected in 2010 has moved to remove the anomalies that threatened Israelis visiting the UK with arrest, as they promised, after the abject failure of the Labour government to deliver on its promises. But no-one senior from the leadership publicly advocated (as I did) for a change of government.
I turn to the piece on AIPAC – also published on 20 March in the Jerusalem Post – by Jamie Slavin, a staffer on the Board who was at the recent AIPAC meeting.
Mr Slavin argues first that British Jews have far more tangible connections to Israel which means they see it “warts and all” compared with an idealised US view.
I strongly contest the implicit assertion that American Jews are less well-informed about Israel because they are less "connected". All American Jewish students have the chance to visit Israel on a “Birthright” tour. And in any case the idea that Americans are too stupid to educate themselves about Israel’s problems – from media even if not on the ground - is obviously untrue (and many would deem it insulting). Slavin goes on to assert that Israel advocacy in the UK has to be more “nuanced” than in the US (because of a more sceptical public) but that “nuancing” should not be mistaken for “trembling”.
When I see Jewish students on US campuses resisting extremist speakers and BDS advocates – with the support of such organisations as “Stand with Us” – I certainly don’t see a US public which is universally supportive of Israel. Neither should the response – either in the US or the UK – be “nuanced” - whatever that means. The correct response is a proactive robust rebuttal of the lies put round by our enemies.
@Jamie Slavin: Since when was “nuance” the right response to defamation and antisemitism?