By Jonathan Hoffman
March 14, 2013
At the age of about 10 I was addicted to the ‘Just William’ stories written by Richmal Crompton. William Brown is an eleven-year-old boy, eternally scruffy and frowning. William and his friends (Ginger, Henry and Douglas) call themselves “The Outlaws”, and meet at the old barn in Farmer Jenks' field, with William being the leader of the gang.
In those stories there’s a girl called Violet Elizabeth Bott. She’s the lisping, spoiled daughter of the local nouveau riche millionaire. She’s dying to be a member of the gang and William reluctantly endures her company in order to prevent her carrying out her constant threat of
"I'll thcream and thcream 'till I'm thick"
Yachad’s response to the ZF’s decision not to grant it membership represented the “Violet Elizabeth Bott” manoeuvre, except instead of "I'll thcream and thcream 'till I'm thick" we’ve had “I’ll thcream and I’ll tweet and I’ll blog and I’ll publicise ‘till I’m thick”. What seems increasingly obvious is that the application to join the ZF was a carefully calculated ‘win-win’ ploy, even though Yachad had little expectation that it would be accepted.
Ms Weisfeld admits here that the application was a long shot: “it’s hardly a surprise” (she writes) that Yachad was rejected. If she thought that then why did she waste ZF volunteers’ time by applying, if it was not a PR stunt?
If it was rejected, she fully intended to use it as a hook to hang a publicity campaign on. Hence the full page adverts in Friday’s JC and Jewish News (which by the way don’t come cheap, my guess is north of £3500 in total). Hence the public meeting this week. Hence the ludicrous accusations that the ZF is acting as the “Zionist police” (!). The reality is that this publicity ploy was utterly cynical and self-serving. In order that Yachad should have publicity – and knowing the response would in all likelihood be “no” - Ms Weisfeld thought nothing of imposing significant extra work on ZF volunteers in assessing Yachad’s application.
Haaretz and JC journalist Anshel Pfeffer makes the same point in Haaretz:
…clever but cynical PR stunt by a start-up group …. I suspect that Yachad's shrewd director Hannah Weisfeld understood this, and applied for her organization to be recognized by the Zionist Federation assuming it would be turned down, and knowing it would provoke a long-overdue debate. A canny ploy and, judging from the publicity it has generated, a successful one. However, it has everything to do with communal politics and little to do with the lives and beliefs of Israelis and Zionists.
The problem with “thcreaming and thcreaming” is that the noise drowns out the facts.
So we get the absurd suggestion (in her Daily Beast article, link above) from Ms Weisfeld that the ZF National Council was somehow trying to ensure that Yachad “kept quiet when it came to Israel”. Anyone who follows Twitter, reads the JC or attends meetings in London will know that if anything it is those who oppose the likes of Yachad who are drowned out by the incessant noise. Then Ms Weisfeld suggests that “it’s best the Zionist Federation does not purport to speak on behalf of the Jewish Community when it comes to matters relating to Israel”. Wrong again. The ZF does not purport to speak "on behalf of the Jewish Community" (maybe it did once - eg at the time the Balfour Declaration was addressed to it - but it certainly does not today). In fact on the Board of Deputies I have more than once heard the ZF referred to pejoratively as “a fringe organisation”. And Ms Weisfeld has clearly not been to many ZF meetings. If she had, she would realise that the ZF’s reach extends far beyond the Jewish Community. “Christian Friends of Israel”, for example, is a magnificent and always welcome supporter of the ZF.
Ms Weisfeld suggests that Yachad represents a ‘large number of Anglo-Jews’. She is over-egging her pudding. At Limmud – hardly noted for a preponderance of ‘hawks’ - the Jerusalem Post reported that Yachad’s arguments “drew critical remarks from a sceptical audience, with some listeners arguing such concessions would encourage terrorism.”
What has been rather lost in all the brouhaha is the case against Yachad. According to the ZF Constitution,new applicants such as Yachad must be assessed for conformity with the Jerusalem Programme (JP).
Yachad CLAIMS to be “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace”. Words are cheap – anyone can mouth platitudes. We had to decide if - by its daily deeds, not its strapline - Yachad really works to ensure Israel’s security and to foster the unity of the Jewish People – as the JP requires
I can only speak for myself. I looked at the evidence and concluded that the answer was ‘no’.
Example 1: Yachad supported the UN upgrade to Palestinian status which was opposed by Israel and other western countries (Canada, Czech Republic, United States; and Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, UK abstained). Every truly pro-Israel organisation believes that negotiations between the two sides are the only way forward. By now giving the Palestinians a route to the International Court and by giving them increased access to the UN with its inbuilt majority against Israel, Yachad’s decision poses a threat to Israel’s security – as does its advocacy of the rapid creation of a Palestinian State.
Example 2: Yachad recently hosted the US columnist Peter Beinart by video. Beinart supports a boycott of goods from Judea and Samaria . The ZF would never host a speaker who advocates a boycott. This too poses an economic and political threat to Israel ’s security. Yachad's own position on boycotts is far from clear. In meetings (eg at SOAS) Ms Weisfeld has equivocated.
Example 3: Yachad organises tours of Judea and Samaria for young people visiting Israel. Reportedly the guides only tell one side of the story. Often the guides are from 'Breaking the Silence', a tiny group of dissident IDF veterans who never give their names when slandering the IDF.
Example 4: Yachad’s prevailing wisdom is that the settlements are 'illegal'. They are not. Yachad makes little or no effort to explain how Hamas targets Israeli civilians. They portray the Security Fence as something which harms the Palestinians. They are silent when it comes to the number of Israeli lives it has saved by stopping suicide bombers – lives of both Jews and others.
Example 5: Yachad supports separate labelling of goods from Judea/Samaria. The view of most if not all anti-boycott activists is to oppose separate labelling, as the slippery slope to a partial and a full boycott.
Example 6: Yachad protested about the eviction of an Arab family by the name of Sumarin from Silwan. Ms Weisfeld even tipped off a Guardian journalist about it via Twitter. Haaretz (13 May 2012) reported that
Officials in Zionist organisations and the Israeli Embassy were especially incensed by a tweet Yachad sent to foreign journalists, including the Guardian's correspondent in Jerusalem, Harriet Sherwood,drawing their attention to the eviction notice. The organisation was accused of "stoking anti-Israel feelings.
The Sumarin eviction was perfectly legal. To claim otherwise is to challenge the Israeli judicial system – another threat to the security of Israel.
As Samuel Hayek, chairman of the JNF noted:
We are disappointed that Yachad has thought it prudent to describe the outcome of this court case as proof of Israel's 'policy of Judaizing Jerusalem'. This is a lie that gives a great deal of legitimacy to those who seek to demonise the state of Israel and dehumanise the Jewish people. ... The actual facts of the case paint a rather different picture to the demagogic interpretation provided by Yachad.
Example 7: According to the blog of Richard Millett (who was present at JSoc event at UCL on 31 October 2011
She (Ms Weisfield) also fully endorsed two organisations which are major demonisers of Israel; Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din and the website +972 Magazine.
Example 8: When Israel’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman came to London, Yachad was reportedly behind the protests against him. To treat a senior Israeli Minister in this manner is hardly the action of a “pro-Israel organisation”. In fact the ZF spoke out against this at the time.
Given this evidence, I concluded that Yachad did not conform to the JP and moreover that admitting it to the ZF would be divisive. The ZF’s tradition is to support Israel, not oppose it, and given the shrillness of the anti-Israel voices, that is challenging enough - without having to fight internal opposition as well.
If Yachad is genuine about wanting to join the ZF (as opposed to only seeking publicity from a refusal) then it will be willing to make the necessary policy changes. Let’s see Yachad defending Israel in the Guardian and writing to the BBC. Let’s see Yachad demonstrating to counter the hate when Israeli cultural groups come to London. Then their claim to be “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” might be somewhat less hollow. (Friday’s JC says Yachad is not prepared to ‘beg to be let in’ - which again suggests the application was merely a ploy to cynically exploit the ZF for publicity).
The JC Editorial last week was ludicrous and shameful. The ZF has never said either that Yachad is ‘not Zionist” or that it is. It’s simply not the relevant question. The relevant question is “does Yachad in deed as well as words support the Jerusalem Programme?” And to compare Galloway’s refusal to debate with an Israeli student with the ZF’s refusal to have Yachad as a member must rank as the worst example of false moral equivalence of the millennium. And far from “damaging its reputation”, the ZF’s decision has been universally applauded by the genuine Israel activists who have contacted me and others (the two members of the JLC quoted in the JC’s front page article last week are not in my book “genuine Israel activists”)