The Board and Oxfam - a wholly unnecessary row


By Marcus Dysch
January 10, 2013
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So here we are again: the Board of Deputies once more finds itself mired in internal strife - and largely because its elected leaders tried to do the right thing.

We could spend an age debating – not for the first time – whether the Board stumbled into this embarrassing mess through weak leadership, a misunderstanding of its deputies’ concerns, its own complex democratic process, or a mixture of all three.

What is clear is that the Grow Tatzmiach joint campaign with Oxfam will help starving people – and that cannot be a bad thing.

But there is a deep and long-running problem at the Board and other great institutions of Anglo-Jewry: how to deal with issues that touch on Israel.

There seems a perennial struggle to decide which answer should carry most weight – should it be “is this good for us?”, or “is this good for Israel?”, which defines an organisation’s modus operandi?

Some of the grassroots anger is understandable – it is, after all, only five months since the meeting at which Board president Vivian Wineman and chief executive Jon Benjamin questioned Oxfam’s chief executive and Middle East director over the charity’s stance on Israel.

Mr Wineman said at the time that the NGO had been “receptive” to the Board’s position, and it is understood that the August meeting was seen as a turning point in relations between the organisations.

But explain that to deputies who hold long grudges when it comes to those they believe to be “anti-Israel”. For many deputies it is a simple matter of “you are either with us or against us”. The most vociferous among them have little time for discussing nuances or debating the ins and outs of issues such as settlements or labelling policy.

Jonathan Hoffman’s claim that Oxfam is “institutionally anti-Israel” is rather wide of the mark. The charity is evidently not in the same league of visceral Israel hatred as some employees at Amnesty International or War on Want, which is quite blatantly an anti-Israel organisation under any definition of the term.

The Board leaders stand accused by their own deputies of gross naivety at jumping into bed with a charity which some claim is attempting to “launder its reputation” with British Jews.

One deputy likened senior vice-president Laura Marks’ actions to those of Neville Chamberlain in 1938 – quite some claim, and quite some exaggeration.

There are other issues bubbling under the surface here as well – in particular the changing demographics of the Board. Among the strongest support for Grow Tatzmiach is that coming from the younger end of the deputies spectrum.

Union of Jewish Students representatives and Liberal Judaism’s youth group Netzer have expressed support for over-looking Oxfam’s Israel approach and pushing forward with the food campaign.

The younger sections of the community tend to sensibly put forward different arguments to older dyed-in-the-wool deputies in cases such as these. Put our relationships and work in Britain further to the fore, they say, and for once leave arguments around Israel for another day.

It’s a fair point. Issues over Israel threaten to overshadow the Board’s valuable work on day-to-day matters in this country.

No doubt the plenary meeting on Sunday week will descend into the typically undignified, ranty, shouting, abusive pantomime that so often dogs Board meetings. Mr Wineman has already repeatedly begged deputies to remain calm and polite. I fear his request will fall on deaf ears.

Once more, the leading body of Anglo-Jewry is likely to be turned into a laughing stock, both within our own community and quite possibly, worse still, in the eyes of British non-Jews.

COMMENTS

Rich Armbach

Thu, 01/10/2013 - 17:59

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-2 points

The Board needs to quit bending over backwards to indulge and accommodate the small faction of extremists in irs midst. It is going to get it into big trouble.


zaheerayin

Thu, 01/10/2013 - 18:00

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-3 points

"But explain that to deputies who hold long grudges when it comes to those they believe to be “anti-Israel”. For many deputies it is a simple matter of “you are either with us or against us”. The most vociferous among them have little time for discussing nuances or debating the ins and outs of issues such as settlements or labelling policy."

Those kinds of emotional cripples shouldn't be on the BOD. Those are not characteristics of effective representatives. They make up the useful idiots of the Israel haters.


Jonathan Hoffman

Thu, 01/10/2013 - 18:21

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2 points

Oxfam is clearly institutionally anti-Israel:

http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=289766

Oxfam is a funder and member of Crisis Action (CA). CA in October 2012 issued a Report, signed by 22 of its members, calling for an EU wide partial boycott. Oxfam failed to distance itself from the report.

http://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/trading.pdf

http://crisisaction.org/en/partners

Oxfam has a history of anti-Israel activity:

http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/oxfam

Earlier in 2012 Oxfam produced a Report "On The Brink". It recommended that NGOs should engage in explicit violations of international law by “initiat[ing] and support[ing] development projects in the Jordan Valley and other parts ...of Area C...even if they have not been approved by the Israeli Civil Administration…”

An Embassy spokesman, Amir Ofek, said: "Oxfam's latest report on the situation in the Palestinian territories puts a clearly political agenda above any humanitarian concern. Its call to the international community and to NGOs to initiate projects which clearly violate existing agreements is irresponsible and inflammatory. Far from advancing peace, such an approach undermines the prospects of reaching a negotiated resolution to the conflict"

In 2009, Oxfam was accused of being involved in constructing a water-siphoning system, which illegally diverted water from the “main authorised Palestinian water supply.”

In August 2009, Oxfam severed ties with actress Kristin Davis – an “ambassador” (supporter and spokesperson) for the NGO – due to her work endorsing the Israeli Ahava cosmetics company.

In 2003, Oxfam-Belgium produced a poster of an “Israeli orange” dripping with blood to promote anti-Israel boycotts. The caption read: “Israeli fruits have a bitter taste...reject the occupation of Palestine, don't buy Israeli fruits and vegetables.”

Oxfam consistently paints a highly misleading picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict, departing from its humanitarian mission focused on poverty.

Oxfam demonises Israel: “‘The people of Gaza are living in the world’s largest prison but have fewer rights than convicts’... said Oxfam International’s Director Jeremy Hobbs.”

There are plenty of charities the Board could partner with. It does not have to choose one of the five most institutionally anti-Israel ones.

And the decision was undemocratic. It should have been dicussed in the Board. It never was. And the Community Issues Division never gave it the green light. Discussing and defeating our motion did NOT amount to agreeing to the Oxfam project.


Rich Armbach

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 10:19

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-3 points

The real issue I think is this.....I realise that BOD is not co-extensive with" the Jewish community". But it is the self proclaimed, and widely acknowledged, main representative of such and so far as the outside world is concerned its voice is its voice so to speak.

So if you are an individual or organisation discussing areas of common interest with BOD ( the Jewish community ) you might feel.....Well we tried to talk about this that or the other with the Bod ( the Jewish community ) but all they wanted to talk about was Israel. If we weren't talking about Israel they ( the Jewish community ) weren't interested.So it probably is in the best interest of all concerned if we just leave them talking to themselves,and among themselves about Israel,and moved on and got on with our valuable work without them ( the Jewish community.)

Marcus is correct when he says that the Board ( the Jewish community ) is going to end up a laughing stock, if these maladjusted extremists get their way.


Rich Armbach

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 10:22

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-2 points

Grow Tatzmiach has NOTHING to do with Israel.

I had always been under the happy impression that Marcus was a fellow Hull City supporter ???????


Rich Armbach

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 11:15

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-1 points

An elephant isn't a zebra but they both, by way of comparison,have four legs.


Ben F

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 12:21

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-1 points

By the way, why is Jonathan Hoffman able to comment, and edit his comments, after hours?


Harvey

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 13:17

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1 point

Even if the motion fails to gain approval , hopefully Oxfam will get the message and pull out of their own volition . They will do that on the basis that the red lines drawn up by the BoD will be unacceptable , namely 'not to establish a project or continue a project with an organisation which : supports a boycott of any types of Israeli goods ; partners with or supports any organisation that promotes violence ; partners with or supports any organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel .
There are more than enough philanthropists from within the community capable of funding and putting in place the necessary expertise to oversee no end of projects to tackle world poverty .
Why the hurry to work with an organisation which has evidently allowed political considerations to overlap with its primary cause and founding charter .
Just how much in donor contributions is diverted to fund these ancillary political causes is anyone's guess , not least the unsuspecting donors themselves .


joemillis1959

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 13:24

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0 points

I think that Marcus's description of the situation at the Board as being "mired by internal strife" is over-egging the (East Yorkshire) pudding ever so slightly.

Yes, there are those who have proposed a motion against co-operation with Oxfam, and that's their right and prerogative, but I believe there has been a bit of mud-stirring, as evidenced by the headline in today's JC which didn't seem to be justified by the article.

But, I see now that Oxfam has made it clear that it accepts the wholly reasonable red lines, which include periodical reviews.

It was irrelevant if Oxfam did or didn't accept the red lines, because once the Board made them known, Oxfam wouldn't have been surprised if the BoD pulled out had these been crossed.

Although some people don't like the way Oxfam has gone about things recently, and I can see why they wouldn't like, it is the NGO with the best experience in helping the needy, and we in the community could only benefit from gaining knowledge of its expertise.


Harvey

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 13:38

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0 points

While on the subject of puddings , the proof will be in the eating thereof .


Rich Armbach

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 13:44

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-2 points

"..... hopefully Oxfam will get the message and pull out of their own volition"

That is not impossible. After all Oxfam are taking all the risks here and a fat lot of thanks they are getting.The vast majority of Oxfam supporters and funders will be horrified at the impression being given that their policy in the ME,or anywhere else is henceforth to be determined by the Board of Deputies. Not quite how it is, but well you know impressions.....

And I am sure they wish to hell they hadn't gotten anywhere near this nightmare.


Marcus Dysch

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 14:14

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-1 points

Jonathan - as far as I'm aware Amnesty International UK is a registered charity in Britain.

Rich - I've no idea what Hull City are meant to have to do with this?


joemillis1959

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 14:19

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-1 points

Jonathan Hoffman

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 14:30

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1 point

Marcus - the main UK-based Amnesty organisation is Amnesty international which is not a registered charity.

There is within Amnesty an organisation which is a Charity:

1051681 - AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL UK SECTION CHARITABLE TRUST

But it only employs 35 people and is not the main campaigning organisation.

There are several NGOs which are set up like this - because their main purpose does not meet the requirements of the 2006 Charity Act but they do have activities which do meet those requirements.


Rich Armbach

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 14:34

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-1 points

Marcus happy implied you were a Chelsea fan that was all. I merely had been under the impression you were a tigers fan.


Rich Armbach

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 15:14

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-1 points

Your sources Janet ? Who might they be ?


happygoldfish

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 15:37

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3 points

Marcus Dysch: The most vociferous among them have little time for discussing nuances or debating the ins and outs of issues such as settlements or labelling policy.

is that what board of deputies' meetings are for, marcus …

discussing nuances, and debating ins and outs?

Marcus Dysch: Jonathan Hoffman’s claim that Oxfam is “institutionally anti-Israel” is rather wide of the mark. The charity is evidently not in the saime league of visceral Israel hatred as some employees at Amnesty International or War on Want, which is quite blatantly an anti-Israel organisation under any definition of the term.

marcus, you don't seem to understand jonathan's use of "institutionally"

jonathan is (i assume) agreeing with you that oxfam is not in the same league as visceral and blatant organisations …

that is why he enrols them in the lesser league of the merely "institutionally anti-israel"

"institutional racism" was a phrase which (in the uk) originated in the 1998 mcpherson report (into the police's investigation of the murder of stephen lawrence)

it is usually used to describe an organisation which while not actually racist proceeds in a way which is bound to lead to inappropriate or discriminatory results

when it is recognised that organisations such as oxfam are not racist by motivation (per laura marks: Some NGOs seem to be motivated by their hatred of Israel. With them we hold no truck. But Oxfam GB does not …), it is perfectly acceptable to have dealings with them, even if they are institutionally racist, provided that they do their best to reform their procedures to avoid inappropriate or discriminatory results

the question here is whether oxfam has done so, or whether its well-meaning support for other primarily humanitarian organisations is leading to actions against israel which are inappropriate, unhelpful to the peace process, and are not in fact taken against other countries against whom there are stronger grounds

or is that not nuanced enough for you chelsea supporters?

zaheerayin

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 16:49

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-1 points

Is this plenary meeting going to be streamed? Do I need to get in some popcorn?


Jonathan Hoffman

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 18:24

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0 points

Why does Marcus compare Oxfam to Amnesty?

Amnesty International is not a registered Charity....


JC Webmaster

Mon, 01/14/2013 - 13:14

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