The excess that brings access

What are we to make of Vivian Wineman's blunt admission to the Board of Deputies about British Jews' lack of influence over government policy? What conclusions are we to draw from this public acknowledgement that British Jews - or rather the organisations that claim they represent British Jews - have "good access" to government ministers but apparently no influence over them?

If it is indeed the case that these organisations have really had little success in winning over government ministers on issues judged to be important to British Jews, what, if anything, can or should be done about it?

Historically, in terms of its influence over successive governments since the granting of political emancipation 150 years ago, British Jewry has generally punched well above its weight.

To achieve this, it has employed, at different times and to suit particular circumstances, a variety of strategies, sometimes in combination and sometimes not. These have included: (a) discreet lobbying undertaken by a few well-placed individuals operating for the most part well away from the public eye; (b) the unashamed exploitation of electoral opportunities as they have arisen; (c) the highly selective use of public campaigns when judged appropriate; and (d) the willingness, on occasion, to be unreservedly confrontational.

Cameron's statement was one of anti-Jewish prejudice

The attempt to coax out of the Lloyd George government in 1917 a statement endorsing the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was carried out by a relatively small number of communal leaders working behind closed doors.

The campaign to persuade the Ramsay MacDonald government to abandon the anti-Zionist policy of its colonial secretary, Sidney Webb, was materially assisted by the deliberate intervention of Zionist groups in the fortuitous Whitechapel by-election of November-December, 1930.

The very public campaigns on behalf of Soviet Jewry in the 1960s and 1970s were crucially influential in garnering the support of successive British governments for this cause.

An attempt by Tony Blair's government to prohibit Jewish religious slaughter of food animals was stopped in its tracks when communal representatives very publicly walked out of a meeting with the Farm Animal Welfare Council in March, 2003.

What all these examples have in common is that, at the relevant times, the interests of British Jewry were championed and articulated by people of stature as well as of status, communal leaders with courage as well as vision, whose very presence in any gathering would invariably command attention. What we have now, by contrast, is a class of moneyed machers and their sycophantic cheer-leaders who have clearly deluded themselves into believing that access must indeed and inevitably lead to influence when (of course) it implies and means no such thing.

Let's take a case in point --- the decision of Prime Minister David Cameron to remove his name from the list of patrons of the Jewish National Fund (an organisation of which JC readers will know I am no uncritical fan).

Whether taken as a personal initiative or (much more likely) as a result of discreet lobbying by anti-Jewish interests, this was a deliberate act. It was a rebuke to British Jewry. I would go so far as to say that it was a public statement of anti-Jewish prejudice.

The communal reaction should have been to denounce it as such. But what happened was that two wealthy, communal figures, Mick Davis of the United Jewish Israel Appeal and Gerald Ronson of the Community Security Trust issued statements exonerating Cameron, thereby endorsing the Downing-Street spin-doctor who invited the media to believe that it was "nonsense" to suggest that Cameron's decision was "anything to do with an anti-Israel campaign".

Well, if it wasn't "anything to do with an anti-Israel campaign" what, pray, was it to do with? If figures like Messrs Ronson and Davis want to believe that getting the Prime Minister to accept an invitation to dinner (access) means that he respects them (influence), there's nothing much Vivian Wineman can do about it.

But he could do something. He could make it clear to Mr Cameron that an act of betrayal invariably comes at a price. In other words, he could break his deafening silence by issuing the Prime Minister with a public rebuke.

    Last updated: 9:51am, July 1 2011