Unbalanced forms of balance
I have some sympathy with Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, who has found himself at the receiving end of communal opprobrium following his decision to participate in a sixth-form study day at the Gryphon Church of England school, chaired by the Bishop of Sherborne, Graham Kings.
The event was focused on Israel and Palestine. But its objectivity and impartiality left much to be desired. Partly organised by the anti-Israeli Palestinian Christian movement entitled "Friends of Sabeel", aided by members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, its spotlight was unashamedly on the privations allegedly inflicted upon Arabs by Jews in what was once part of Mandate Palestine.
The event was planned around last year's controversial Channel 4 series, The Promise, and the guest of honour was its writer, Peter Kosminsky. Now, for all the praise heaped upon it from a technical point of view, The Promise demonstrated how truth can be shamelessly obscured by the fog of dramatic licence. In that series, the truth - the whole truth - was brazenly sacrificed on the altar of pro-Arab and anti-Jewish half-truths. This work of fiction was condemned by the novelist Howard Jacobson, the historian David Cesarani (who rightly accused Kosminsky of "massive historical distortion") and by my fellow JC columnist Jonathan Freedland (who condemned Kosminsky for deliberately abusing Holocaust imagery in the pursuit of his highly questionable ends).
Other participants in the Sherborne event included Dr Hassan Qasrawi (described on the Salisbury diocesan website as "a Palestinian refugee") and Deborah Fink, a singer and leading Jewish anti-Zionist activist, whose multifarious accomplishments have included demonstrating against a concert by the Jerusalem Quartet in London in 2010 (because, she explained, the Quartet had "not once condemned discrimination or the repression of the Palestinians") and taking part in the deliberate disruption of a concert by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Proms last year.
With participants such as these, and with the additional attraction of hearing what the organisers described as "the Palestinian Christian perspective" - not to mention the chance to question "human rights monitors" working on "a World Council of Churches project in Israeli-occupied Palestine", the overall thrust of the day could hardly have been in doubt. Rabbi Rich's presence, therefore, went a little way towards redressing the balance. He was right to have accepted the invitation to participate in the event. I would have done the same.
Rabbi Rich was right to have accepted the invitation
But, in accepting, I would have laid down some ground rules. Rabbi Rich is a patron of the Zionist Federation. But his brand of Zionism can hardly be considered mainstream. He is, for example, on record as denying that the so-called "one-state" solution (involving the dismantling of the Jewish state and the absorption of its citizens within a state with a Palestinian Muslim majority) is "by definition" antisemitic, whereas I would have thought it obvious that any denial of the right of Jewish self-determination must, by definition, be so.
Of course, he is entitled to his views. But it would have been to his credit had he insisted on a greater degree of balance among the speakers who addressed the 300 or so sixth-formers –- for example, insisted on the presence of a Jewish refugee expelled from an Arab country, or of some spokesperson for the Israeli government.
But let's not deal too harshly with the good rabbi. In accepting the invitation, he did indeed permit himself to be used - his presence lending a veneer of "balance" to an event that was grossly, deliberately, imbalanced. But in chastising Rabbi Rich we would do well not to forget that the event was hosted by and boasted the imprimatur of the Church of England, about whose anti-Zionist credentials there can surely no longer be the slightest doubt.