JLC’s ideas above its station

By Lord Levy, January 31, 2011
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Last week's JC front page was most disturbing. We are an active community, with excellent organisations and vibrant Jewish life; yet we prompted the headline, What a State. Are we in a state? The biggest disconnect is between our grass roots of caring, committed Jews and our leadership. We have so many excellent, dedicated people - our major funders, our activists, our Rabbis, our teachers, our professionals - yet it is so difficult for them to work together and progress in the same direction. But it is vital and necessary.

In recent years we have moved to a position where most of the funds raised in the community are not sent to Israel but are used at home to strengthen and develop our facilities. This is as it should be.

We still have way too many organisations - but that is our community. There have been some remarkable changes, particularly in education and the number of Jewish schools, and in the creation of Jewish Care (and all the organisations now under its umbrella) and Norwood (with Ravenswood and other charities linked in). But there is still much to be done to integrate other charities.

Israel is the most difficult and sensitive subject of all. We all have an opinion - we pray for Israel's peace and security - and yet our influence on Israel's leadership is marginally above zero. In almost every instance this also applies to the UK government. I can speak with some knowledge, having had the privilege of having been the Personal Envoy of the Prime Minister for nearly ten years.

Praying for Israel is one thing; influencing it another

However, we must continue to voice our opinions and enter the debate. We must sometimes agree to disagree with Israel. But this needs to be done with an understanding that this will not have a great impact. Praying for Israel is one thing; influencing Israel is another!

But we must hope that if we all pull in the same direction without too much contradiction, our voices will eventually be listened to. It is urgent that we find this voice: the intolerant, anti democratic trends inside Israel and the ongoing occupation in the territories should be a source of concern for us all.

I have been privileged to have worked within our community for over forty years and on the national scene and am proud of a number of things I have achieved. I have worked with many fantastic people who have given their time and energy. That has been genuinely uplifting. I have also seen a number of younger people start to take positions of leadership and influence. This has been crucial in laying the foundations of our community for the future.

I was moved by Geoffrey Alderman's article last week about the LSE debate on boycotting Israel. Professor Hochhauser is renowned in the medical profession but he is not really part of the leadership of our community. Yet he did the most outstanding job on our behalf in the fight against the academic boycott. There are many other inspirational people like Professor Hochhauser out there. We must encourage them to come forward.

The Board of Deputies, like many other organisations, does a job for our community. But it should not overstate its importance. We have excellent organisations and they take the lead in their areas of responsibility. When I helped to create the Jewish Leadership Council I saw it as a forum to bring together the heads of such organisations and people who had been in leadership positions to discuss issues facing us. But it has not yet defined its role. I certainly did not envisage it becoming a new power base and expanding its infrastructure - something that is neither necessary nor needed. For that reason I decided to resign from it.

I hope that we will not see any more headlines like What a State. We must go forward with dignity and pride in building our community for the future. We can and we will.

    Last updated: 12:53pm, January 31 2011