Why JNF UK has sadly decided to leave the JLC

By Samuel Hayek, March 3, 2011
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Since the publication of Der Judenstaat - The Jewish State - in 1896 by Theodor Herzl, the very idea of a modern state of Israel has been constantly undermined and the state itself has had to survive multiple threats to its existence.

In the decades following independence, Israel's enemies tried to wipe it off the map through conventional warfare. They failed and Israel thrived.

So they turned to a campaign of terrorism, bombing buses, restaurants and shopping centres, and killing thousands of innocent Israelis.

Same aim, different tactics. Again they failed and Israel thrived.

Today a new kind of war is being waged by Israel’s enemies: a global campaign to delegitimise the state

Today, a new kind of war is being waged by Israel's enemies. The global delegitimisation campaign against Israel in the media and the geopolitical world is unrelenting. While not as lethal in its methods, it is just as deadly in its aim: to turn the world's scorn on Israel and ultimately destroy it.

That is what makes this "war" so dangerous. It is subtle and has successfully created a framework wherein well-intentioned words and actions by undoubtedly passionate Zionists are being manipulated and misused to attack Israel.

That is why the current debate in the UK about our relationship as diaspora Jewry towards Israel is so worrying.

I spoke out publicly against Mick Davis's comments last year on Israel's alleged failure to recognise that its actions affect Jews living in the diaspora. I did so for one simple reason: I believe diaspora Jewry should always stand firmly alongside the state of Israel and the Israeli people.

Whatever its good intentions, in reality, public criticism of Israel, particularly when it comes from Zionist Jews, strengthens the global delegitimisation campaign in a way that any one-sided report on Al Jazeera or the BBC cannot.

The recently proposed trip by Anglo-Jewish leaders to the West Bank demonstrated the Jewish Leadership Council's failure to grasp the realities of this new "war".

The trip (which was kept hidden until the last minute from the members of the JLC and Board of Deputies) was opposed by the Embassy of Israel and fundamentally wrong in its approach. As a vocal opponent of the trip, I was pleased to see its postponement.

Had this exercise gone ahead, it would have shown a lack of understanding about what Israel and the diaspora need in a mutually-supportive partnership. It would have fallen into the propaganda framework set by Israel's enemies.

I am proud to be chairman of JNF UK, a body whose support for Israel has always been, and will always remain, steadfast and strong. For more than 110 years, we have built Israel, first cultivating the land and then establishing the foundations of the modern state. Israel has its problems; no one is trying to paint a picture of a perfect state. I understand that individuals have differing opinions about Israel's leaders, their policies and their actions.

But I also believe that, in these troubling times, Israel understandably expects to look towards Anglo-Jewry and the wider diaspora and see unwavering, public support.

Since its creation, the JLC's emphasis has shifted from a domestic to a foreign agenda based around Israel. While this has raised the JLC's profile both internationally and domestically, it has also improperly resulted in this self-appointed and non-mandated body leading the community in areas already covered by others, such as the Board of Deputies - an elected and representative institution.

Let me be clear: JNF wholeheartedly supports community co-operation. When we joined the JLC we believed this was its aim. However, eight years on from its founding, it has, as Lord Levy, explaining his recent resignation from the JLC, said "not yet defined its role" within the community other than to become "a new power base… something that is not necessary or needed".

In addition, at a time of financial austerity, JNF was being asked to pay £26,000 in membership fees towards the JLC's escalating costs, an amount which could not be justified.

We also feel the current, isolated manner in which the JLC's executive leadership operates means that voices round the table are not all being heard and a system is not in place to effect any real debate or change.

Our decision to resign was not an easy one to make, but it was the right one. We hope this sparks further debate about the JLC's role within our community and the steps that are needed - as Baroness Deech, another recent resigner from the JLC, noted in a letter to the JC - to "shake it up" and force it to reassess where its priorities lie.

Samuel Hayek is chairman of JNF UK

Last updated: 12:42pm, March 3 2011