Why David Cameron - and the community - got it so wrong

By Samuel Hayek, June 10, 2011
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JNF UK chairman Samuel Hayek, left, with the Chief Rabbi, planting in Israel

JNF UK chairman Samuel Hayek, left, with the Chief Rabbi, planting in Israel

For the past fortnight, many people have asked why Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned as an honorary patron of JNF, none more so than Stephen Pollard, the editor of the JC, who described the decision in an article in The Times as the "equivalent of sticking two fingers up to the Jewish community of Britain".

Mr Cameron's resignation was not simply another everyday decision taken in Downing Street. It was a calculated move made with political precision; one which was more than simply "time constraints" or part of any wider review. Make no mistake: this decision was about Israel and JNF's relationship with her.

The Prime Minister's words of support for Israel to Jewish audiences are too often contradicted by those said in front of more hostile crowds. Actions speak louder than words. The decision to resign from JNF has reverberated around the world: celebrated among anti-Israel supporters as a sign of what intense lobbying can achieve; received with a mixture of disappointment and despair among Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel worldwide.

The lack of vocal support for Israel on this issue from leaders of Anglo-Jewry has also been deafening.

The Prime Minister resigns his honorary patronage of the world's leading Zionist organisation and (with the exception of Harvey Rose, chairman of the Zionist Federation), no prominent Jewish lay leader publicly speaks out against it. When Israel is being attacked on the ground, delegitimised in the media, and singled out for disproportionate criticism in the global political arena, Israel needs all the vocal support it can get from leaders in the Jewish community.

The anti-JNF campaign is not new; it is co-ordinated by groups that are not only anti-Israel but also anti-Jewish. Such campaigns have called on past prime ministers to step down as an honorary patron of the JNF many times. Such demands have always been robustly rejected – most recently by Gordon Brown in 2007. This time, however, rather than standing firm against such pressure, Mr Cameron has capitulated.

JNF is targeted by these anti-Israel groups because we are seen as being Israel's most vocal advocate, whatever government has been democratically elected by Israeli people. Anti-Israel activists have more to gain from attacking us because of the level of our support for Israel and its people. This support is not something we're ashamed of.

We're proud JNF's work is 100 per cent focused on building Israel. We're proud to be Israel's flag bearers in the UK. Let me make JNF's position clear: we do not distinguish or decide on what projects to support based on race, ethnicity, gender, creed or religion: our projects in the areas of environment, healthcare and development benefit all the citizens of Israel.

JNF will continue to work hard to pioneer the Zionist mission and dream in the 21st century by building the infrastructure upon which Israeli society rests. We urge the community to support and join us in raising the funds needed to turn the Negev and all of Israel green.

David Cameron's resignation will not shake our steadfast support for Israel. Our work makes a vital difference to the future of Israel and its people. Previous prime ministers including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown all saw, understood and appreciated the fundamental role JNF plays in Israel's development. What a disappointment David Cameron does not.

Samuel Hayek is chairman of JNF UK

Last updated: 12:33pm, June 24 2013