Insulting us won't help JNF Israel

By Poju Zabludowicz, June 20, 2011
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Israel is facing an assault on its legitimacy unparalleled in intensity, scope and sophistication. More than ever, Anglo-Jewry must unite around the Zionist values we overwhelmingly share: to defend Israel's future as a secure, Jewish and democratic state.

Last month, BICOM, with broad communal support, planted the seeds of a grassroots movement capable of engaging, empowering, strengthening and sustaining the community's support for Israel.

The We Believe in Israel conference was a landmark, bringing together an unprecedented number of organisations. From the Zionist Federation to the New Israel Fund and the major synagogue bodies to our Christian friends, we gathered to say proudly and unapologetically that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, its legitimacy unquestionable, its security non-negotiable.

That is why I was so surprised to read Samuel Hayek's comments last week. There is no doubting JNF's historic role in building the Jewish state. So when David Cameron stepped down as an honorary patron, it was of course disappointing for all those who fondly remember the iconic blue box or planted trees in Israel. But the friendship between Britain and Israel must be built on firmer foundations than nostalgia.

JNF should use the PM's decision to address its challenges

Mr Cameron is a staunch, longstanding friend of Israel. He is keeping his pre-election promise by amending the law on universal jurisdiction. Senior Israeli figures will no longer avoid Britain for fear of arrest. That will have greater positive consequences for Anglo-Israeli friendship than whether the prime minister's name appears on JNF letterhead.

Mr Cameron's decision has not "reverberated around the world", though Mr Hayek, through his overstated condemnation, appears to seek that outcome. JNF should use David Cameron's decision to address the many challenges that it faces, ones that cannot be overcome through scattergun condemnation of Anglo-Jewish leaders or a friendly British prime minister.

Israel faces complex challenges. The Middle East is gripped by instability, Iran is building a nuclear bomb, Syria is butchering its own civilians, Egypt's future remains uncertain, and the Palestinians seem to have turned their back on negotiations.

Friends of Israel must work like never before to avoid that scenario. Direct negotiations remain the only path to a secure, stable peace with two states for two peoples. We must do whatever we can to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the best possible conditions to pursue that goal.

Mr Netanyahu is uniquely placed to balance international pressures with domestic constraints, to navigate a path to a strong, secure peace. As he does, the support of allies such as Britain will be essential. Our cause will not be helped by petulant insults towards Number 10, or by prioritising the political goals of any Jewish organisation over the effective, united voice of the Jewish community in Britain and the State of Israel.

Poju Zabludowicz is BICOM Chairman

    Last updated: 10:55am, June 20 2011