ZF urges rationalisation of Israel groups

Outgoing Zionist Federation chairman Andrew Balcombe used his valedictory speech to call for a rationalisation of organisations supporting Israel.

Addressing the ZF's biennial conference in north-west London on Sunday, Mr Balcombe also bemoaned "the weakest pro-Israel leadership the community has had in many years.

"Israel is not the mainstream issue for the Jewish leadership, nor the Board of Deputies. All I see is apologies."

He observed that "some claim the UK needs another so-called left-wing Israel organisation. The ZF represents all views from Meretz to Herut across the Jewish spectrum. We need fewer organisations, not more."

Mr Balcombe said later that a consolidation would primarily be for cost reasons. But there was also the need to achieve greater efficiency and avoid duplication.

"Can we afford all these chief executives? The community is shrinking.

"It would be a very good job for the Jewish Leadership Council to bring these organisations under one body. The ZF would also be a part of that."

New ZF chair Harvey Rose said: "We will continue to speak up for Israel and we are focusing on ways that we can help achieve a better understanding of Israel's position and a fairer hearing in the media, the universities, the unions, the trade and professional organisations and other places where lies about Israel have become truths.

"Following a strategic review of the ZF, one of the areas we will concentrate on is the students at university and to provide training and information to counter the anti-Israeli lies that are spouted on campus."

This week, other Israel charities have backed Mr Balcombe's suggestion.

Bicom chairman Poju Zabludowicz said: "Andrew is right - having a critical mass and working together improves our chances of success. An example is the Bicom and JLC-led Stop the Boycott campaign against the UCU, involving a whole raft of other communal organisations. However, there will always be the need for niche organisations like the 'parliamentary friends of' groups, which are key in our political culture."

A JNF spokesperson felt the community "would benefit from having a more co-ordinated approach with regards to Israel. JNF would look to play a central role in this discussion if such circumstances arose."

At the New Israel Fund, the view was that streamlining could work where, for example, "several organisations have a common specific objective, such as educating about the situation of Israel's Arab citizens".

Academic Friends of Israel director Ronnie Fraser hailed the idea but doubted if it would come to fruition.

    Last updated: 3:21pm, October 21 2010