Britain must act with caution over Syria, urge Jewish leaders

By Marcus Dysch, August 29, 2013

International intervention in Syria is necessary, but should be approached with caution, leading Jewish figures have urged.

As Parliament was recalled to discuss what action should be taken following the chemical weapon attacks, rabbinic figures and academics said the international community could not “stand idly by”.

The Henry Jackson Society think-tank published an open letter on Wednesday, signed by prominent journalists, commentators and academics, including Professor Vernon Bogdaor, which backed military strikes against President Assad’s regime.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead Synagogue, said he also felt “very strongly” that it was right to intervene: “The religious justification is clear. When you see a victim, don’t cross over to the other side of the road.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is right to urge caution but wrong to let it mean not taking action. The fact that Iraq has turned out badly should not prevent us acting morally in other arenas. There may be debate over what we do — ground troops or missile strikes — but it would be immoral to do nothing. Praying for peace is not enough when God’s children are being gassed.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, of Mill Hill United Synagogue, said the United Nations should act, but should be cautious of “going in all guns blazing.

“Diplomatic channels and harsh sanctions ought to be the first ports of call with every avenue explored before the first bullet is fired. However, a ‘united’ global front is paramount,” he said.

Baroness Neuberger, rabbi at West London Synagogue, offered “very weak support” for intervention, for “practical rather than moral reasons.

“There is of course religious and moral justification for intervening to save lives. But the question here is a political and practical one, of whether intervention will actually save lives or simply exacerbate things,” she said.

Professor Colin Shindler, Pears Senior Research Fellow in Israel Studies at SOAS, said the use of chemical weapons was “another step into the abyss.

“Political paralysis will only encourage a normalisation and greater use of this weaponry and place both Israel and ourselves in greater danger,” he said.

Edgware United Synagogue’s rabbi David Lister said: “If it’s established that the regime used the chemical weapons against civilians, we still need to be wary of whether it’s appropriate to back the insurgents because they are aligned with al-Qaeda. We are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

Last updated: 4:45pm, August 29 2013