Board may resume its Oxfam collaboration

By Daniel Easterman, February 20, 2014
Vivian Wineman (Photo: Ben Turner)

Vivian Wineman (Photo: Ben Turner)

The Board of Deputies has left the door open to further collaboration with Oxfam despite widespread criticism of a joint project with the charity.

In an interview on Wednesday, Board President Vivian Wineman said that he would “not rule out a new project” with Oxfam despite the strong opposition to the partnership.

Mr Wineman said that, although there was nothing in the pipeline, “if something was suggested, the Board would consider it. But we would consult with the deputies… because we know it’s controversial.” On Sunday, Mr Wineman had announced at a meeting of the Board that there were “no plans” to renew a joint programme with Oxfam, which ran from November 2012 until June last year.

The anti-poverty charity has frequently been under fire from leading community figures over its stance on Israel.

Last month, Oxfam hit the headlines when it criticised Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson’s new role with Israeli drinks firm SodaStream, which has a factory in a West Bank settlement. Ms Johansson quit her position as a goodwill ambassador for Oxfam rather than turn her back on SodaStream.

Mr Wineman told deputies on Sunday: “Our project with Oxfam is over, there are no plans to renew it over this triennium [three-year term]. I think that deals with it all.”

He said that Ms Johansson had been “forced to make a choice and I’m very pleased she made the choice she did. I think we’re all delighted with that. I’ve written to her on behalf of Board congratulating her on that choice. I think that was a fine thing to do.”

The Board’s joint programme with Oxfam, called Grow Tatzmiach, came under fire from some deputies almost as soon as it was announced last year. Many at the time argued that the Board was being used by Oxfam to boost its image among British Jews.

“We should never have got involved with Oxfam in the first place,” said Gary Mond, a deputy for JNF UK, this week. “Oxfam has a very troubling history with regard to Israel. I’m delighted they are not renewing the project. The officers of the Board didn’t realise the Oxfam collaboration would cause this much resistance.”

Rosyln Pine, deputy for North Salford Synagogue, also took issue with the Board’s leadership for “getting into bed” with Oxfam.

In January last year, deputies voted by a majority of 113 to 65 in favour of going ahead with the project.

Ruth Newman, education director of social action charity, “Tzedek”, said that the Grow Tatzmiach initiative itself was a “great programme. We were thrilled to be involved”.

Richard Verber, campaigns manager for World Jewish Relief, who was also part of the Grow Tatzmiach programme, said that Oxfam’s staff had never discussed Middle East politics during it and that the project was about “tackling world hunger”.

Treasurer Laurence Brass said that he had invited Ms Johansson to be keynote speaker at the Board’s annual dinner later this year. This was later retracted by Mr Wineman, who said no such invitation had been extended and that the Board neither “ruled it out nor ruled it in”.

Last updated: 4:45pm, February 20 2014