Envoys support Laurence Brass in Israel criticism row

By Simon Rocker, June 26, 2014

A group of former Israeli diplomats and politicians have sprung to the defence of Board of Deputies treasurer Laurence Brass over his outspoken comments about the situation of Palestinians on the West Bank.

Mr Brass has been under fire for expressing shock after a recent visit to the area with British campaign group Yachad.

In a letter to the JC this week, his Israeli supporters praised his “willingness to see the grim reality on the ground in the West Bank” and to highlight his concerns.

They added: “What a shame that there are not more leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community willing to tackle these troubling issues.”

The letter was signed by four former Israeli ambassadors, including Ilan Baruch and Aron Liel, who both served in South Africa, as well as former consul-general in New York Colette Avital, former attorney general Michael Benyair, New Israel Fund president and former Knesset deputy speaker Naomi Chazan, and former Education Minister Yossi Sarid.

What a shame more Anglo-Jewish leaders are not tackling these troubling issues

Mr Brass, who said that he had gone with Yachad in a private capacity, spoke out at the “miserable” conditions of Palestinian villagers and their fears of attacks by settlers.

His one-day trip to Susiya on the West Bank was led by a guide from anti-occupation Israeli army veterans’ group Breaking the Silence.

But other deputies have objected to him making his views public, with former Board vice-president Eric Moonman saying that Mr Brass should apologise or face calls for his resignation.

Criticism came also this week from the head of a group which scrutinises anti-Israel activity abroad, Professor Gerald Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor.

Responding to the pro-Brass letter, he said that Breaking the Silence and figures such as Ms Chazan and Mr Liel "are not the people to be provide ethical grades to diaspora Jewish leaders”.

He added that it was “a problem when the leader of an umbrella organisation like the British Board of Deputies takes a radical position based on what he is told and sees through the lens of a very narrow Israeli constituency.”

Yoaz Hendel, chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies and a former communications director for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said: “If someone comes to Israel and… hears the point of view of only one side, and is not aware of the efforts made by the state of Israel and the IDF on behalf of Palestinian citizens in the area, or of the challenges, obstacles and limitations we face but encounters only a point of view that is used to delegitimise Israel, he should ask himself about his continued service as a leader of the Jewish community.”

Mr Brass, who has a home in Israel, said this week that the letter of support had been “reassuring”.

Yachad runs around 10 day-trips to the West Bank or East Jerusalem a year, as well as a number of longer tours for lawyers, students and women and a half-day programme on Jerusalem for 400 youth on Israel tours.

Its director Hannah Weisfeld said that the group had no intention of ending its association with Breaking the Silence. “I am yet to see all those voices that have criticised Laurence Brass to actually get out into the field and see for themselves what Laurence saw,” she said.

Last updated: 4:45pm, June 26 2014