Speak for yourself - the changing face of community protest

By Marcus Dysch, September 4, 2014
Chief Rabbi Mirvis speaks at the rally

Chief Rabbi Mirvis speaks at the rally

The success of a grassroots-led rally against antisemitism could herald a new era of Jewish advocacy in Britain, campaigners believe.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism’s demonstration in central London on Sunday was orgnaised by a small number of activists unaffiliated to traditional communal groups.

It fuelled suggestions that “pop-up” groups will increasingly take on the role of representing the community, bypassing organisations such as the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council.

The crowd at the rally repeatedly booed mentions of the Board, and the appearance of its president Vivian Wineman and senior vice-president Laura Marks sparked chants of “you need to do more”.

The rally followed the launch of a number of advocacy groups before and during the Gaza conflict, and a growing public debate over the role and performance of communal leaders.

Jonathan Sacerdoti, a CAA spokesman, said: “We are almost conditioned to be very obedient in terms of our leadership groups. We treat them with respect and do things the right way.

“British Jews should feel less like they have to ask for permission to do what they want. We don’t need permission. We don’t need to apologise for being ourselves.”

Winston Pickett, Sussex Friends of Israel board member, said that the events of the summer constituted “a sea change in how British Jewry and its allies can find innovative ways — especially via multiple social media platforms — to raise their collective voice and lead the way.

Ian Pyzer, of newly-founded group Israel Advocacy UK, believed the need for grassroots groups was “born out of a lack of connection between the central communal organisations and the local communities. Their lack of contact and engagement has created a void and a feeling of frustration, requiring that we act without their assistance.

“The positive effect of this lack of central leadership has been to empower us to come together and get involved.”

Ilana Katz, who helped organise protests against the Tricycle Theatre’s boycott of the UK Jewish Film Festival, said grassroots initiatives were “changing the way the community thinks. This summer is just the beginning.

“I don’t rely on organisations like the Board which aren’t on the streets being active. Keeping our grassroots work separate and for the community is a major step in the right direction.”

Mr Wineman declined to comment on his reception at the rally when asked by the JC this week.

In a statement the Board said: “This has been a difficult time for the community and it is inevitable that there is a temptation to cast around for someone to blame.

“The Board was pleased to support the rally. We were greatly encouraged by the numbers in attendance and the strength of feeling expressed.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that some senior Board figures were unaware of its joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain, released last week, until they read about it in the JC.

One leading figure in the fight against antisemitism said the statement had been received with disbelief.

“I appreciate they were trying to appeal to a cross-communal audience, but there are better groups they could have done it with,” he said.

Former Board vice-president Jerry Lewis hopes to gain enough support from deputies before the Board’s next plenary meeting on September 21 to put forward a motion calling for Mr Wineman to be removed from his position.

● A conference for Israel advocacy groups was jointly organised by the Board last weekend, with more than 50 Christian and Jewish delegates attending the event in London.

Last updated: 8:27am, September 4 2014