Liberal Judaism criticised for boycotter talk

Rabbi explains what happened when sanctions group met up at Liberal HQ

March 25, 2010
Urging action against Israel: Jeff Halper

Urging action against Israel: Jeff Halper

The Board of Deputies this week criticised Liberal Judaism for having allowed a meeting at its headquarters featuring a supporter of the boycott against Israel.

Jeff Halper, the director of the Israel Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), spoke at a meeting organised by Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) at the Montagu Centre, Liberal Judaism's central London HQ, on Sunday.

A Board spokesman said: "At a time when Israel is under assault from those intent on delegitimising her, it is baffling and unacceptable that a meeting of a body with an explicit agenda of boycott, divestment and sanctions would be welcome in the home of a synagogue movement."

But Liberal Judaism defended its decision. "Liberal Judaism hires out the Montagu Centre to a number of Jewish and non-Jewish organisations, of which JfJfP is one," it stated. "Liberal Judaism values freedom of speech and it is not our policy to censor speakers." 

Last week Mr Halper toured the UK on a joint platform with British-based Palestinian activist Ghada Khami, a tour partly organised by the pro-boycott British Committee for Universities of Palestine (Bricup). Some of their talks were billed as "Fighting Israeli Apartheid; the case for BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions]."

He has previously doubted the viability of a two-state solution, instead calling for a "confederation" of Israelis and Palestinians. Patrons of ICAHD's British support group include outspoken critics of Israel such as Baroness Tonge, Clare Short, Professor Ilan Pappe, the Reverend Stephen Sizer and John Pilger.

Liberal Judaism said that it had "long advocated a two-state solution.  We do not support boycotts of Israel. We reject the use of the word 'apartheid' when discussing Israel.

"We continue to invest a great deal of thought and energy into our support of Israel. This is fulfilled in many ways, including Israel tours for youth, gap year programmes in Israel, engagement of a full-time emissary, and regular community and leadership visits."

Liberal Judaism was asked to cancel the booking by Jonathan Hoffman, joint vice-chairman of the Zionist Federation and a member of the Board's international division, who said that Mr Halper was "not an appropriate speaker for a synagogue movement to host".

But Liberal chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich hit out at an "attempt to bully us into cancelling a legitimate booking. Jonathan Hoffman accuses Liberal Judaism of hosting an antisemitic speaker on the basis that any person who calls for a one-state solution is by definition antisemitic. That is clearly nonsense."

Rabbi Rich said he had also been accused of having taken an active part in the meeting. In fact, he said, he had appeared at the start to tell participants where the fire exits and toilets were, and to explain where they could find out about Liberal Judaism's own position on Israel and Zionism.

Last updated: 2:23pm, March 25 2010