UJIA chief: More collaboration between Jews and Israel

By Simon Rocker, June 17, 2010

One of Israel's leading supporters has demanded a greater "collaboration" between Israel and diaspora Jews.

Writing in today's JC, Mick Davis, chairman of both the UJIA and the executive committee of the Jewish Leadership Council, says that "whereas an Israeli can at least influence events through the ballot box, we are a simple recipient of their impact".

He asserts that "we have a legitimate role as a partner with Israel in developing" its long term strategy.

Israel, he writes, is a "cornerstone" of the identity of most Jews in the diaspora and central to their future.

His words will be seen as a barely coded attack on Israel's dismissal of diaspora views about the Middle East.

We need to show people how to face the challenges

Mr Davis heads British Jewry's biggest charitable investor in Israel, which spends more than £15 million a year on projects there, Zionist youth groups and other Israel-related programmes.

He also urges British Jews to recognise there are different views about the country's policies and to encourage, rather than stifle, debate. He warns against a retreat into "a defensive, ever-shrinking circle".

It is, he argues, "almost impossible" for Israel's friends to offer consistent support if leaders do not present a clear strategy for solving the conflict with the Palestinians.

While mainstream Jews include vocal supporters, others, he says, are privately critical or love Israel while being publicly critical and "sometimes accused of being self-haters".

If young Jews are to take pride in their relationship with Israel, "we must equip them to deal with the complexities and challenges they perceive in an honest and open way.

"That means acknowledging and confronting the schisms which exist in Israeli society, as in all societies; accepting that there is a range of views on Israel's foreign policy and stimulating rather than stifling debate."

He writes that Israel's friends "cannot easily see the road Israel wishes to travel.

"If they cannot see it, they cannot defend the tactics, making it almost impossible to provide credible and consistent support.

"It is important now for Israel to define a strategic solution in its own terms; it should be about what is right, moral and legitimate for the Jewish state, rather than what is wrong with her neighbours."

Mr Davis's intervention comes amid increasing signs of diaspora unease over Israeli policies, most visibly expressed in the recent J Call and For the Sake of Zion petitions in Europe and the United States that urged a settlement freeze.

Most Israelis still expect Jewish organisations outside to support the government, according to a poll for the B'nai B'rith International's centre in Jerusalem. More than half felt pro-Israel organisations should support Israeli policy. Only 28 per cent did not.

Last updated: 5:24pm, June 17 2010