Anger over Gaza flotilla forum

By Marcus Dysch, July 15, 2010

An interfaith forum which will debate the Gaza flotilla incident and assess its impact on religious groups has sparked an angry response from a Jewish community.

The Building the Bridge (BtB ) initiative in Bristol will assess the flotilla's impact and use discussion groups for people to "share their views and experiences".

The initiative works with the government's Prevent counter-terrorism strategy and is funded by Bristol City Council.

Last week the council condemned Israel's part in the flotilla incident and called for sanctions against the Jewish state. No councillor spoke for Israel and the flotilla was referred to as a "peace convoy".

Michael Romain, chairman of the Bristol and West Progressive Jewish Congregation, said: " A meeting like this will exacerbate the Jewish community's concerns. There is already disquiet about the council debate. It's making us uncomfortable. Why are they discussing Israel and not matters going on in other parts of the world?"

He said it was "totally inappropriate" for Prevent funding to be used to support the event.

Rabbi Dovid Usiskin, of Bristol Chabad, said: "The obvious concern is that there seems to be a very strong anti-Israel strand within the council. The impression is that the meeting will continue in that vein.

"Some people said we should boycott the meeting, but the community is concerned that Israel needs to be well-represented. It looks like people will go to articulately defend Israel."

The council said full plans had yet to be agreed and the Government Office for the South West, which will host the July 26 forum, said the only costs would be "a few hundred pounds for refreshments" and would be met by the BtB Partnership.

However, Home Secretary Theresa May has now announced plans to dismantle the Prevent strategy as part of a government review of counter-terrorism policy - as predicted in the JC.

Last updated: 12:50pm, July 15 2010