Mick Davis is 'using our opponents' language'

December 2, 2010

Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the UK, this week struck back at UJIA chairman Mick Davis over his outspoken comments on Israel, accusing him of using language "straight from our opponents' lexicon", calling much of his criticism "unwarranted" and urging British Jews to take greater pride in the country.

In an article in today's JC, Mr Prosor sprang to the defence of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accused by the UJIA leader of lacking the courage to advance the peace process.

The diplomat protested that criticism even from friends of Israel was now couched in the language of its enemies.

Mr Prosor initially refrained from responding to the remarks made by Mr Davis at a public meeting nearly three weeks ago, but he has now made his feelings known following support for Mr Davis given by other Jewish leaders in an open letter to the JC last week.

The ambassador, acknowledging that there was "unease" and "anxiety" about Israel, wrote that he also noticed unease "from those who see how distorted debate on Israel has become and feel frustrated when even committed friends seem unable to see it".

While some of the criticism frequently aimed at Israel was deserved, he said, much of it was "unwarranted, unfair and unhelpful".

He went on: "It is surprising, therefore, that Mick Davis's public expression of critical views should make such a splash. They were hardly Wikileaks-style revelations. More surprising is the characterisation of such statements as 'brave'. By what version of reality does a panel discussion in North London constitute bravery?

"...Leading troops into battle - that's brave. Standing up for Israel on British campuses is brave. So too is Israel's Prime Minister, standing up at Bar Ilan University and declaring a commitment to establishing a Palestinian state, despite so many years of Palestinian rejectionism and hostility. So is pushing a sceptical Israeli cabinet to agree a settlement freeze to promote genuine peace negotiations."

While well-intentioned, much of the recent criticism of Israel's leaders was "misplaced", he said. "It does however highlight how even among staunch friends and supporters of Israel, which Mick Davis certainly is, the narrative of Israel's enemies is setting the agenda and tone of debate. Talk of Israel 'losing its moral compass' or becoming 'de facto an apartheid state' is straight from our opponents' lexicon."

In face of the demonisation campaign waged against Israel by its adversaries, the ambassador urged the Jewish community "to stand with more pride for Israel, before addressing the prejudice of our critics".

Mr Davis also voiced reservations over some Israeli policies, fears of the risk of its becoming an apartheid state should a two-state solution fail and concern over the impact of Israeli actions on diaspora Jews.

He declined to re-enter the debate this week by commenting on the ambassador's riposte.

But strong endorsement of Mr Davis came in Israel this week from Kadima MK Ze'ev Bielski, the former head of the Jewish Agency. He was responding to an attack on Mr Davis from Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler, a former leader of Australian Jewry who now lives in Jerusalem.

In a letter in the Jerusalem Post, Mr Bielski recalled the UJIA head's philanthropic record and efforts to lobby on behalf of Israel with the British government.

Mr Bielski wrote that, having met most of the world's Jewish leaders, "it is my most fervent wish for the state of Israel and world Jewry to be blessed with more who are of the calibre, modesty, generosity and vision of Mick Davis".

But his testimonial only prompted a fresh assault by Mr Leibler who in a new letter to the Jerusalem Post challenged Mr Bielski to find "even one other example of a reputable diaspora Jewish leader making such statements and retaining his position".

Mr Leibler's censure is unlikely to cut much ice with Mr Davis, who also chairs the executive of the Jewish Leadership Council. At last month's meeting, he referred dismissively to Mr Leibler as "that mad Australian who seems to be against everybody".

Meanwhile, another British Jewish leader has also signalled concern about the wider impact of Israeli policy. Poju Zabludowicz, chairman of the Israel advocacy organisation Bicom, wrote in its annual review that it also had a duty to "ensure that Israel's leaders appreciate the effects that their actions can have on us as Jews throughout the diaspora".

Last updated: 4:48pm, December 2 2010