UN chief attacks 'alienating' BDS

By Paul Berger, December 29, 2010
Limmudniks Nadia Levene, Jason Caplin, Jaks Zarum

Limmudniks Nadia Levene, Jason Caplin, Jaks Zarum

The head of the UN's relief agency in Gaza has criticised the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and called for the release of Gilad Shalit.

UNRWA head John Ging was interviewed in front of a packed audience on Monday during the week-long Limmud conference, held at Warwick University.

Though he reserved particular criticism for Israel's "counterproductive" blockade of Gaza, Mr Ging struck
a conciliatory tone, acknowledging the low opinion of UNRWA in Israel and in the diaspora.

On BDS, he said: "In my personal and professional opinion, what we need are interventions that draw out the positive, that don't alienate.

"We have a very emotive, volatile situation in the Middle East and people are despairing of the situation. Coming with more pressure, in my view, is not going to be effective."

Mr Ging called Gilad Shalit's capture a "tragedy" and noted that he was being "held captive without respect for the Geneva Convention".

"He should have been released yesterday," said Mr Ging. "He should never have been taken in the first place." The interview, conducted by Masorti Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, was streamed live online and will be broadcast on the BBC.

In his criticism of the blockade, Mr Ging said that it fuelled a "tunnel industry" and punished innocent Palestinians.

Mr Ging said Israel needed to find new ways to deal with Gaza other than collective punishment "that has affected an entire population, half of whom are children".

He said extremism in Gaza was a "growth industry" and urged supporters of both sides to try to see each other's point of view. Palestinian supporters should visit towns like Sderot and Israeli supporters should visit Palestinians, he said.

The end of his discussion was met with a long round of applause.

The talk was one of 1,200 sessions involving almost 2,500 people from 28 countries. Debates, discussions and activities ranged from politics and history, spirituality and Torah to arts and culture.

Wandering around the snow-covered campus, it was possible to overhear conversations in Russian, Hebrew, French, Italian, Hungarian and a range of English accents, from Australia, South Africa, North America and across the UK.

Many participants came from overseas to start or grow movements in their home countries. Others came to schmooze and to learn.

As she left one lecture, Miriam Brosh, of Leeds, said that bringing her teenage son to Limmud was one of the best things she had done for him.

"I have been able to show my teenager every shade of opinion all in one room," Mrs Brosh said, "all getting on, all talking, discussing and engaging in honest debate."

Despite adverse weather conditions in the UK and overseas, almost everyone made it to this year's event on time.

Steven Fisher, co-chair of Limmud, said: "I am delighted with how things have gone. It's been a very positive atmosphere, we've had lots of great feedback on the quality of programmes and people seem to be having a great time."

Last updated: 2:12pm, December 30 2010