Deputies two-state solution Middle East row

By Simon Rocker, January 20, 2011
Vivian Wineman

Vivian Wineman

Board of Deputies leaders were left trying to salvage its Israel policy this week after members threw out a resolution that declared support for a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Despite the convincing rejection of the motion, Board president Vivian Wineman insisted that most deputies still remained in favour of the concept of a two-state peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Sunday's 79-51 vote defeat of a resolution which had been intended by the Board's executive to display consensus on Israel led to a hastily convened meeting of the Board's officers the next day. Although they discussed whether to hold a postal ballot of deputies on the two-state question, they are not pursuing it for the time being.

Deputies offered a range of different explanations for the result on Sunday, which one described as "a bloody nose" for the executive.

Another, former United Synagogue president Peter Sheldon, said that some deputies felt that the Board's existing policy of support for Israel was sufficient without adding the "constraints" of specifying a two-state solution.

But he also believed there had been an "annoyance" vote against the executive because deputies were not allowed to put amendments. The debate may have also been influenced by deputies' unhappiness at the news of Mr Wineman's plans to join a Jewish Leadership Council mission to the West Bank, he suggested. The visit has now been postponed.

Former Board vice-president Flo Kaufmann said: "Everybody's got a different interpretation of what a two-state solution should be. The matter of the West Bank visit had a bearing on the debate. I don't think it's appropriate for people who are in the UK to go and negotiate over there. It wasn't clear what the purpose of the trip was."

Ronnie Fraser, a United Synagogue representative, said that many deputies "didn't like the wording 'two-state' because there are various interpretations. The leadership did not pick up these signs from the floor."

Mr Wineman said he had been "surprised" initially at the result - but not after later conversations with deputies who had felt the motion superfluous or simply "too long" and "wordy".

He said: "There was a feeling we might be dictating to the government of Israel. And that came from quite left-wing people, saying it was not our business. But it is clear to me that the vast majority of deputies, not all, does support the efforts of the Israeli government, based on a two-state solution."

The Board released a statement on Wednesday saying that it stood "completely behind a just and lasting negotiated peace and in particular behind the courageous stand of the present government as formulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu".

But the implications of Sunday's vote have begun to ripple outside the Board. Hannah Weisfeld, who is leading efforts to set up a new doveish campaign group on Israel - inspired by the American J Street – said that the debate signalled "a worrying state of play in our community's only democratically-elected representative body. It is moves like this which explain why so many people are urging the creation of a movement to advocate a two-state solution."

Danny Handler, deputy for Edgware United Synagogue and chairman of the Board's Israel group, said: "I fear the UK Jewish community, including the Board, is not looked at in a very positive light in Israel. It's felt that we are not doing enough to stand up for the country while it is constantly being attacked in the media and public forums."

But Jonathan Davies, deputy for Golders Green Synagogue, said: "A diplomat is sent abroad to lie for his country; we are not. It's our moral duty as Jews to speak when we feel something is wrong. Our love for Israel should not be equated with our support for every action of the Israeli government."

Last updated: 2:12pm, January 20 2011