Tzipi Livni: We ALL have a voice on Israel

We have to listen to our ‘diaspora family’, says Tzipi Livni

By Stephen Pollard and Martin Bright, February 11, 2011
Livni: backs call by Mick Davis

Livni: backs call by Mick Davis

EXCLUSIVE: Israel's Opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, has made an unprecedented declaration of support for the call by Mick Davis, chairman of both the UJIA and the executive committee of the Jewish Leadership Council, for a role for the diaspora in discussing Israel's future.

Ms Livni, speaking to the JC, said: "As leaders, we in Israel must take into account the concerns of diaspora Jewry. Israel is strong enough to take criticism from within the family of Jews, who say, ok, we disapprove of Israeli policy, but we stand firm for Israel."

The leader of the Kadima Party said that diaspora leaders had a "duty" to speak out when Israel "does something wrong".

She was speaking after Mr Davis called at the annual Herzliya conference for a "global Jewish conversation" about Israel, which recognises the crucial role of the diaspora community in the debate about the country's future.

Ms Livni's response is a radical departure from generations of Israeli politicians who have insisted that the diaspora's role is to give money, and that diaspora Jews should only have a say if they emigrate to Israel, pay taxes and serve in the army.

But Mr Davis, speaking on a panel discussing the future of the Jewish people, said: "Ironically, Jews outside Israel are at the vanguard of the battle over Israel's legitimacy. But because we are diaspora Jews, we have no impact on how Israel itself responds to this battle."

Mr Davis was expanding on a theme that caused controversy when he first raised it last November: that Israel needs to pay more attention to Jews living outside the country and recognise the effect its actions have on the diaspora.

He also defends himself in an article in this week's JC, in which he writes: "I spoke honestly and personally to a group of fellow Jews at the London Jewish Cultural Centre who were thirsty for debate. My words were made into a cause célèbre. Yet Jewish conversations like this are critical." He argues that diaspora Jews "need to drive an agenda".

The JLC chairman could not have chosen a more high-profile platform than the Herzliya conference for his call for a global "big conversation" about the campaign to undermine Israel's right to exist.

He condemned the boycott movement and the "red-green alliance" of the hard left and radical Islam. But he said criticism of Israel should not always been seen as an attack on its right to exist. "Not every criticism of Israel is delegitimisation. Not even every untrue or unfair criticism of Israel is delegitimisation."

Mr Davis urged Israel to reach out to Jews beyond its borders.

"If diaspora Jewish leaders are to deliver effective support for Israel, bringing their entire communities with them in the fight for Israel's legitimacy, their voices need to be heard in Israel. Their perspectives and opinions need to be discussed and considered.

"Israel needs to join the big conversation sweeping through the Jewish world. It is indeed time for a new 'global Jewish conversation'."

Asked by the JC what he thought should be done about the growing acceptance of delegitimisation in liberal circles in the UK, Mr Davis replied: "The definition of who is a delegitimiser has to be a narrower one." He said critics of Israel from inside or outside the Jewish community "should not be automatically labelled as self-hating Jews or antisemites". Liberal Jews and people on the left who were critical of Israel should be brought into the debate.

Others on the panel, which included Sir Ronald Cohen and Nathan Sharansky, proposed a less accommodating view of Israel's critics. Malcolm Hoenlein, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, agreed that a new approach was needed. However, he said the term "liberal" was too much of a compliment to delegitimisers. "You have to call a spade a spade and show the world the hypocrisy of human rights groups which provide cover for the anti-Israel agenda. When they cross the line, we have every right to expose them."

But in Ms Livni's comments to the JC, she made it clear where she stood on the matter. Speaking, she said, "first as a Jew, and second an Israeli," she declared: "We must draw a distinction between understanding and supporting Israel's values and existence, and criticising any Israeli government's policy. As Jews we are family, and families have the right and the duty to be critical when a member of that family does something wrong.

"We must criticise each other. And diaspora leaders have the same duty to speak out.

"As leaders, we in Israel must take into account the concerns of diaspora Jewry. Israel is strong enough to take criticism from Jews who say, ok, we disapprove of Israeli policy but we stand firm for Israel.

"When criticism is made from love and concern we in Israel must be strong enough to take it."

Last updated: 3:59pm, February 11 2011