Board row over Oxfam link, but it will happen

The Board of Deputies is to press ahead with a joint anti-hunger campaign alongside Oxfam after rejecting criticism over the charity’s stance on Israel.

A motion to delay the Grow Tatzmiach project was put before the Board’s community issues division on Monday, but was defeated by 11 votes to none, with one abstention.

Plans for the six-month leadership programme were announced earlier this month. It will run alongside a wider national Oxfam project and will help Jewish campaigners tackle injustices in the international food system.

Deputies at a Board plenary meeting on Sunday had claimed the plans were hypocritical, because in August, Board president Vivian Wineman attacked Oxfam’s stance on Israel’s security measures and said the charity had failed to emphasise Israel’s concerns.

How anti-Israel must a charity be before we reject it?

A motion debated at Monday’s meeting was proposed by Jonathan Hoffman, deputy for Woodside Park Synagogue, who called for the project to be “put on hold until Oxfam abandons its support for a partial boycott of Israeli goods”.

He also said the Board should abandon all discussions with “charities, NGOs or religious groups” which propose to boycott Israeli products.

Oxfam has not implemented a boycott but has said it considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal and that products from the settlements should be labelled to distinguish them.

Following the motion’s defeat, Board senior vice-president Laura Marks warned that deputies must “not lose the plot”.

She said: “As a Jewish community we have to be true to our values and ourselves. A large part of being Jewish is about social justice and caring for other people… a large part of the community feels very passionately about this.”

Mr Hoffman can now take the motion to the Board’s next plenary meeting, due to be held in January, for further debate.

Hampstead Synagogue deputy Jerry Lewis had warned that the joint project was a “dangerous situation” and asked whether the Board had carried out “due diligence” before the link-up.

He warned of Oxfam’s links to other organisations and highlighted a joint statement from June in which the charity joined around 50 other organisations, including Medical Aid for Palestinians, to call for an end to the “blockade of Gaza”.

Mr Hoffman had asked the plenary meeting: “How anti-Israel does a charity have to be before the Board refuses to undertake joint projects with it?”

He said it was “a nonsense” for the Board to campaign against the Co-Operative movement’s ban on all companies which source produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank, while at the same time working with Oxfam.

Mr Wineman told Sunday’s meeting: “This is a tremendously important issue. We are concerned about Oxfam’s position [on Israel] and we need to see context and balance in their approach.

“They are less antagonistic to Israel than other NGOs. But you cannot ignore NGOs if you want to protect Israel’s position. It was felt the community should engage in work on behalf of hungry people in the world.”

An Oxfam spokeswoman said the charity backed a two-state solution and was concerned for civilians on both sides of the conflict.

“Oxfam is not opposed to trade with Israel, nor do we support boycotts of any country,” she added.

Two years ago Oxfam launched a strategy to improve its image with British Jews amid concerns of pro-Palestinian bias within the organisation.

Last updated: 4:45pm, November 22 2012