UJIA’s largest dinner in a decade raised £3.3 million for Israel and Zionist youth and education at home on Monday night — up £200,000 on last year’s event.
Dinner chair Keith Black said the support of the 870 guests sent “a resoundingly clear message that our community refuses to take Israel for granted and will not let our children take Israel for granted”.
UJIA remains British Jewry’s biggest provider of charitable support for Israel with £6.5 million distributed there last year, along with more than £4 million for Israel-related UK causes. However, it suffered a drop in donations and legacies from £11.6 million in 2011 to £10.5 million in 2012.
Although Israel enjoyed economic success, its fruits were “unevenly shared”, pointed out Bill Benjamin, who succeeded Mick Davis as UJIA chair at the beginning of the year.
In the Galilee — the primary target of the charity’s aid — 45 per cent of children were living below the poverty line.
UJIA-backed projects include the Kishorit winery, managed by adults with physical disabilities, and the Jordan River Village, where Jewish and Arab children with serious illnesses can enjoy a camping holiday.
At home, it funds Zionist youth movements to the tune of £1 million, while also providing a total of £350,000 in bursaries for a quarter of those on Israel experience tours.
The charity needed to ensure that no Jewish child was left behind, added Mr Benjamin, who spoke of the lasting impact of his own Israel tour when he was 15. “It blew my mind,” he said.
Guest speaker was diplomat Dennis Ross, who has advised several American presidents on the Middle East
Mr Ross concluded his appraisal of recent events in the region with a call to oppose the delegitimisation of Israel. “It’s unthinkable and it should be incomprehensible,” he said. “All of us who are part of the diaspora have our own responsibility to confront it.”
Israel’s UK ambassador Daniel Taub said the dinner was the one time he was invited to propose the toast to the Queen rather than to Israel.
His British counterpart to Israel, Matthew Gould — who gave the toast for Israel — revealed that he had cajoled the Foreign Office into extending his stay for an extra year and will now have a further two years in a five-year term.
He said that in a turbulent Middle East, Israel was the one country that remained stable, democratic and “irrevocably committed to the liberal values that the West holds dear”.
Not only had both his children been born in Israel since his arrival three years ago, but his household now had six pets — after his wife Celia had “adopted a cat from the park next door”.