Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has complained to the Charity Commission about a potential breach of its guidelines by the charity War on Want.
Mr Lauder wrote in the wake of last week’s London launch of a book accusing Israel of human rights abuses, an event at which War on Want called for a worldwide boycott of Israel.
The stormy meeting at Toynbee Hall, hosted by the charity, and featuring journalist Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, saw sharp exchanges between members of the audience and a small group of pro-Israel participants.
Heavily outnumbered, they were told by the charity’s executive director John Hilary to keep quiet, as they shouted “just like Nazi Germany” and “shame” as a senior War on Want official announced that the charity wanted to start a global boycott of Israel.
WoW campaign officer Yasmin Khan said the boycott should be both cultural and economic, and particularly targeted at consumer products in order to allow individuals to take part.
She said: “Israeli state-owned companies provide huge amounts of fruit and vegetables to the UK market...in the Jordan Valley they are making a killing. Boycott means making sure we don’t do business with these companies. Don’t just refuse to buy Israeli avocados, tell people why.”
In addition, institutions such as pension funds, trade unions and local authorities would be made aware of the boycott in order to encourage divestment from the Israeli economy, Ms Khan said.
Asked by the JC if it was appropriate for a registered charity to become involved in a political boycott, Mr Hilary said he had received the approval of WoW’s trustees and the Charity Commission.
A Commission spokesperson said it had made clear to the charity that it must meet its requirements on campaigning and political activity. “On the basis of assurances given by the charity, we are not taking the matter further,” she said.
But in a letter to the Commission, seen by the JC but not released publicly, Mr Lauder said that “the use of gross and false analogies such as apartheid incites hatred and contempt for the state of Israel.”
He said that the recent definition of antisemitism by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia included “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
Discussing his book, in which he accuses Israel of being an apartheid state and of having indulged in ethnic cleansing, Mr White said that he was not comparing Israeli apartheid with the situation that had existed in South Africa.
In South Africa a white minority had ruled over a black majority, while Israel, he said, “just wants the Palestinians to go away. They want the land without the people.”
Israeli actions, he argued, amounted to apartheid as understood and condemned by the world community.
Withdrawal from Gaza, he said, had been carried out for PR reasons, giving rise to pictures of soldiers taking away screaming settlers.
To describe Israel as an apartheid state, insisted the author, was “not to question its right to exist. In fact the majority of Jewish Israelis are born in the land and have the right to it. It is about recognising that the Palestinians too have a profound need for that land and have the right to share it as equals.”