Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of Deputies, this week rounded on critics who accuse him of underplaying the threat of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.
Six deputies posted an online statement to dissociate themselves from an opinion piece written by Mr Wineman for the Jerusalem Post last week.
But writing in today’s JC, the Board president, who was elected two months ago, hit back, rejecting claims that the leadership had “its head in the sand”.
He said: “Our critics should save their vitriol for those who attack Israel, not for those who are in the front line of its defence.”
The dissident deputies include Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic Friends of Israel and Jonathan Hoffman, vice-chairman of the Zionist Federation. The others are Ben Bernstein, Marion Davis, Harry Levine and Carole Orgell-Rosen.
Reacting to his comments in the Jerusalem Post, they declared: “As deputies, we wish it to be known that Mr Wineman’s article does not represent our views, and we ask him in his future public pronouncements to be more sensitive to the record level of antisemitism, much of which is Israel-based. It is impossible to begin to address the problem unless the Jewish leadership recognises it.”
The row began a fortnight ago with an earlier article for the Jerusalem Post written by Robin Shepherd, director of international affairs in the London office of the think-tank, the Henry Jackson Society.
Warning against increasing hostility towards Israel in the UK and the knock-on effect on antisemitism, Mr Shepherd wrote that “the darkness is closing in”.
But in an article in response, Mr Wineman described the assertion as “misguided and alarmist”.
He also described as “misleading” Mr Shepherd’s suggestion that British opinion-formers are “among the most hostile to Israel in the Western world”.
The article brought a swift reaction from Mr Hoffman, who posted a comment on the Post’s website, declaring “Your head is in the sand, Vivian.”
He and five other deputies then followed up with a statement published on Mr Shepherd’s blog, saying that “the president of the Board and chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council is the last person who should be downplaying the undoubted growth of malevolent opinion in the UK towards Israel and — by extension — towards Jews who speak out in support of Israel.”
Mr Shepherd also retaliated, claiming in an article in last Friday’s JC that Mr Wineman had handed Israel’s opponents an “invaluable gift”.
But Mr Wineman said this week: “The danger is not complacency, however, but despair. To say that the battle is lost is both wrong and dangerous.”
He added: “Another criticism is that we give comfort to Israel’s enemies by stating that the extent of the problem is pervasive but not all-encompassing. What does give them comfort is an article suggesting that we are rattled.”
The Board’s treasurer, Laurence Brass, also dismissed the critics. “It’s clear to me that there are some deputies who are seeking to encourage the idea of a ‘siege mentality’ as part of their own right-wing agenda to persuade the Board to be less sympathetic to constructive criticism of some aspects of Israeli policy,” he said.
“This attempt to steer the Board towards a more hawkish approach has to be resisted.”