Joseph Millis, the UJIA’s new public relations and communications manager, has defended his Zionist credentials after calls for his dismissal by an Israeli columnist who accused him of a being an “extremist critic of Israel”.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post online, Isi Leibler, the Israel-based former leader of Australian Jewry, demanded that Mr Millis be dismissed from the job he took up last month.
Decrying the appointment as “despicable,” Mr Leibler said Mr Millis was “a far-left extremist who has publicly called for a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements, stressing that he includes east Jerusalem”.
Mr Leibler coupled his comments with a fresh attack on UJIA chairman Mick Davis over his views on Israel, demanding that Mr Davis "apologise to the Jewish community or resign, or better still, do both".
Mr Millis, who is a former foreign editor of both the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News and represents Bromley Reform Synagogue on the Board of Deputies, said that his views on boycott had changed over the past year.
In a statement circulated to UJIA supporters, Mr Millis wrote that he was “not now nor have I ever been ‘anti-Israel’ or ‘far left’. I wear my Israeli citizenship as a badge of honour. I am a Zionist and proud to be such.”
Mr Millis said he was “proud to have served in the Israeli army”, having been in a combat unit in the Sinai, Lebanon and on the Golan. He was educating his children “to love Israel and Zionism” and took them often to visit their family there.
He said he was “totally opposed” to boycott, divestment and sanctions, “even to the targeted version against settlements”.
BDS was “a nasty knee-jerk minority action taken by people who are not interested in peace in the Middle East or the Palestinians whom they purport to support”.
In an exchange on the JC website a year ago, Mr Millis had urged boycott of settlement produce after Israel passed a law threatening action against those who advocated such a course.
In another remark which infuriated Mr Leibler, he wrote: “Just when people in neighbouring countries are laying down their lives to create democracies, Israel wants to be Iran or Syria lite.”
In his statement to UJIA supporters, Mr Millis said the remark had been taken out of context by Mr Leibler. “As a supporter of Israel, and like many Israelis and Zionists, I said, in context of an extended exchange of comments with other JC bloggers that I feared that there is a risk that Israel may cease to be a Jewish and democratic state of which we are all justifiably proud and slide towards the kind of authoritarianism that we see in other Middle Eastern countries, unless a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians is reached.”
Opponents of Mr Millis in the UK have also been circulating tweets he wrote three years ago in which he said that Israel had decided to be the new South Africa and resembled Hamas in using settlements as a “human shield”.