Joe Millis, the UJIA’s new public relations and communications manager, has defended his Zionist credentials after calls for his dismissal by one of the most widely-read Israeli columnists, who accused him of a being an “extremist critic of Israel”.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Isi Leibler, the Israel-based former leader of Australian Jewry, demanded that Mr Millis be dismissed from the job he took up last month.
Mr Millis was attacked for having called in blogs and tweets for a boycott of Israeli goods from the settlements, and for referring to Israel as being no better than Iran and Syria.
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”.
Mr Leibler coupled the call with an attack on UJIA chairman Mick Davis over his views on Israel, demanding that he “apologise to the Jewish community or resign or, better still, do both”.
The column was followed up on Twitter, with earlier tweets written by Mr Millis being circulated, in which he said that Israel had decided to be the new South Africa and resembled Hamas in using settlements as a “human shield”.
But 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 responded 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.” He also stressed, contrary to Mr Leibler’s claims, that he was not “a spokesman for UJIA”.
Mr Millis said that he was proud to have been in the Israeli army, serving in a combat unit. 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”. The BDS campaign 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”.
But, in May, he tweeted to Jeremy Newmark, the chief executive of the JLC: “Zionist #BDS is not a boycott of Israel, it helps the fight against our one staters”. He also urged boycott of settlement produce in a JC blog last year.
He also wrote: “Just when people in neighbouring countries are laying down their lives to create democracies, Israel wants to be Iran or Syria lite.”
Mr Millis said that the remark had been taken out of context by Mr Leibler. “As a supporter of Israel,” he explained, “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 was 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.”
Mr Leibler’s assault brought a swift riposte from UJIA and JLC chairman Mick Davis and Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman in letters to the Jerusalem Post. Mr Davis said that he had not personally been involved in Mr Millis’s appointment, which had been “carried out following due process by senior UJIA professionals”.
In previous clashes, Mr Leibler has excoriated Mr Davis for criticising the Israeli government, while Mr Davis has dismissed Mr Leibler as “that mad Australian”. Mr Wineman, defending the UJIA chairman’s “outstanding record of support for Israel”, wrote: “It is unfortunate… that Leibler finds scandal where there is none. At a time when diaspora communities face growing challenges in the form of attacks on Israel from so many directions, we should not waste energy fighting among ourselves.”