The British ambassador to Israel has intervened in the row over the Board of Deputies’ joint food poverty project with Oxfam, telling friends of Israel they should do more to engage with those who are its critics.
Matthew Gould’s comments come as weeks of opposition to the Grow/Tatzmiach leadership programme threaten to come to a head at a Board plenary meeting on Sunday.
Speaking to the JC, Mr Gould said the community should be open to discussion and debate. “If the friends of Israel only engage with those who already agree with them, they will find it difficult to win the argument,” he said.
The comments echo remarks the ambassador made last August when, in an interview with Israel’s Channel Ten, he warned that in the UK negative views of Israel had moved from the margins to the centre ground.
On that occasion Mr Gould said the British public “may not be expert but they are not stupid” when hearing of settlement building and restrictions in Gaza. He encouraged Israelis to take on board the shift among the international community.
Oxfam confirmed at the end of last week that it would continue to work on the joint project after being told of a series of “red lines” drawn up by the deputies.
The Board had told Oxfam that any hardening of its stance on Israel would lead to the termination of the scheme.
Although the NGO could not give assurances that it would not in future breach the red lines, it said that in principle it had “no objections” to the Board’s suggestions.
An Oxfam spokeswoman said: “We hope we will be able to continue this partnership with the Board. It supports our Grow campaign which is about making sure that everyone on the planet has enough to eat. One billion people currently go to bed hungry.”
On Sunday deputies will vote on a motion which calls for the project to be put on hold “until Oxfam abandons its support for a partial boycott of Israeli goods”.
Board leaders are determined to see the programme go ahead as planned, but are aware that the organisation’s democratic process could see deputies scupper the link. The executive members will push for a straightforward “yes/no” vote on the project.
The JC understands Board president Vivian Wineman rejected a “compromise deal” offered by opponents of Grow this week. It would have seen the motion withdrawn in return for the Board undertaking further consultation over the link with Oxfam.
Jonathan Hoffman, one of the deputies proposing the motion, said: “It is clear that Oxfam has relations with a number of organisations that transgress the ‘red lines’. To imagine Oxfam will give up all these relationships simply to preserve the Board’s participation in the project is to live in cloud-cuckoo land.”
Meanwhile four Jewish organisations have joined a separate campaign against food poverty alongside Oxfam and dozens of other groups.
World Jewish Relief, Tzedek, Gefiltefest and JHub will begin work next week with organisations including Christian Aid, Islamic Relief, the Church of Scotland, and the National Union of Students.