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The JC Comment Blog

The JC Comment Blog No.13 – is it wrong for Jews to criticise Israel?

Lee Harpin asks why more prominent Jews aren't voicing concern about Israel's 'direction of travel'

    It seems somewhat astonishing that to find the last outspoken criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu's Israeli government regime from a mainstream British communal organisation you have to travel back eight years.

    Just as surprising is the fact that the questions over Mr Netanyahu's political direction came not from a member of the Labour Party's anti-Zionist left-wing - but instead from the current chief executive of the Conservative Party.

    In 2010 Sir Mick Davis, the then chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, voiced open criticism over the "direction of travel" of Israel's government under its current Prime Minister.

    Sir Mick warned that Israel could become an apartheid state if a two-state solution failed to materialise.

    He suggested also that Israeli actions had as significant an impact on diaspora Jews as on Israelis themselves.

    I noticed that last week, again, in a blog for an Israeli news website, Sir Mick stated that he continued to feel exactly the same way as he did in 2010.

    "I feared then as I do now, that the occupation, and more specifically the apparent lack of will or vision to end it, was harming Jewish and Zionist identity," he wrote.

    Which begs the question, why are there not other voices like Sir Mick's emerging from the leadership of our mainstream Jewish organisations?

    From speaking with fellow Jews in my own community, I know there is considerable concern about the "direction of travel" in Israel under Mr Netanyahu.

    I have heard parents speaking of Friday night dinners in which their own children have begun to quite openly challenge the conventional UK Zionist narrative which suggests it is wrong to criticise Israel when you don't actually live there yourself.

    "My daughter won't mention Israel without also mentioning the Palestinians," was how one exasperated individual described the latest family conflict around the dinner table.

    And yet last week, the response from our major communal organisations to the death of 17 Palestinians on the borders of Gaza - 10 of whom were admittedly linked to Hamas or similar Islamist organisations  but at least two of which left the Israeli army with major questions to answer - was there to be seen.

    Just hours before the start of Passover, as the news of the scale of the Gaza protests began to make news bulletins across the world, the Board of Deputies decided to issue a statement on Twitter.

    The statement, written at a time when reports from Israel suggested one person had been killed and six others wounded, said: "Alarming developments at Gaza border as Hamas once again using its civilians - inc children - as pawns."

    In then reiterated calls for a return to the "negotiating table" and for a "democratic Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state".

    But the Board's statement was seized upon by anti-Zionist critics mainly on the British left as yet the latest example of the Jewish establishment's failure to ask questions of Israeli government and military policy.

    My guess is that the Board issued the statement too hastily - before the full Palestinian death toll became known.

    Quite why the Board felt it necessary to place a message of this kind on its official Twitter feed as a major incident on the Gaza borders was still unfolding is surely a question it will hopefully answer in due course.

    I am surely not the only British Jew to be wishing that our leading communal organisations sought clarification and justification from the Israeli state over its actions in situations such as the Gaza protests.

    If only so that we can mount some kind of defence of these actions - and this week's pledge by Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman to respond "more harshly" to the Gaza protestors next time - when discussing the Jewish State in front of some of its fiercest critics.

    Meanwhile, from the Jewish Leadership Council we have seen complete silence over the Israeli actions in response to the Gaza protest.

    Following the departure of Sir Mick from the JLC, as he took up his new role at the Tory Party, new chair Jonathan Goldstein admitted back in December in an interview with the JC that he would not be following the lead of his predecessor in voicing opinion on Israel.

    “I don’t believe it is my role to take a political position in public about the way in which the government of Israel is operating," said Mr Goldstein.

    And yet as with last year's Balfour Centenary commemorations, the JLC will shortly be at the forefront of celebrations in the UK around Israel's 70th anniversary.

    It cannot seriously be argued that any “Israel At 70” event - which will inevitably and justifiably aim to present on overwhelmingly positive view of the Jewish state - does not reflect a stance that is indeed openly political in nature.

    And it also makes a mockery of the argument that communal organisations should steer clear of voicing criticism of the Jewish state.

    Doing so only presents an open goal to the Ken Livingstones and Chris Williamsons of this world.

    And despite never having voted for the Conservative Party once in my life, on this particular issue, I'm on Sir Mick Davis's side.

     

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