By withdrawing its protection at the UN on the question of Israeli settlement expansion, the fading Obama administration has caused turmoil within many Jewish organisations. Despite a recent American $38 billion military aid package to Israel, many viewed the move as a wholesale betrayal and a deliverance into the hands of Israels enemies.
Was the official communal reaction then solely a question of responding to a hostile UN? Or was it also an indirect endorsement of the settlement drive after many years of studied neutrality? After all, Theresa May said that the conflict is far more complex than the issue of the settlements. The President of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, subsequently claimed that there was a consensus among British Jews in condemning the UN vote.
Yet the glossing over of the vexed question of the settlements neither reflected the views of British Jews nor presented a credible defence against the biased anti-Zionism of many UN member states. A City University survey (2015) — in which I was involved as an adviser — and a JPR survey (2010) both suggested that around 75 per cent of British Jews opposed the settlement drive.
In the City University survey, 64 per cent expected “unstoppable international sanctions against Israel if it continues to expand the settlements”. Yet very few (32 per cent) were prepared to support tougher action by governments. This contradiction between private Jewish views and public non-Jewish action seems to be at the heart of the dilemma which haunts many Jewish organisations.
Now faced with a difficult choice, Jewish leadership has clearly opted to cling to the controversial policies of an Israel government rather than think through an approach which takes into account the concerns of British Jewry. In a rebuke to the stand of the President of the United Synagogue, Professor Shalom Lappin, a US member, commented that “the UN has a disgraceful history of rank hypocrisy in matters related to Israel. This hypocrisy does not exempt the Israeli government from the obligation to adopt rational policies.”
Such consistent scientific findings about the opinions of British Jews project an inconvenient truth regarding settlement expansion. Even so, the era of Donald Trump will make it easier for Jewish leadership to dismiss the work of expert and experienced demographers.
Since the Six-Day War in 1967, there has been a continuous opposition from young people in the UK to the settlement drive. Groups such as Siah, Peace Now and Yachad have often been a fly in the communal ointment — and suffered accordingly. Yet they have all provided a safety net for young Zionists who loved Israel but opposed its government’s policies. Like Limmud, they prevented an estrangement from communal life.
They also provided support for the independent views of figures such as the late Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, and the former Israeli Ambassador, Moshe Raviv.
It is not easy for Jewish leaders to explain the complexity of the Israel-Palestine conflict in simple terms to the outside world. But at the same time, they appear to be oblivious to the danger that Jewish organisations will be seen as merely an appendage to Israel government policy and the charge that critical young people are readily dispensable. Too many today disagree with the notion that unity is best served by uniformity.
This reaction to the unanimous vote in the UN Security Council may well be the precursor to a justification of settlement policy in the coming year — the 50th anniversary of the conquest of the West Bank. If so, then 2017 will be a year marked by deep division and bitter dispute — and a further distancing of the brightest and best of our young people from the cause of Israel.
Colin Shindler’s next book, ‘The Hebrew Republic: Israel’s Return to History’, will be published shortly by Rowman and Littlefield