The JC letters page, 13th July 2018

Sharon Shenhav, David Chesler, Jeremy Beecham, Joseph Holder, Robert Festenstein, Neville Nagler, Herschel Zimonas, Cllr Barry Rawlings and Alison Prax share their views with JC readers

July 12, 2018 10:52

Helpless rabbis

I was surprised to read that Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, supported legislation recently passed by the Knesset which would enable Israel to detain a husband who had refused to give his wife a get (Israel Votes to Deny Entry to Men Who Refuse a Get, JC, June 29).  

There is nothing new about this legislation. For decades the Rabbinical Courts have issued restraining orders against non-Israeli recalcitrant husbands after they entered the country.  

As an Israeli women’s rights lawyer specialising in agunot cases I was involved in a case several decades ago involving an American couple.  The husband, a wealthy businessman, came to Israel for Succot and was detained for six months as he had refused to give his wife a get in New York.

Recently a recalcitrant French husband was similarly detained.  He appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel, but the court rejected his appeal, stating that he was free to leave Israel if he gave his wife a get.  After years of refusal, he released her from their non-existent marriage.

These cases are rare and will not solve the greater problem of get refusal in Europe. Having represented hundreds of agunot in the Israeli Rabbinical courts for four decades I can testify that the vast majority of cases involve greedy husbands who withhold their consent to a get in order to become enriched by extorting money from their desperate wives.  As a consultant in get refusal cases in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands it is clear to me that these European recalcitrant husbands do not travel to Israel but remain in Europe where their cases languish in European rabbinical courts.

If the European rabbis truly want to give hope to agunot, they will adopt recent creative decisions by Israeli Rabbinical Courts to annul marriages and thus free agunot by eliminating the need for consent of their recalcitrant husbands.  

Courage, compassion and creativity are needed by dayanim today, not Israeli legislation.  If some Israeli rabbis are capable of such creativity, why are the European rabbis so helpless?

Sharon Shenhav

Understanding words

Dr Yaron Sternberg (Letters, July 6th) should carefully read what the Mandate for Palestine actually says. 

It states that all Jewish immigration to Palestine was subject to the control of the Administration who were to ensure that it would not impinge on the rights of the native population. 

By asserting sovereignty over huge swathes of what was previously privately owned Arab land, Israel disregards the Mandate’s stipulation that Jewish settlement be limited to legitimately purchased lots and available state and waste lands alone. 

The 1939 White Paper noted the ambiguity surrounding the term “national home” and clarified that the intention of the document’s signatories could not have been that Palestine be converted into a Jewish State against the will of the Arab population. 

David Chesler

In their replies to my letter on Israel’s claim to the West Bank Melvin Lipetch and Dr Yaron Sterberg appear to have overlooked the fact that Israel accepted the UN’s partition plan.

Jeremy Beecham 
House of Lords

Polish realpolitik

We have suffered recently from Ken Livingstone and his fellow travellers on the far left peddling the myth of Zionist Nazi collaboration. Now in some kind of perverse symmetry we have the Israeli government joining in with the Polish government to peddle the myth that substantial parts of the Polish populace did not collaborate with Nazis or instigate pogroms against Jewish survivors.

I am sure that none of us thought we would see the day when the government of Israel would trample on the facts of the Shoah and the memory of its victims  in the name of some kind of spurious realpolitik.

Netanyahu’s own political forbears, Begin and Shamir, must be turning in their graves.

Joseph Holder

Battle lost, war won

Your article on the Jewish Human Rights Watch appeal concerning the Leicester boycott motion from 2014 (Jewish Human Rights Watch loses appeal against Leciester City Council’s anti-Israel motion,, July 3) does not reflect the significance of the decision for minorities in general and the Jewish community in particular.

Until now a view had developed amongst councils that if they put in a disclaimer they could pretty much say what they liked about the Jewish state. Further, it was believed that if a council motion was described simply as a statement of solidarity, without having any impact on any formal council policy, then the Equality Act did not apply.  

Last week’s decision turns this all around.  Although our appeal failed on the facts of the case, we were able to establish significant ground-breaking principles of law which will apply to all councils in the future.

Every council resolution, binding or otherwise, is now considered a function — and so is bound by Equality Act 2010.  

All councils now must consider the impact of any resolution on discrimination, harassment and community relations.  

In view of the close association with the bulk of the Jewish community with the State of Israel it simply won’t be enough for councils to claim this is nothing to do with the Jews.

The reality now is that councils will find it almost impossible to pass boycott or censure motions as Leicester (and others) have done, without breaching their duties under the Equality Act.

Leicester City Council have won their battle, but the war brought on by the BDS boycotters in councils has been lost.

Robert Festenstein
Director, Jewish Human Rights Watch

We’ve waited 25 years

As your reports and editorial made clear (JC, July 6), it is extraordinary that, having insisted on donating millions of pounds each year for “improving” Palestinian school text books, the Foreign Office now requires more than a year to review their content. 

Have successive governments never bothered to look at the material which they have required UK taxpayers to finance? 

The endless and widespread incitement against Israel has pervaded this material throughout the many years the UK has been funding it, and corrupted generations of school children in the Palestinian territories.

I first raised this issue, with examples, in the early 1990s when Board of Deputies officers met Douglas Hurd whilst he was Foreign Secretary, and repeated the Board’s concerns with his successors, both Conservative and Labour. Each time we were told that the Foreign Office would look into our concerns. So far more than 25 years of looking into the matter have achieved nothing. What are the prospects for this latest review resulting in any change of direction?

Neville Nagler  
Chief Executive, Board of Deputies (1991-2005)
London N3

We shall overcome

Your headline states that “In Malmo, a rabbi and an imam are working to overcome integration” (JC, July 6).

Overcome integration? I sincerely hope not. 

Hasn’t the Malmo Jewish community got enough problems without that?

Herschel Zimonas 
London N12

Labour anger at Labour

I am writing as the Leader of the Barnet Labour Group to express my anger and sadness at the Labour Party’s decision to re-write the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism by excluding four examples of antisemitism. 

I cannot understand why these have been excluded from the guidelines in the party’s adopted definition. 

References to these four important examples appear in later paragraphs of the 16 point code of conduct on antisemitism, but the overall effect is to nuance, caveat and weaken the examples. The final paragraph suggests that evidence of antisemitic intent is required, which inverts the Macpherson Principle — that an antisemitic incident is any incident perceived to be so by the victim.

It is for Jewish people to define antisemitism, and Jewish community groups have done so by endorsing the full IHRA definition. 

This is the internationally accepted definition of antisemitism. It is the definition accepted by the British government, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and local councils across the country including Barnet Council, the local authority with the largest proportion of Jewish residents in the country. 

I am proud that Barnet Council was the first to adopt the full IHRA definition following a motion from the Labour Group passed at Full Council in January 2017.

It should be the definition accepted by the Labour Party, and I call upon the Labour Party NEC to review its decision.

Cllr Barry Rawlings
Leader of the Barnet Labour Group of  Councillors 
Barnet Town Hall, London 

Standing side by side

Whilst on holiday, I read Professor Omer Bartov’s excellent Anatomy of a Genocide, which describes the complicated history between Ukrainians, Poles and the Jewish community in the small Ukrainian town of Buczacz.   

On my return journey via Zurich airport, I snapped this photograph of two planes side by side; one Ukrainian and the other El Al. Who would have imagined that more than 70 years on from the Shoah, both countries are now independent?

Alison Prax
London NW11

July 12, 2018 10:52

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