Life & Culture

Yachad's Hannah Weisfeld on educating from the grassroots


Hannah Weisfeld turned her back on Middle East politics after studying at Sussex University.

Such was the emotive nature of the Israel-Palestinian debate on campus during the Second Intifada.

“I put the whole thing to bed. I didn’t want to be involved in the debate anymore,” she said.

Deciding instead on a career in international development, she completed her masters in global politics at the London School of Economics and spent six months volunteering at a secondary school in north Malawi until Operation Cast Lead broke out in late 2008.

She returned to the UK and says she felt that there was no Jewish organisation representing “a middle-of-the-road” position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So she set one up.

“I found myself back here having this conversation about Israel with a group of people inside the community in the wake of Cast Lead - this growing sense of ‘where is a moderate, progressive-thinking pro-Israel voice that can express concerns about Israel from a pro-Israel perspective, it doesn’t exist’. That conversation turned into a conversation about starting an organisation.

“Because I had been involved in conversation from the early get-go, it was down to me to sort of make it happen.

“But you know, I think beyond a shadow of a doubt my summers and winters spent on camps, gap year in Israel and involvement in Jewish community has sort of been the motivating factor.”

In 2011, she founded the left-leaning advocacy group, Yachad, of which she is a director.

From a small three-person office in King’s Cross, central London, the 33-year-old launches campaigns, runs trips to the West Bank and East Jerusalem and hosts panel events with speakers from Israel.

But despite Yachad’s mainstream position in favour of the two-state solution, the organisation has been rejected by some British communal groups.

In July, a vote to accept Yachad to the Board of Deputies was postponed after strong opposition.

“I don’t actually think we are a polarising force in the community but there are elements of the community who have become more right-wing,” says Weisfeld. “Yachad has tackled a massive taboo.”

“The question is whether you can have a debate in public about Israel and be critical about policies you don’t support? For some people that is a taboo which should never be broken.

“If I turn around and criticise British government’s policies am I suddenly anti-British?”

Weisfeld, who grew up in Finchley, says she is determined to improve education about Israel in the UK.

“Most Jews I meet here in the UK have never been to the West Bank, don’t know the geography or the fact that there is a dual legal system,” she says. “Regardless of your politics or whether you think it is right or wrong, you should know what you are defending when standing up to defend a 47-year-old occupation.”

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