The Board of Deputies is to hold a special debate on Israel later this summer amid continuing argument over the country’s proposed annexation of tranches of the West Bank.
A resolution reaffirming the Board’s policy of support for a two-state solution but criticising “unilateral” steps by either Israel or the Palestinians is set to be heard in August, when the deputies do not normally meet.
The Board’s leadership has resisted pressure from some in the community to take a stand on the annexation plan, which would extend Israeli sovereignty over areas of the Jordan Valley.
At Sunday’s online plenary meeting of deputies, Board President Marie van der Zyl explained that she did “not want to split the community” by taking positions but that she also believed in debate where deputies could express their views.
She said she was discussing with the Board’s officers the possibility of convening a special meeting in August.
The motion - submitted by Tal Ofer, deputy for Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue, and Richard Cohen, of Loughton, Chigwell and District Synagogue – was cleared for debate at a full meeting of the Board by its international division last week.
It asks deputies to reaffirm support “for bilateral negotiations towards a two-state solution, leading to a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state”, adding, “Any unilateral step by either side will be damaging to renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations”.
But the idea of holding a debate on Israeli policy was attacked by former Board president Jonathan Arkush.
If people wanted to advocate or oppose Israeli policies, the should “make aliyah,” he argued.
“But while you are citizens of this country and live here, the only appropriate course is to respect and support the democracy of Israel, of which we are so rightly proud.”
Challenging the motion’s proponents, he said, “What do they know about politics and security in the Middle East that those in Israel don’t know better?”
Mr Cohen said after the meeting that the British Jewish community had a “special duty to carry the torch for the Balfour Declaration in all its aspects and to honour the great work done by Balfour and Churchill to achieve a Jewish State while recognising the need to deal with non-Jewish inhabitants in that land with ‘sensitivity and tact’ as Balfour put it in the Albert Hall in 1920, and Churchill said much the same in the 1920s when he was Colonial Secretary and beyond.”
Board vice-president Sheila Gewolb said the Israel debate would not be livestreamed, as are the regular plenaries, in order to protect the interests of the Board and deputies.
It is not clear yet whether the resolution will be put to a vote. Asked after the meeting to confirm whether it would, a Board spokesman said the time and shape of the debate had yet be discussed.