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Board of Deputies urged: hold Israel debate now

Proposers of a resolution critical of 'unilateral steps' in Mid-East say waiting until August is too late

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The Board of Deputies is being pressed to hold its special debate on Israel next month rather than later in summer and to commit to a vote.

The two deputies who tabled a resolution opposing “unilateral” steps by either side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict believe it could be too late to wait until August to discuss it, as suggested by the Board’s president Marie van der Zyl last week.

Israel’s government has previously indicated it could begin implementing a plan to annex up to 30 per cent of the West Bank as early as next month, although it remains unclear whether the plan will go ahead.

While the resolution put to the Board, which reaffirms support for a two state-solution, avoids direct mention of annexation, its opposition to “unilateral steps” is clearly a criticism of the Israeli scheme.

Tal Ofer, proposer of the motion, said, “It’s crucial to have this debate and discussion now because the timing in relation to this topic is right now.”

To postpone the debate until August would risk “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”, said Richard Cohen, the resolution’s seconder.

The Board, which has resisted pressure from some deputies to take a stand on annexation, was unable to confirm last week whether the resolution would be put to a vote.

But Mr Ofer said that rank and file deputies rarely had the opportunity to influence the Board’s policy. “That is why we insist on having a vote because we really want this matter to be decided one way or other.”

“A vote would give the whole thing teeth,” Mr Cohen said.

They are also determined the debate should be livestreamed, as Board plenary meetings usually are, disagreeing with vice-president Sheila Gewolb, who last week said it would not be shown in order to “protect” the Board and deputies.

If an individual speaker wished not to be filmed, the camera could be switched off temporarily, Mr Ofer said. But “for the spirit of transparency”, the meeting “needs to be livestreamed”.

They see no reason why their resolution should not be scheduled for the next plenary in July, arguing that other business such as revising the constitution could be put back. “With all due respect to the constitutional review, this is a much more burning issue,” Mr Ofer said.

Mr Cohen argued that debating the resolution would be an answer to those who claimed that when the Board called out antisemitism in Labour or on the left, it was trying to deflect criticism of Israel. “From my point of view, I think we are doing the Board and the Jewish community in the UK a service by lancing that boil and piercing that argument,” he said.

Meantime, other deputies are circulating alternative motions on Israel in advance of the debate. The decision whether they should also go on the agenda lies with the Board’s international division, which meets next wek.

One motion, promoted by Adrian Cohen and Ben Crowne, offers support for the two-state solution, opposes boycotts but makes no reference to “unilateral” steps.

In a statement, they explained that reflected the Board’s “longstanding position” as most recently expressed in its general election manifesto.

“We believe it is likely to attract the widest consensus of deputies…recommitting to the principle of two states, avoiding explicit criticism of the Israeli government and opposing boycotts, whilst applauding initiatives which bring the different sides together.”

The consensus allowed for “varied views within the broad parameters of the resolution”, they said.

Another motion, proposed by Anthony Bolchover, one of the deputies for the Union of Jewish Students, does not refer to a two-state solution but would welcome any settlement agreed between Israel and its neighbours.

 

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