Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush has expressed concern over comments made by David Cameron about Jerusalem this week.
During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said he had been “shocked” during a past visit to Israel by the “encirclement of East Jerusalem” by illegal Jewish settlements.
Mr Cameron told MPs: “The first time I visited Jerusalem, had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what has happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem—occupied East Jerusalem— I found it genuinely shocking.
“What this government have consistently done and go on doing is to say that we are supporters of Israel, but we do not support illegal settlements and we do not support what is happening in East Jerusalem.”
The Prime Minister, who described himself as being “well-known as a strong friend of Israel”, was responding to a question from Bradford East Labour MP Imran Hussain, who suggested that settlements were a “major roadblock” to peace.
In a statement on Friday, Mr Arkush called Mr Cameron a “trusted friend” of the community, but said many British Jews would have been “concerned and uncomfortable with the language” he used in his answer.
He added: “Jerusalem has been the focal point of the Jewish people for thousands of years, and has had a Jewish majority since the mid nineteenth century, long before Israel gained its independence.
“The Jewish Quarter of the Old City, including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, cannot rightly be described as being under occupation.”
Mr Arkush contrasted the situation in the city with other places in the Middle East, where, he said, civil wars had brought death and destruction on a scale which “can fairly be called genuinely shocking”.
On Thursday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at Mr Cameron’s remarks .
He said: “My friend David Cameron, who is undoubtedly a friend of Israel, probably forgot some basic facts about Jerusalem.
“Only Israeli sovereignty is preventing Isis and Hamas from setting fire to the holy sites in the city, like they do elsewhere across the Middle East.
"Only Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem guarantees the rule of law for everyone, something that doesn’t exist in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya or other wide parts of the Middle East, including the Palestinian Authority and also Gaza.”
Mr Cameron did however refer to Jerusalem as “this capital city”. British government policy has been to recognise that Israel regards Jerusalem as its capital, but not to accept that. Britain’s embassy is based in Tel Aviv.