The chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, Mick Davis, this week triggered fresh controversy over Israel by claiming it was doing too little to convey a commitment to peace.
In an online article for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on Sunday, Mr Davis criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said that diaspora efforts to fight delegitimisation of Israel were being hampered by the actions of his government.
The comments drew a mixed reaction from other JLC members and Israel activists within British Jewry.
Mr Davis wrote that, within Europe, “a lack of trust that Israel’s political leadership is serious about shaping a viable peace process is unquestionably an obstacle to our defence of Israel”.
He went on: “If Israel’s leadership articulated a vision of progress, it would boost the diaspora’s diplomatic arsenal immeasurably. Without that vision, however, we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back.”
Singling out a speech given by Mr Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University last month, which had focused on Palestinian rejectionism, he asked, “Where was a new nugget of hope?”
Three years ago, the JLC leader provoked widespread debate by criticising Israeli policy on the peace process in a way seen as unprecedented for such a senior communal figure.
Neither the Israeli embassy nor the Board of Deputies — whose president Vivian Wineman chairs the JLC’s membership council — would comment on his latest intervention. Nor would Bicom, a leading Israel advocacy organisation.
But it is thought that Board leaders were annoyed at not being consulted over the article in advance. The JC also understands that the piece was not shared with JLC members either.
One JLC member who was prepared openly to support Mr Davis was the chairman of Liberal Judaism, Lucian Hudson. “Mick Davis is utterly right to renew the call for the closest engagement between Israel and its diaspora,” he said. “Israel has real support, and needs to take heed that the battle for international opinion needs also to be won.”
But Frank Baigel, who sits on the JLC’s council as president of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, said: “As Israel continues to be under continuous existential threat, I always — as all diaspora Jews should — support Israel, whichever party is in power. Until I go to live in Israel myself, I will not publicly express any reservations about the government’s policies.”
United Synagogue president Steve Pack, a JLC trustee, said the article had expressed Mr Davis’s “personal view which he is entitled to give”.
But Mr Pack said that his own position was that “I do not make public statements about Israeli government policy. That is the job of the Israeli embassy.”
Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation, commented: “While everyone has the right to criticise Israel, the ZF believes that the primary role of community organisations should be to counter the falsehood that Israel doesn’t want peace, rather than inadvertently promoting it.”
Samuel Hayek, Chairman of JNF UK, said: “Pointing fingers and accusing the leaders of Israel for their peace negotiations approach, particularly when Israel has made many concessions to enable peace to take place — including the recent release of murderers who were heralded as heroes by the Palestinian Authority — is uninspired and certainly absurd. This is not a representative view of our community, who wholeheartedly supports Israel’s efforts to achieve peace.”