The Board of Deputies’ controversial joint anti-hunger project with Oxfam could have serious financial repercussions for the Jewish organisation, it was claimed this week.
Many United Synagogue congregants — furious over the link with what they regard as an anti-Israel NGO— have threatened to withhold their voluntary communal levy fees which go towards the running of the Board.
The Grow/Tatzmiach programme was given the green light by the Board on Sunday after weeks of campaigning by deputies who oppose the tie-in because of Oxfam’s stance on Israel.
Deputies voted by 113 to 65 in favour of the project at a plenary meeting in London. But opposition was led by representatives of leading US congregations including Hampstead Garden Suburb, Stanmore and Mill Hill.
Peter Sheldon, former US president, told the meeting that the damage done by the project would “reverberate through the community for years.
We don’t need a PR stunt to prove we care
“Many, many deputies are opposed to this. It matters that those who pay the bill for the Board are deeply unhappy,” he said.
Speakers at the meeting warned that some shuls could consider withdrawing their communal levy payments if the project went ahead.
The JC understands that at one US shul in London a number of congregants have already refused to pay the portion of their annual fee which is sent to the Board – specifically citing their objection to the project as the reason for withholding the money.
Finchley Progressive Synagogue member Carol Caplan is one of those who will refuse to contribute financially to the Board.
She said: “I’m not going to waste my money on them. I will not be paying the levy. I’ve been monitoring Oxfam for years. They have been virulently anti-Israel in the past. I’ve become convinced they are a political entity with their own agenda.”
Gary Mond, a JNF deputy who co-proposed a defeated motion which would have seen the project delayed, warned of an “unavoidable schism” opening in the community and said the unity of the Board would be “destroyed”.
A further indication of possible rifts came from Barnet Synagogue deputy Natalie Shaw, who said at least 16 communal organisations had contacted leaders of the “No to Tatzmiach” campaign to indicate their support.
Raymond Solomon, deputy for Cheetham Hebrew Congregation in Manchester, said the decision to go ahead would damage the Board’s other campaigns against anti-Israel groups.
Mr Solomon asked: “How am I going to convince the Co-operative to end its boycott when the Board has just aligned itself with an organisation that was a significant lobbyist for labelling settlement goods?”
Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue deputy and former Board vice-president Flo Kaufmann said Oxfam was “the wrong partner” and the proposal was “misjudged and out of touch.
“It is tainted by its history of statements on Israel. The ramifications of this do not seem to have been thought through,” she said.
Jonathan Sacerdoti, deputy for the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, said: “This is a PR attempt to make Oxfam look like they are working with Jews. We don’t need a PR stunt to prove we care about world hunger. We are being asked to do something quite cynical.”
Belmont Synagogue members were “up in arms about the Board lowering itself,” said deputy Hermann Hirschberger. Belmont’s management group has collectively decided to oppose the project.
After Sunday’s meeting Stanmore United Synagogue chairman Philip Hertz confirmed that his congregation’executive had met last week and unanimously voted to instruct its deputies to vote against Grow/Tatzmiach.
Mr Hertz said the executive had not discussed withholding its communal levy fees, but refused to rule out taking such action.
The first training sessions run by Oxfam for the 25 Jewish participants will begin on February 1. Volunteers aged from 20 to over 80 have signed up and will work in communities across the country to relieve global hunger.
Jonathan Hoffman, who proposed the motion with Mr Mond, suggested younger Jewish participants could be “brainwashed” by Oxfam staff during the Grow training programme.
Following the meeting Mr Wineman said: “There were cogent arguments presented by both sides, which created an excellent demonstration of democracy and debate. We are delighted that our project has been approved by a clear majority. We are, however, sensitive to the concerns of those who opposed the motion and hope that these can be addressed.”
Board senior vice president Laura Marks, who proposed the motion backing the project, said: “By working with Oxfam we will continue to express our deep commitment to social justice and share the Jewish belief that actively working towards a better world for all is at the core of Judaism.”
An Oxfam spokesman said: “We look forward to working together to forge a new alliance on an issue that binds our common humanity.
“The more people willing to say that hunger can and should be eliminated from our planet, the better. The louder that voice from Britain’s Jewish community, the greater will be the call.”