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Rich talk for Israel critics

    Rabbi Danny Rich, the chief executive of Liberal Judaism, has defended his participation in an event predominantly featuring speakers from organisations highly critical of Israel.

    He will be keynote speaker at a seminar next month on "Israel/ Palestine", organised in west London by a Liberal-affiliated synagogue, Beit Klal Yisrael (BKY).

    Speakers include Diana Neslen of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Nadia Valman of Independent Jewish Voices and Charles Pottins of the Jewish Socialists' Group.

    Rabbi Rich said: "Liberal Judaism is committed to encouraging debate on the controversial and cutting-edge challenges of today and tomorrow, and therefore frequently finds itself participating in places and on topics where others fear to enter."

    BKY's choice of speakers was a matter for its rabbi and council, he said. But he added; "It should hardly be a story that the chief executive of Liberal Judaism is speaking in one of its own constituent congregations."

    Carol Roberts, who heads the Israel group at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, commented: "Some of us are uncomfortable at Rabbi Rich's appearance on such a virulently anti-Israel panel. However, the opportunity to engage with closed minds by one of our leading rabbis is to be welcomed."

    "Rabbi Rich is regarded as a radical in some quarters but in truth he is' like many of us; a believer in a two-state solution with equal rights for all Israelis. His appearance on this platform may, indeed, be regarded by some as wrong, but in truth and oddly enough, he is the token right-winger on this occasion.

    Rabbi Frank Hellner, emeritus rabbi of Finchley Progressive Synagogue and one of the strongest pro-Israel voices in the Liberal movement over many years, said: "I know Danny has good positive feelings about Israel and I am sure he will defend his corner."

    But he said that he was "uncomfortable" with that kind of meeting. "I actually wouldn't have permitted that meeting in my synagogue."

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