Zionist group sparks row


The chairman of one of the United Synagogue's largest congregations has defended the decision to cancel a meeting featuring a speaker from the Israeli Zionist group Im Tirtzu next month.

Douglas Altabef had been due to speak at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, in north-west London, at a meeting organised by the UK advocacy group Campaign4Truth.

Jeffrey Davidson, HGS chairman, rejected claims that the shul had bowed to pressure from more left-leaning organisations in cancelling the event.

Im Tirtzu has been outspoken in opposing the work of the New Israel Fund and of Israeli human rights organisations such as B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence.

The visit was criticised last week by NIF's UK branch and Yachad, the campaign group for a two state-solution.

In a Facebook post, Campaign4Truth accused "far-left" Yachad and others of pressuring the synagogue to pull out. But Mr Davidson said this week: "I can confirm that I was not approached by either Yachad or NIF in this matter. Those who did approach me, however, included key, mainstream and balanced elements of the community."

Im Tirtzu's methods have sometimes proved controversial and it apologised earlier this year after criticism of its poster labelling members of Israeli liberal intelligentsia such as Amos Oz as "foreign moles".

Writing to Campaign4Truth, Mr Davidson said the prospective event had not been discussed with any of the synagogue's officers. He wrote: "I am sure you will appreciate that, as simply a shul and local communal body whose members hold a wide diversity of opinions, the controversial nature of views expressed by, for and against Im Tirtzu are such that it is not appropriate for us to be associated with them."

Ambrosine Shitrit of Campaign4Truth said: "We believe this is wrong. Everyone should have a voice, whether you are from the far-left, the middle or whatever."

A different venue has been found for the meeting, entitled "Reclaiming Zionism", she added. Im Tirtzu's Eytan Meir said its aim was "to train the next generation of Israelis to be Zionistic and believe in the justice of our cause".

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