I love Israel. It is our Jewish homeland. Notwithstanding whatever the trials and tribulations throughout our tumultuous history, Israel is the one place we always yearned to return to. We reference it daily in our prayer services and at many a function, a moment is taken to toast the country and its President. Of course modern day Israel is not beyond reproach. It has its faults, and its government sometimes leaves much to be desired. But, as in any relationship, even as there are certain things I might not like, it will never diminish my love. Thus, in times of crisis, I will offer Israel my unconditional support, especially when Israel has so few friends in the world. I find it therefore baffling how Jews are sometimes the loudest critics of their own homeland. It is of course their democratic right, but one would still expect that with the rest of the world throwing their punches, fellow Jews would, if not be sympathetic to Israel’s plight, at least not add a blow or two of its own. As former British and current UN Ambassador, Ron Prosor once told a high profile Jewish critic: “You’re using language straight our opponents lexicon,” and adding that “we have enough criticism the outside we don’t need further public criticism on the inside.”
It is with this in mind that I recently raised serious questions about Yachad’s inclusion in the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In a recent Q & A in my Jewish News column I was asked whether it makes sense for Yachad to be included in the BoD and responded with my concerns. Below is a reprint of the question and answer:
There’s a vote on acceptance of Yachad into the Board of Deputies next week. Do you have an opinion on this? I know the Zionist Federation rejected this group. Should the Board follow suit?
The question to consider is, what is the Board of Deputies? Should it incorporate every body or organisation that lays claim to being Jewish? If so, then surely it would also have to consider Jews for J and Jews for Palestine, were they to want representation on the Board. Obviously, it is there to represent organisations which, in turn, represent mainstream Anglo-Jewry. Which then begs the question: what is mainstream?
For this, we have to consider Yachad’s track record. On Israel’s Memorial and Independence Day – a time when Jews worldwide celebrate the re-founding of the homeland – and reflect on the losses endured in the process, Yachad hosted ‘Breaking the Silence,’ an anti-IDF organisation described, even by left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz as, “not a neutral observer,” and an organisation with its own “clear agenda…to expose the consequences of IDF troops… rather than seeking justice for specific injustices.”
It’s also worthwhile noting that Hannah Weisfeld, director of Yachad, once told a SOAS panel discussion on ‘Is BDS Working?’: “We would be having a very different conversation in this room if the BDS movement was about a targeted boycott… I am not saying I would necessarily support it, but…” In other words, Yachad might consider supporting BDS if it targeted Jews in specific areas. In a separate panel discussion at UCL, Weisfeld openly supported 972 Mag, an online magazine, which has labelled Israel an apartheid state. Does that then mean Yachad considers Israel to be apartheid?
Should the Board support such an organisation? Would this be representative of Anglo-Jewry? Yachad was highly critical of the Zionist Federation for not granting it membership, even though it went to vote. Regardless of the arguments, it was a democratic process, not one taken by individuals.
Does that then mean that Yachad only respects a subjective democracy? And why did the ZF, which is part of the World Zionist Organisation, vote against inclusion?
Clearly it had some real concerns.
Should members of the Board then not also consider these same concerns? Perhaps it had, which is why the vote to include Yachad has been postponed several times. This is most curious, unless one considers the timing of those earlier proposed votes, which coincided with the recent war in Israel. Were those at the helm anxious that at a time of greater support and sensitivity for Israel, the vote would have gone against, and that perhaps now, with the passage of time, and relative calm, there is a greater chance of inclusion? If so, one needs to seriously question why there should be such concern during a time of crisis, if indeed Yachad is “representative of the silent majority of Anglo-Jewry,” as it claims to be. Finally, in a recent desperate letter to Board representatives, Yachad wrote: “If we don’t get in, it will be a bit of a disaster for the community…” And, in an apparent surreptitious move, it mentions in the same letter how it is collecting signatures for an open, stand-alone letter to be published in support of it, but not owned by it. Come on guys. If you believe in yourselves, take ownership of the letter rather than orchestrate it, but pretend it is an outside initiative. My conclusion is that I do not think any extreme organisation has a place on the Board of Deputies, whether to the right or the left. I consider Yachad to fall squarely on the extreme left. If you let it in, Naturei Karta should be allowed as well. As should Jews for Palestine, et al. Opening the floodgates – now that would be a bit of a disaster for the community.
Yachad of course took umbrage to my remarks and went on the attack on twitter. First they tweeted: “Perhaps he can point us towards the letter we wrote to @BoardofDeputies that weve never seen? #besttotellthetruth” Then some of their cronies jumped on board to favourite the tweet.
In simple terms they are denying that they ever wrote such a letter and are implying that I am not telling the truth. So I tweeted back: “@YachadUK are you saying no letter was sent someone at Yachad asking for signatories? Steady now . . . @JewishNewsUK @BoardofDeputies”
And they in turn insisted: “we did not write a desperate letter to Board representatives.”
So here, for the benefit of readers, is the letter sent by a representative of Yachad to some Board representatives which they deny sending. I have left certain parts out for the purpose of confidentiality of the recipient, but copied my editor into the full text:
: Sam Alston [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: XX October 2014 XX:XX
Subject: Yacahd joining the board
Yachad at the next board of deputies meeting will be seeking to join the board of deputies in a vote that requies a two thirds majority. If we don’t get in it will be a bit of a disaster for the community and I think is going really exacerbate big tensions that are coming to the fore in the community, which cannot be a good thing.
In the meantime it is essential that we mobilise for a yes vote and one of the plans we are putting in action is building an open letter, most likely that we be published in the JC, signed by people who have led grassroots organisations - e.g. UJS, youth movements etc. It won’t be owned by Yachad - it will be stand-alone letter. One of the things to the BoD prides itself on is the fact it reflects the grassroots. On that basis we are collecting signatories for a letter that urges deputies to vote yes not based on their own political convictions but to keep the BoD democratic and representative.
I am reaching out to people I know who have been involved in UJS, youth movements and other relevant organisations to ask them to sign. Ideally we want campaigns officers and presidents of UJS, Mazikirs of youth movements etc and not what the deputies will be perceive to be ’self-elected’ leaders. I am copying you all in as I know XXXX.
So basically I am asking a few things:
1) Can you sign?
2) Can you reach out to the years above and below you and also to people in other youth movements and organisations other than your own?
3) Can you vote in favour of Yachad joining at the Board of Deputies
The text is below. We’ve just started so its short, but I suspect it will grow quite rapidly, not least with the inclusion of your names I hope!
As people who lead or have led organizations whose memberships comprise of the grassroots of Anglo-Jewry we know how important it is to bring people into the community. When we seek to exclude people communal conversations we weaken the community and create unnecessary divisions.
The Jewish people prides itself on debate and discussion and this is core to how we conduct our affairs– whether that be in the Talmud, amongst our own families, or within wider communal settings. Excluding, or forcing out those who opinions you do not agree with, goes against the grain of Jewish tradition.
Regardless of what individuals think about Yachad it is clear that it represents a significant number of people in the community. As the democratic body of the Jewish community, the Board of Deputies must seek to represent the widest cross section of opinion. A vote against Yachad’s inclusion in the organisation will undermine the Board of Deputies’ credibility and cause untold damage to the community, leaving many people feeling unrepresented.
We urge the Deputies to put aside their own personal politics, and use their vote to support accountability, democracy and representation by voting for Yachad’s inclusion.
So there you have it folks. The letter which Yachad claims not to have sent. The question therefore remains: Was Yachad just playing with semantics in its denial or is it a typical example of blatant lack of integrity? You decide. And let the Board take note.
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