Those Labour politicians who supported the demonstration organised by the Board of Deputies against the Labour Party, did so on the grounds that they were standing in solidarity with “the Jewish community”. In fact there is no such thing as the Jewish Community. There are many Jewish communities and the Board of Deputies is not, as it describes itself, the voice of the Jewish Community. We know this to be the case because of a range of Jewish organisations that do not support it.
Back in 2007 a new organisation of British Jews, Independent Jewish Voices, was launched “in response to a perceived pro-Israeli bias in existing Jewish bodies in the UK”. It was formed “as a counterbalance to the uncritical support for Israeli policies offered by established bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews”. More than 100 prominent British Jews signed it’s initial statement (rising to more than 700 later).
“Those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of the occupied people.”
The initiative was born out of frustration with the assumption by non-Jews that Jewish opinion in the UK was monolithic in its support for Israel’s policies. At the height of the bombardments of Lebanon and Gaza the previous year, the Board of Deputies organised a rally to support Israel.
David Goldberg, the author and emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue said:
“When Israel’s Jewish supporters abroad don’t speak out against disastrous policies, that neither guarantee safety for her citizens nor produce the right climate in which to try and reach a just peace with the Palestinains…then they are… acting against Israel’s own long-term interests.”
A quick google for the Liberal Jewish Synagogue and I found their website, which included this. Just recently a Liberal Jewish rabbi, Lea Muhlstein, explained why she had to walk out of a Zionist Federation dinner. She left because a former Israeli government minister, Gideon Sa’ar claimed that Israel does not deport asylum seekers. She left because this statement was not challenged and “there was no forum provided to call him out on his highly selective presentation of the facts”.
Why, she asked, would 20,000 Israelis demonstrate against the deportations just two weeks before in Tel Aviv? Why else would the Israeli Supreme Court rule on March 12th that the state must suspend its deportations pending further hearings, if there were no deportations proposed?
“What else should we call the choice given to 37,000 mostly Sudanese and Eritrean individuals: indefinite detention or a one-way ticket to an unnamed third country – most likely Rwanda or Uganda?”
Why else would 750 rabbis and cantors urge Netanyahu to abort planned deportations?
“When you cannot speak out (I tried but it was made clear that I would not be allowed to speak), the only thing you can do in order not to become complicit is to leave. And so I left.”
The rabbi says that whilst the chair of the Zionist Federation, Paul Charney, claims to head a “broad synagogue”, this is rarely reflected in practice as was seen at the dinner.
“If a “broad synagogue” chooses to invite a well-known right wing politician as the keynote speaker, shouldn’t there have been an opportunity for someone to respond and present an alternative?”
She said that in the constitutional framework of the World Zionist Organisation, local federations are supposed to be the umbrella body, which welcomes Zionists from all sides of the political spectrum.
“It should be a place for open and honest political debate and disagreement. Especially when it comes to Israel this is a conversation that the British Jewish community desperately needs to have.”
This underlines that even amongst people who consider themselves Zionists there are sharp disagreements on the practice and policy of the Israeli government, which, of course, calls these asylum seekers “infiltrators”.