LONDON – A Jewish community organization has been forced to postpone a visit to
the West Bank to meet Palestinian leaders and nongovernmental organizations
after widespread opposition and backlash when it was revealed that the president of the
Board of Deputies of British Jews was to join the mission.
Leadership Council (JLC) announced last week that it had postponed a
“factfinding visit” planned for next month that was designed “as part of a
program of activity to more actively engage” with NGOs in the
“The itinerary, will, as originally planned, give participants
the opportunity to hear a range of perspectives on the Middle East conflict
including from senior members of both the Israeli government and Palestinian
Authority in addition to settler representatives and NGOs,” JLC’s chief
executive Jeremy Newmark said last week.
“All of these meetings will
inform the way that our communal leadership works to create a more supportive
environment for Israel in the UK,” he said. “It is important to address the
impact of the growing assault against Israel’s legitimacy in the
However, after the criticism, the organization was forced to abandon
“We have taken the decision to postpone, to allow us to take
soundings from the community on the nature of the trip, to refine the agenda and
to take account of recent political developments in the region,” Newmark
“After further consultations with the Israeli Embassy and with
other groups, the Board of Deputies has decided to withdraw and the trip itself
has been postponed,” said board president Vivian Wineman, who is also the
chairman of the JLC council.
Leading the opposition to the trip was
Samuel Hayek, chairman of JNF UK, who said he was pleased the trip had been
“I am pleased it has been postponed and hope it will not be
rearranged. Despite the good intentions of those involved, the trip would have
simply been used by Israel’s enemies as further ammunition in their ongoing
campaign to delegitimize Israel.
“An Israeli government official told me
the trip would have been seen as ‘another flotilla, this time sent by the Jewish
community in the UK,’” Hayek said.
Hayek questioned the legitimacy of the JLC saying it had no mandate nor credibility as a Jewish community organization.
“The trip by the JLC – an unelected and un-mandated body whose legitimacy is already questionable – would have been out of character given the staunch support for Israel demonstrated by the UK Jewish community over so many years,” he said
“The proposed visit organized by the
JLC to the West Bank had the capacity to severely damage Israel’s interests and
to cause great anger among many in the British Jewish community,” said Peter
Sheldon, board deputy and chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Trust. “I am delighted
that good sense has prevailed and that this ill conceived trip has been
postponed – hopefully indefinitely.”
“When deputies found out that this
trip to the West Bank was planned and that the board president planned to go, a
number of us were very unhappy,” said Jonathan Hoffman, deputy chairman of the
Zionist Federation and a member of the Board of Deputies.
“We felt it
would give entirely the wrong message to Israelis. Besides, why would leaders
want to improve relations with NGOs when many of them, for example Amnesty and
War on Want, are bent on demonizing and delegitimizing Israel?” Hoffman
Sam Cohen, a member of the JLC’s new leadership network, told
Jewish News that the JLC has been developing relationships with NGOs in the
region for more than a year and that the trip should not have been seen as
“Jewish and pro-Israel organizations regularly visit the
West Bank and meet Palestinian leaders.
Last year, the Conference of
Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations visited Jenin and met [Palestinian
Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas, AIPAC met [PA Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad
“The JLC’s trip would be a valuable way to engage
critically with the NGOs and strengthen the Jewish community’s advocacy for
Israel,” Cohen told the weekly newspaper.
Since its inception in 2003 – set up by the then president of the Board of Deputies, Henry Grunwald, as a membership body for the lay leaders of the major Jewish organizations in the UK – the JLC has had a fraught relationship with the Jewish community.
A senior Board deputy, who did not want to be named, accused it of being a “self-appointed talk shop” for the wealthy members of the community saying also that it duplicates, sometimes hindering, the work of the Board.
“The JLC has no mandate and no right to make decisions on behalf of the community. The organization is self-appointed, undemocratic and is merely a talk shop for the wealthy elders of the community, who in the main are out of touch with the realities on the ground,” the deputy said.
In November the JLC’s executive chair Mick Davis sparked a huge debate in the community following public criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and concurrence, following a question posed to him at a public event, that Israel would become an apartheid state in the absence of a two-state solution.
The JLC has however attempted to improve its standing in the community by revamping its structure. Last year, it took away voting rights of members appointed in a personal capacity, leaving voting to the leaders of the 16 Jewish organizations on the council. The Board of Deputies and JLC also set up a joint liaison committee to improve ties.