I rubbed my eyes as I observed yet another botched initiative by the
well-intentioned leadership of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Its
plenum, by a vote of almost two to one, endorsed a linkage with the British
branch of Oxfam International, one of the largest global charity organizations,
with branches in over 90 countries.
The Board of Deputies will send 30
representatives to a training weekend with Oxfam, where they will be taught how
to raise funds in the battle against global hunger in order to “tackle
injustices in the international food system.” The cost, about $13,000, will
largely be borne by Oxfam.
It is unprecedented for an umbrella body like
the Board of Deputies to enter into partnerships with charities.
Board struggles to fulfill its clearly defined constitutional
Besides, Jews are renowned for their generous philanthropic
contributions, and there is thus no rational reason why it should seek to
highlight such non-Jewish activity.
But even if the Board felt an
obligation to become visibly engaged with a charity, it is staggering that it
chose Oxfam, an organization which has a notorious reputation for engaging in
anti-Israeli initiatives totally beyond the normal province of a
OXFAM’S HOSTILITY toward Israel goes back for over a decade. One
of the worst examples occurred in the wake of the Durban hate fest, when the
Belgian branch produced huge posters with oranges dripping in blood, titled
“Israeli fruits have a bitter taste: reject the occupation of Palestine, don’t
buy Israeli fruits and vegetables.” Following a storm of protest this blood
libel was withdrawn.
In 2009, Oxfam effectively promoted BDS by
terminating its relationship with actress Kristin Davis, one of its principal
spokespersons, because she had endorsed Israeli Ahava cosmetic
Oxfam’s director Jeremy Hobbs proclaimed that “the people of
Gaza are living in the world’s largest prison but have fewer rights than
Oxfam called for ending the boycott of Hamas and repeatedly
condemned the “illegal” Israeli presence in east Jerusalem. It was party to a
document urging the international community to demand that Israel “provide
compensation for the damage caused during Operation Cast Lead and other Israeli
Following the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, which Oxfam
considered “a direct result of the Israeli blockade in Gaza,” it denounced
Israel’s “appalling use of violence and killing of civilians.”
condemned Israel’s security fence which played an important role in bringing an
end to suicide bombings within Israel.
To this day, Oxfam calls for the
specific labeling of goods produced over the green line – clearly a form of
In addition Oxfam co-sponsors initiatives with bodies that have
clear records of supporting terrorists such as the London Muslim Center and
It is inexplicable that a Jewish representative body
would associate itself with a charity which prides itself on maintaining a
consistent record of hostility toward the Jewish state.
Even more bizarre
was the fact that the Board was encouraged by other Jewish establishment bodies.
These included the principal PR organization promoting Israel, the British
Israel Communications and Research Center (BICOM), and the United Jewish Israel
Appeal (UJIA), the principal Israel fundraiser whose former leader had the
dubious record of having urged British Jews to speak out against the policies of
the democratically elected government of Israel.
Astonishingly, even the
British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, intervened, telling the London
Jewish Chronicle that the Board should engage with Oxfam as well as with other
bodies which criticize Israel. It is unprecedented for a British civil servant,
an ambassador to Israel, to intervene in such a controversial domestic issue.
What motivated him to do so on this occasion? IN JUSTIFYING the initiative,
Board president Vivian Wineman sought to calm his constituents by remarking that
working with Oxfam did not mean the Board shared its views.
opined that his executive felt obliged to “engage” with bodies that were hostile
He stated that after meeting with Oxfam, he was satisfied it
would not boycott Israel or associate itself with organizations linked to
terrorism. If it did, the Board would terminate the association.
Oxfam refused to modify ongoing political attacks on Israel or suspend its
campaign to oblige Israel to label all products produced over the green
The Board also failed to explain why, if it sought to “engage” with
organizations hostile to Israel, it chose a charity which it was unlikely to
influence, rather than concentrating on “engaging” with more relevant
organizations such as the government and political parties. In this context few
would hail the Board’s promotion of the case for Israel in the broader political
arena as a stellar success.
Clearly some British Jews would be happier if
the Board was seen to be more “balanced” or “even-handed” in relation to Israel.
There are undoubtedly pressures from elements within the Jewish establishment –
the “trembling Israelites” – that are discomforted at being perceived as a pro-
Israel lobby. Perhaps they sought to distance themselves from this by displaying
their broadmindedness and commitment to society at large by linking to an
During the debate, there were repeated remarks that
dealing with Oxfam may not be good for Israel, but that it was good for Anglo
Jews to be seen as helping charities providing food for children. Senior
vice-president Laura Marks conceded that it was highly unlikely that the Board
would succeed in persuading Oxfam to modify its policies toward Israel, but
gushed that the Board’s involvement would at least result in “helping Oxfam
understand our values as Jews, to help them to see that we share values with
IT SHOULD be noted that those opposed to this initiative were not
calling for a Jewish boycott of the charity. They argued, with irrefutable
justification, that there was no rationale for the official organ of the Jewish
community to give its imprimatur to an organization which has a consistent
record of hostility to the Jewish state.
There is also the issue of
What sort of message is the community sending to the
British public and for that matter what example is it providing to Jewish
youngsters, when it associates itself with such an organization? Following the
plenum vote, Jonathan Hoffman, one of those leading the opposition to the
association with Oxfam, said it was a sad day for British Jews and undermined
“To Israel’s enemies it says even the Board supports an
organization hostile to Israel – look how isolated Israel is. To Israel’s
friends it says the Board’s not serious about fighting delegitimization. How can
it be when it rushes into a tie-up with one of Israel’s most hostile charities?”
Despite obtaining a plenum majority to endorse their initiative, it may well be
a Pyrrhic victory for the leaders of the Board because the divisions created
will not soon be healed.
British Jews who are passionate supporters of
Israel and at the forefront of Jewish activity will not easily forgive their
leaders for shamefully linking them with an organization consistently displaying
double standards and bias against Israel. According to the Jewish Chronicle,
numerous outraged constituents have already threatened to withdraw their
communal levy payments from the Board.
The writer’s website can be viewed
at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.