(photo credit: Morguefile)
Next week will herald the annual Jewish Book Week in London. Together with
Limmud, this week has become one of the most important cultural events in the
calendar of the British Jewish community, with hundreds of participants
attending the crowded schedule. Different in nature to Limmud, the two events
complement each other with lectures and discussions by Jewish authors, or
writers on Jewish and Israeli related topics.
Tickets to all the main
events have long been sold out and if you want to hear Simon Schama, Deborah
Lipztadt, Howard Jacobson, Etgar Keret, or discussions of their books, you will
have to rely on the podcast. While the total numbers of the Anglo Jewish
community have declined in recent decades, the community has displayed a renewed
enthusiasm and public non-apologetic assertiveness of its ethnic and religious
One of the more public events to take place at this year’s
event will be an interview with Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and Director of J
Street in North America.
This has resulted in a negative reaction on the
part of the mainstream Zionist Federation.
In an article in this week’s
, the Federation’s executive director was quoted as saying that:
“We have always viewed J Street, who claim to be pro-Israel, with considerable
caution and scepticism.”
The J Street event is sponsored by its much
smaller sister movement and UK equivalent.
Yahad promotes an alternative
pro-Israel, pro-peace message among the Anglo Jewish community.
J Street have succeeded in attracting large numbers of young Jews who are
sympathetic to and supportive of Israel but do not necessarily agree with the
policies of the present and recent Israeli governments.
generations, the support of the younger, more global, generation of Diaspora
Jews is no longer an automatic given. They have to be re-connected to Israel
through messages with which they identify and which are meaningful in their
Many young and committed Jews of today see Israel’s security
and existence as a given, anti-Semitism as an evil which can (and must) be
combatted, and the continued rule over another people as a blemish on the
reputation of Israel. They love Israel, but wish it to take its proper role as a
true equal among nations on the global scene. They do not, in the words of the
Zionist Federation director, “claim to be pro-Israel” any more or less than all
other pro-Israel organizations, nor should they be required to apologize for
their credentials simply because they are not part of the age-old establishment
community organizations, who rightly feel threatened by their popularity and
For its part, the Zionist Federation has, for almost a hundred
years, undertaken important work on behalf of Israel among both the Jewish and
non-Jewish communities and must be congratulated for such. Over he years it has
been relegated to the role of the “events manager” for big events, such as
Independence Day concerts and Balfour Day celebrations.
of Jewish and Israeli ideas and organizations has become very crowded in recent
years. If the ZF start to exclude organizations, such as J Street (or its Yahad
counterpart) or cast aspersions concerning their “loyalty” to Israel or to the
wider Jewish community, then they would appear to have lost their role as an
umbrella organization which offers the widest possible inclusivity to all who
share the basic belief in, and support of, Israel.
The privatization of
the organizational support for Israel in the UK, as in other Diaspora
communities, has brought about tough competition for the cheque books of donors.
The British Jewish community is an exceptionally generous community, with an
average of 150 million pounds being donated annually to Jewish and Israeli
charities in a community which number no more than approximately 270,000 people,
and within which the number of wealthy donors and patrons is limited.
appearance of yet another competitor on the street obviously raises concerns for
those organizations who traditionally had a monopoly over fund
Many donors have, in recent years, preferred to switch away from
the general organizations and give directly to causes with which they identify.
Yahad and J Street, along with other political lobbies and educational
organizations, are also out there competing for the minds and the hearts of this
small nucleus of donors.
Rather than raise questions concerning their
authenticity or validity, the ZF should be applauding J Street and Yahad for
their success in having attracted thousands of young Jewish adults, future
community leaders, back into the fold of pro-Jewish and pro-Israel activism.
Instead of continuing to try and exclude them, organizations such as J Street
and Yahad should be co-opted by the Jewish community organizations such as the ZF
and recognized for the valuable work they are doing on behalf of
Israel.The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social
Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.