david newman 88.
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All is not well in the world of Zionism in the UK. A public difference of
opinion has broken out between the chairman of the United Jewish Appeal (UJIA),
Mick Davis, and the Israeli ambassador, the eloquent Ron Prosor.
argued that the policies and public statements of the Netanyahu and Lieberman
government have resulted in a worsening of international opinion and an even
greater isolation of Israel within foreign media and diplomatic circles. This is
serving to discourage the younger generation of Jews from supporting Israel. It
is only right, Davis argued, that the Diaspora community be critical of Israel
and its policies where it disagrees with them.
Davis made these comments
in a conversation with Peter Beinart at an open meeting a couple of weeks ago.
Beinart had previously published an article in the New York Review of Books
about the lack of criticism of Israeli government policies which, in his view,
stemmed from a concern that his young children will not be attached to the
country in the way he is because of its changing policies. Davis had previously
aired similar comments in a private meeting of the right-wing pro-Israel lobby,
BICOM, in the UJIA patron’s speech and in an op-ed in the main Anglo-Jewish
paper the Jewish Chronicle, which itself has taken a distinct right-wing turn
over the past two years.
Davis’s statement was backed by all but one
member of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), even by those who have been known
for their right-ofcenter positions on Israeli-policy making, such as Poyu
Zabludowitch, main funder of BICOM. Among Davis’s supporters are those who
supported Menachem Begin in 1982 and criticized the critics of the Lebanon
The JLC can best be described as a sort of self-appointed Jewish
House of Lords for the UK community. Originally founded to coordinate
fund-raising and lobbying among the many community organizations, it consists of
two types of members. There are those who, by virtue of their heading major
Jewish and Israeli organizations (such as the Board of Deputies, UJIA, JNF,
etc;) are members, while there is also and a significant group of “invited”
members from among the community’s leading philanthropists and lobbyists. It is
not an elected body, and there are many who feel it is unrepresentative of the
different views on Jewry and Israel which have developed during the past
Prosor, undoubtedly one of Israel’s most skilled diplomats, has –
perhaps not surprisingly – come out strongly against Davis’s remarks. While not
denying Davis’s strong support of Israel, he has accused him of using the
language of Israel’s enemies in the process of delegitimizing it. In using this
argument he has joined the ranks of a host of right-wing Jewish personalities
who have come out strongly against any form of critical discourse, even when
voiced by supporters who do so out of deep concern for the future of the state.
Whether Prosor’s comments were entirely his own or partly dictated by a hostile
foreign minister, is not clear.
WHY DID Davis and other community
leaders, many not known for their support of liberal positions, come out with
their statements? There are a number of reasons.
Firstly, there is
growing frustration with the detrimental international effect of the present
government’s policies and its stalling of any real moves toward peace and
meaningful negotiations. Continued settlement activity in the face of all
international opinion, along with intransigent and wild statements by Foreign
Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been a global diplomatic
Second is a real concern among Diaspora Jewish leaders that
the younger generation is being completely turned off by the government’s
intransigent policies. When they do voice alternative positions, they are
viciously attacked by the right-wing super patriots in an attempt to
disenfranchise them. This only serves to push them even further
There is also a growing concern among the community establishment
at the gradual rise of the pro-peace liberal lobby among those who refuse to be
alienated, starting with J Street in the US, followed by community leaders and
intellectuals throughout Europe and, most recently, by similar moves within the
Anglo Jewish community. This, along with the highly successful and influential
New Israel Fund, are providing alternative forums and mouthpieces for Israel,
and even the US and British governments are consulting with these
In short, the UJIA, JNF and other organizations are losing their
political and financial influence. Perhaps, Davis and his colleagues think, it
is better to coopt the alternative views rather than compete with or attempt to
delegitimize them. This may explain the fact that the UJIA and NIF have recently
agreed to cooperate on the community task force created to look at ways of
improving the status of Israel’s Arab community.
On one point Prosor is
totally right, however. The real struggle is not taking place within the meeting
rooms of the JLC or UJIA. It is taking place in the street, on British
university campuses by those who counter the proposed boycott, and by those
British Jews who have opted to live and work in Israel, pay their taxes, and
whose children undertake national service and encounter the conflict – with all
its rights and wrongs – on a daily basis.
I know many of these people,
both in the UK and in Israel, and they are as equally represented by left-wing
critics of the present government as they are by the unthinking supporters of an
Israel that can never do wrong. And the left-wing critics are far more
influential in countering the attempts at delegitimization, because they are
people who are listened, as contrasted with the blind supporters of the Right
who are almost immediately dismissed as cranks.
Indeed, some right-wing
supporters cause far greater damage to the image and the security of the state
than any of the liberal pro-peace groups whom they so vociferously oppose. Their
demagoguery brings into question Israel’s true commitment to democracy in a way
which has never previously been questioned by the international
Anglo-Jewry, as all of Diaspora Jewry, must promote a diverse
and balanced debate. Its left-wing supporters must be allowed to be critical of
right-wing governments, just as its more vociferous right-wing supporters oppose
governments which evacuate settlements. Davis has realized that the most
effective work on behalf of Israel is done by those who are prepared to be
critical of their friends, and it is to be hoped that the Foreign Ministry will
also eventually realize that this is a much more effective position than trying
to delegitimize legitimate critics.The writer is professor at Ben-Gurion
University. The views expressed represent his opinions alone.