Backlash forces Jewish group to cancel West Bank trip

UK's Jewish Leadership Council had planned to visit the West Bank to meet Palestinian leaders and NGOs.

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.
The Jewish 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 region.
“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 UK.”
However, after the criticism, the organization was forced to abandon the visit.
“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 explained.
“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 postponed.
“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 added.
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 controversial.
“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 in Jerusalem.
“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.