'Boycott efforts worsening in Britain'

UK Jewish leader praises Cameron for taking pride in Jewish heritage.

David Cameron 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
David Cameron 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) effort against Israel is getting “worse and worse” in the UK, Vivian Wineman, the president of British Jewry’s representative body, the Board of Deputies, warned on Sunday.
Wineman, who is holding his first meetings with officials in Israel since his election to the post a year ago, added that once the BDS activists achieve their objective of getting settlement goods boycotted, they would move on to efforts to boycott all Israeli goods.
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He noted that Palestine solidarity campaigners had pushed successfully for regulations that require UK retailers to specifically label settlement-produced goods, but said it was not yet clear how many retailers – because “they don’t want trouble” – had stopped stocking such goods.
Overall, said Wineman, he was increasingly concerned about the “growing campaign” of delegitimization of Israel in the UK.
At the same time, he said the new British government had been “making the right noises” where Israel was concerned and that he hoped it would be better than its predecessors on issues such as universal jurisdiction, which left Israeli political and military leaders vulnerable to possible arrest for alleged war crimes when visiting the UK.
'Anti-Semitism a problem, but shouldn't be exaggerated'
He said recent “spikes” in anti-Semitism in the UK had coincided with the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, but that while anti-Semitism had always been a problem in the UK, “we shouldn’t exaggerate it.”
Asked what Israel could do to help, he said Israel should improve its public diplomacy for its own sake, but that this would also have a beneficial impact for Diaspora Jews. Israel “must make sure its narrative is out there at the beginning,” he said, citing the belated release of IDF material showing commandos being attacked as they boarded the Mavi Marmara en route to Gaza last month.
It took “some time” before this material became public, he noted, “by which time the narrative of ‘unarmed civilians shot by commandos’ was established.” Israel fell into “a trap set by Islamic militants – two of whom had left suicide notes,” he said, and the outcome was “a victory for Hamas.”
'We didn't understand why Israel was vilified'
Still, Wineman added, even after the true context had been made plain, Israel was vilified. The UK Jewish leadership, he said, was “appalled at the way it was portrayed. We didn’t understand why Israel was vilified so much when it became clear the commandos had very little choice but to act as they did.”
He added that the Board had not taken a position on the tactical rights and wrongs of the flotilla interception, or on the underlying issues, noting that “We’re there for Israel. We represent consensual support for the existence of Israel and its right to take measures to protect itself. We don’t get involved in internal Israeli politics.”
He added that the consensus extended to support for a two-state solution but that there was no consensus on the issue of settlements.
“There are 240 members of the Board,” he said, “and 240 opinions on settlements.”
'Israel is the best advocate for Zionism'
Wineman also praised Prime Minister David Cameron’s public pride in his Renaissance-era Jewish connection, noting that the Conservative leader happily acknowledged his Jewish heritage during a televised pre-election appearance. Cameron was asked whether those origins – an ancestor, Elia Levita (1469-1549), was a prominent Jewish teacher, scholar and author in Venice – might prevent him from being impartial on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Wineman recalled.
“He said no it wouldn’t, and that he was very proud of his Jewish ancestry.”
Added Wineman: “He’s not a bloke who wants to be Jewish, but he’s proudof who he is. He’s learned about it and he’s proud of it.”
The Board of Deputies president said he hoped Cameron, Foreign
Secretary William Hague and Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister whoheads the Liberal-Democrats, the junior coalition partner, would visitIsrael.
“Israel is the best advocate for Zionism,” he said.
When it was suggested that some of these leaders – and certainly Clegg,who called for an arms embargo against Israel during Cast Lead – wouldlikely want to visit Gaza, too, Wineman said Israel should “engage withthem positively.”