UK Jews push for 'different voices'

New group wants to erase stigma that all Jews think alike, support IDF action.

uk deleg 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy LSE)
uk deleg 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy LSE)
A coalition of prominent British Jews has attacked the country's Jewish establishment, claiming it puts loyalty to Israel before the human rights of Palestinians. An open letter entitled "A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices" was published in Monday's issue of the Times and in the Internet edition of the Guardian newspaper. It marks a growing division within the Jewish community over the nature of its ties to Israel. "We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole," said the letter, which was signed by 140 people, including actors Stephen Fry and Zo Wanamaker, playwright Harold Pinter, fashion designer Nicole Farhi, film director Mike Leigh, and academics Eric Hobsbawm and Jacqueline Rose. However, the letter continued, the nation's Jewish leadership has "consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people." Uncritical support of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians has "undermined" the "battle against anti-Semitism," they argued. "British Jews should take the moral high ground in the Israel/Palestinian dispute, reclaiming "the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice." The coalition has scheduled a public meeting in London to be chaired by television presenter Jon Snow for February 19, seeking to recruit support from the community. A similar dispute arose in the United States after publication of an American Jewish Committee essay last month entitled "Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism." In the foreword, AJC executive director David A. Harris wrote that what had been surprising and distressing in a recent upsurge in rhetoric was "the very public participation of some Jews in the verbal onslaught against Zionism and the Jewish state." While "A Time to Speak Out" did not name names, Oxford University philosopher Brian Klug singled out the Board of Deputies of British Jews and British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In an article accompanying the declaration published in the Guardian, Klug said the Board of Deputies had become a mouthpiece for the Israeli government, devoting "much of the time and resources of its international division to the defense of Israel." He also criticized Sacks for telling a pro-Israeli rally last year: "Israel, you make us proud." "Others felt roughly the opposite emotion," said Klug, the author of 2004's "The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism." Supporters of the declaration said justice required they act. Prof. Susie Orbach of the London School of Economics said she had endorsed the declaration because, "as a Jew, I feel a particular duty to oppose the injustice that is done to Palestinians." Dr. David Goldberg, rabbi emeritus of London's Liberal Jewish Synagogue, said that "when Israel's Jewish supporters abroad don't speak out against disastrous policies that neither guarantee safety for her citizens nor produce the right climate in which to try and reach a just peace with the Palestinians - but seek instead to justify those policies by turning a blind eye to flagrant human rights abuses in the occupied territories - then they are betraying millennial Jewish values and acting against Israel's own long-term interests." The Board of Deputies did not respond to requests for comment.