The Board of Deputies of British Jews has disputed claims levelled by the "Independent Jewish Voices" coalition that it is a tool of the Israeli government. "The overwhelming view" of British Jewry is "one of support for Israel; not necessarily every action of its government, but its right to exist, the right all of its citizens of whatever faith to live in peace and security and, as a corollary of that, the right of Israel to defend itself," the statement given to the Jerusalem Post by Board chief executive Jon Benjamin said.
UK Jews push for 'different voices'
On Feb 5, a coalition of prominent British Jews attacked the country's Jewish establishment in an open letter printed in the Times and Guardian, claiming it placed loyalty to Israel above the human rights of Palestinians.
"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 IJV declaration signed by playwright Harold Pinter, academic Jacqueline Rose, actors Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker and over 140 others.
The IJV coalition argued that their having raised issues of "public concern" should not incur "accusations of disloyalty" or prompt charges that opposition to Israeli government policy must "automatically [be] branded as anti-Semitic."
The Board rejected the assertion that it was unrepresentative of the views of the Jewish community, noting that its 300 deputies were "democratically elected representatives of synagogues and secular communal organisations from all over the United Kingdom," nor had it ever "claimed that "criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, nor is there any orchestrated campaign by Jewish leadership bodies to silence those who do criticise Israel."
"As an umbrella body that includes people with a wide range of views, the Board tries to reflect this broad feeling of support for the people of Israel without passing comment on every Israeli government policy," Benjamin noted.
Benjamin encouraged the IJV coalition to "engage with the institutions of the Jewish community, rather than shouting from the sidelines," for them they would discover that while most British Jews disagreed with that they said, "in the spirit of Talmudic disputation, they would be no less welcome for that."