Israelis (above) are no longer beyond criticism by Jews
British Jewry’s relationship with Israel is undergoing seismic change. The monolithic “Israel right or wrong” support of the mainstream suddenly cracked when one of the community’s most senior leaders went dramatically off-message.
As the Jewish Chronicle reported Mick Davis, chairman of the pre-eminent Anglo-Israel charity, the UJIA, and the executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, “shattered a longstanding taboo by publicly criticising the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the peace process, voicing moral reservations about some of Israel’s policies and calling for criticism of Israel to be voiced freely throughout the community.”
What followed was an “I am Spartacus” moment. As the Israeli embassy and their cohort of diehard loyalists within Anglo-Jewry looked on aghast, one heavyweight community player after another voiced support for Mr Davis.
They included figures who have worked tirelessly throughout their professional lives to defend Jewish rights, promote Israel’s right to peace and security and neutralise the ugly sisters of anti-Zionist/anti-Semitism. Nobody could ever accuse the likes of Jon Mendelson, Gordon Brown’s chief fundraiser and former Labour Friends of Israel chairman, or Bicomchairman Poju Zabludowicz, of possessing an iota of “self-hatred”.
Indeed, a no lesser figure than Lord Janner – for decades Mr Anglo-Jewry in Parliament – wrote that: “Mick Davis has reminded us that our obligation is to speak out against injustice, even when it is extremely awkward and fraught to do so. Of course, we have an equivalent obligation to defend Israel from its enemies.”
The loyalists knee-jerked that these promoters of a more open debate are “washing dirty linen in public” (anti-Zionists, I ask you, do you believe this new outspokeness is playing into your hands?) and aiding Israel’s mortal enemies.
But at what point does heartfelt solidarity mutate into simplistic subservience?
Israel’s current government is the most extreme in its history and for Jewish Britons, raised on the liberal democratic values of tolerance, minority rights and equality before the law, the direction of Israeli society, at times, appears depressingly bleak.
Furthermore, strategically the “Israel right or wrong” approach is now bankrupt. According to the influential Tel-Aviv based Reut Institute,the only way to stop extremists set on demonising Israel, whipped up by the unholy alliance of Islamists and the hard Left, is to reach out to the respectable liberal-Left – the Guardianistas et al.
London is the “hub of hate” of a cunning campaign that is ratcheting up boycott, divestment and sanctions initiatives, says the think tank. It calls on British Jews to establish a grassroots movement to build a “firewall” against the storm by persuading liberal opinion that its is being duped into fellow-travelling with groups hell-bent on Israel’s annihilation. Yet emotional tirades and ferocious neo-con rants are counter-productive. Now is the time for smart thinking: subtlety, nuance, openness and courage.
It means emphasising the democratic, pluralistic, creative national soul that makes Israel unique in the Middle East, even the world, but also a willingness to concede that the Settlers’ mission has a dark side, that there’s a tip-toeing towards theocracy in play and that Israeli Arabs’ civil rights and Palestinian human rights are in need of intensive care.
As Lord Janner said: “If Israel loses the support of West and becomes a besieged State, that will not only be serious and damaging to Israel, but for all Jews. Our destinies are linked.”