Time-Worn Slogans

As a deputy who was unable to attend the last meeting. I find the Board of Deputies statement on the current crisis in Israel and the territories embarrassingly devoid of meaning.

It does not address the fundamental issues which have caused the riots and only parrots time-worn slogans which are being rendered increasingly irrelevant. This is the first time that an occupied people is being blamed for being occupied.

In general, the statement symbolises the confusion and lack of direction which has permeated the Board’s approach since the first outbreak of violence in early December.

As even the one-sided Mr Mellor discovered, the Board has no policy on the future of the territories. It does not suggest either withdrawal or annexation. It simply mirrors the political paralysis manifested by an Israeli coalition of irreconcilable opposites.

Since 1982 — as Dr Lionel Kopelowitz commented to Rabbi Michael Rosen and myself at our recent meeting at Yakar — the consensus of support within the community for official Israeli Government policies has broken down:

The Lebanese war divided supporters of Israel into doves and hawks, moderates and hardliners. While there is unity on Israel’s sovereignty, there is no uniformity of views on the territories.

Recent editorials in this paper, the debate in the letters column and the statement which was signed by the country’s major Jewish writers, playwrights and intellectuals — Pinter, Wesker, Berkoff, Anita Brookner and others — is yet another symptom of this split.

Yet in its outward approach, the Board still behaves as if nothing had happened, as if supporting the status quo in the territories is a recipe for harmony and stability.

For example, the Israeli Ambassador, Yehuda Avner, was asked to put the official position to the Board last month, but would Abba Eban be permitted to voice his concerns in a contrary address next month?

If “The Independent” newspaper publishes two interesting but different Jewish views of the situation, why is Jane Moonman’s contribution sent out by the Board and David Goldberg’s one ignored?

Dr Kopelowitz has commented that the Board is not an appendage of the Israeli Government. There is no evidence to support that statement.

Judging by the Board’s behaviour during the present crisis, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg’s recent assertion — that “so long as the diaspora is a rotten borough, at least publicly, in the hands of a Prime Minister of Israel, whoever he might be, it has no power” — has a ring of truth about it.

If Anglo-Jewry is to support Israel’s quest for a just peace and true security, the Board must make a contribution to the debate in Israel and not simply explain away or close its eyes to unpalatable events. To speak one’s mind can be a sign of commitment, not of disengagement.

While it is understandable that many are highly sensitive to “media bias,” neither should we continue to exhibit the entrenched minority syndrome where our duty to Israel is concerned. Judging by the intense debate in the Israeli press, there is little hesitation in projecting highly critical views before non-Jewish onlookers.

Moreover, it is indeed ironic that you juxtapose Yehuda Avner’s comment that “Army excesses will be punished” with the Board’s statement which makes no reference to them as if they did not exist.

In the United States, many Jewish leaders and organisations have been highly vocal in criticising the policies of the Israeli Government.

Approaches which may have been right for 1948 are totally inappropriate for 1988 — the Board should think again. It is sorely in need of its own versions of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction) if we are to fulfil our commitments to the Jewish state.

Jewish Chronicle 1988

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