‘You don’t de­fend Is­rael prop­erly’

JNF spokesman at­tacks com­mu­nity

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY MAR­CUS DYSCH

A LEAD­ING pro-is­rael ac­tivist be­lieves the main­stream Jewish com­mu­nity “can­not be trusted” to de­fend Is­rael and claims non-jews are now lead­ing the way in com­bat­ing dele­git­imi­sa­tion ef­forts.

Sam We­strop, a founder of the Bri­tish Is­rael Coali­tion (BIC), said the com­mu­nity was of­ten “paral­ysed” be­cause it could not agree on po­si­tions to take on is­sues af­fect­ing Is­rael. He said Jewish communal lead­ers “shied away” from dis­cussing Is­rael when­ever pos­si­ble.

“The over­rid­ing sen­ti­ment I en­counter is that the Jewish com­mu­nity will do the bare min­i­mum to de­fend Is­rael, ei­ther be­cause they are fright­ened of caus­ing a provo­ca­tion or they feel it’s not their man­date,” said Mr We­strop.

He claimed communal or­gan­i­sa­tions and their lead­ers were pre­oc­cu­pied with hav­ing the “right im­age” in the eyes of the public, rather than by a de­sire to “do the right thing”.

“I would say non-jews are do­ing more to de­fend Is­rael in Bri­tain,” said Mr We­strop. “It’s odd when you can rely more on non-jews than the Jewish com­mu­nity.”

The BIC is an um­brella group of Is­rael sup­port­ers formed last year. It claims to have more than 2,500 mem­bers, in­clud­ing Chris­tians and Mus­lims, and says it ex­ists to “combat the vis­ceral ha­tred of Is­rael that is cham­pi­oned by the dele­git­imi­sa­tion net­work”.

Since its for­ma­tion, BIC has helped co-or­di­nate counter-protests to de­fend Is­rael at Pales­tine Sol­i­dar­ity Cam­paign events and demon­stra­tions.

Mr We­strop, who is also a press of­fi­cer for the JNF, said a team of 30 BIC ac­tivists had worked for six months to mon­i­tor and col­late ref­er­ences to last week­end’s “fly­tilla” ini­tia­tive, send­ing de­tails to Is­raeli of­fi­cials and air­lines.

He added: “I have heard noth­ing about the fly­tilla from the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil or the Board of Deputies. It’s wor­ry­ing.” He ad­mit­ted that in­de­pen­dent ac­tivists and BIC mem­bers could act with fewer re­straints than elected communal rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but said tan­gi­ble re­sults meant BIC and its sup­port­ers should be en­ti­tled to more credit.

Mr We­strop crit­i­cised the Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion and said its claims that it would lead the way in or­gan­is­ing counter-protests were “ob­vi­ously non­sense”.

“We have of­ten asked the ZF to join us and help pub­li­cise counter-demon­stra­tions. They have told us it’s not ef­fec­tive, but we can show counter-de­mos chal­lenge the dis­tor­tions of truth. The re­sponse from mem­bers of the public has been fan­tas­tic. They tell us they are

de­lighted to hear the other side.”

ZF ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Alan Aziz hit back, ar­gu­ing that ac­tivists want­ing to sup­port Is­rael should join es­tab­lished groups rather than set up their own. Mr We­strop, he said, “wants to pro­mote him­self”, adding that “egos” were ham­per­ing co-or­di­na­tion of Is­rael ad­vo­cacy work.

Mr Aziz agreed with Mr We­strop that all pro-is­rael groups could “do more”, but said the ZF was “do­ing more than most. It was the ZF that went out and cre­ated part­ner­ships and friend­ships with the non-jewish com­mu­nity” he said.

Jon Ben­jamin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Board of Deputies, was more cir­cum­spect: “The Board and part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions are do­ing an enor­mous amount of work coun­ter­ing the most in­vid­i­ous ef­forts of the PSC and BDS move­ment. We have pushed back against en­try­ism in schools, are chal­leng­ing the nar­ra­tives be­ing de­ployed in churches. We also en­cour­age ‘BUY­cotts’ to de­feat boy­cotts.

“As an en­gaged com­mu­nity there are bound to be dif­fer­ent tac­tics and strate­gies upon which we may not all agree, but when our ad­ver­saries com­plain of our suc­cesses, it is rather naïve for oth­ers to deny them.”

A JLC spokesman said: “The JLC sup­ports the ef­forts of all groups work­ing to im­prove Jewish life and Is­rael’s stand­ing in the UK. It’s great to see ever grow­ing com­mit­ment to ad­vo­cacy from all di­rec­tions but we should re­mem­ber that we are all on the same side and en­er­gies should be di­rected at those who are hos­tile to these causes.”

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