Com­mu­nal lead­ers at­tacked over re­sponse to Gaza

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY MAR­CUS DYSCH

COM­MU­NAL LEAD­ERS were bar­racked at an an­gry town hall meet­ing on Wed­nes­day night.

At­ten­dees at­tacked the speak­ers rep­re­sent­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing the Board of Deputies and Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil over their fail­ure to counter the grow­ing move­ment against Is­rael.

Board pres­i­dent Vi­vian Wine­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive Gillian Mer­ron were the tar­gets of the most vo­cif­er­ous crit­i­cism. Mr Wine­man an­nounced a sol­i­dar­ity rally next month but was told by au­di­ence mem­bers that it was “too lit­tle”. Heck­lers shouted: “Pull your fin­ger out”.

An au­di­ence mem­ber from Bournemouth asked: “Why have we not been led by the Board? Why isn’t the Board re­act­ing and set­ting the agenda?”

Ac­tivist Mandy Blu­men­thal re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion when she said that she had called the Board to ask for help in her cam­paign­ing and the re­cep­tion­ist re­fused to con­nect her call.

Around 700 peo­ple at­tended the event at JFS school in north-west Lon- don. For an hour they lis­tened to speak­ers from the Board, JLC, UJIA, Bi­com and CST ex­plain­ing what ac­tion had been taken. But when the floor was opened to ques­tions the at­mos­phere quickly turned to anger with au­di­ence mem­bers re­peat­edly crit­i­cis­ing lead­ers’ per­for­mance over the past month.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis told the au­di­ence: “I felt I must be here to ex­press sol­i­dar­ity with Is­rael at this time. We have been en­dur­ing a very chal­leng­ing time. We want to en­gage in pos­i­tive ac­tion.”

Si­mon John­son, JLC chief ex­ec­u­tive, said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was keep­ing a “close eye” on the po­ten­tial for neg­a­tive mo­tions at the three party con­fer­ences in the au­tumn. He said ex­tra fund­ing and re­sources had been made avail­able to Luke Ake­hurst and col­leagues at the We Be­lieve grass­roots or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Mr Ake­hurst said the Board’s let­terwrit­ing cam­paign was “vi­tal” and urged peo­ple to con­tact their MPs.

Mr John­son said by com­bin­ing ef­forts — with grass­roots ac­tivism and high-level ap­proaches from com­mu­nal group lead­ers — it would be pos­si­ble to beat the boy­cott move­ment.

He said: “You have a real role to play. The whole com­mu­nity can ex­press its view. We will be bet­ter to­gether. Play your part.” Se­nior staff in a num­ber of

or­gan­i­sa­tions have pri­vately ex­pressed con­cern at the slow speed and small scale of the re­sponse when hos­til­i­ties es­ca­lated last month.

Mean­while, re­gional Jewish groups have taken the lead in com­bat­ing wide­spread anti-Is­rael sen­ti­ment. Sus­sex Friends of Is­rael is or­gan­is­ing a peace rally in Brighton on Sun­day, with speak­ers in­clud­ing Colonel Richard Kemp.

Neil Dun­can­son, SFI spokesman, said: “Com­mu­nal lead­er­ship groups have made it clear they want to do closed-door meet­ings, let­ter-writ­ing cam­paigns and lob­by­ing. We are tak­ing a dif­fer­ent route.”

There was strong crit­i­cism of the ab­sence of se­nior com­mu­nal fig­ures at a protest last week out­side the Tri­cy­cle Theatre. Ja­nine Grey­man, a North Lon­don Re­form Sy­n­a­gogue mem­ber, said: “They’re our lead­ers, they should be here.”

Mark Har­ing­man, a for­mer stu­dent leader, said: “I even con­tacted the Chief Rabbi’s Of­fice to send a state­ment that we could read out at the protest, but they wouldn’t do it. It’s weak.”

Prom­i­nent lawyer Mark Lewis sug­gested com­mu­nal lead­ers “couldn’t or­gan­ise a pxxx-up in a brew­ery”.

He said: “If ever there was a group of lions be­ing led by don­keys this is it. Our lead­er­ship has been in­vis­i­ble. The Sus­sex Friends of Is­rael have done more than the Board of Deputies.

“Hitherto un­knowns in com­mu­nal work have risen to nat­u­ral lead­er­ship roles, stood up and mo­bilised.

“Who mo­bilised the com­mu­ni­ties in Leeds and Manch­ester to go to Brad­ford [and chal­lenge Ge­orge Gal­loway]? No one. We have to stand up as a com­mu­nity. If our lead­ers won’t lead us, then we need new lead­ers.”

Paul Char­ney, Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion chair­man, said the com­mu­nity had “re­ally come to­gether fan­tas­ti­cally in sup­port­ing Is­rael”, but ad­mit­ted the ZF needed a “closer re­la­tion­ship” with other groups.

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