The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - RE­LI­GION CLIVE SHEL­DON

BE­ING A Bri­tish Zion­ist is dif­fi­cult th­ese days. The news com­ing out of Is­rael on an al­most daily ba­sis is de­press­ing, what with the knife at­tacks on the streets of Jerusalem, the shoot­ings in the West Bank, and the rock­ets that con­tinue to be fired from Gaza. It is not dif­fi­cult to feel de­spair about Is­rael’s fu­ture. To make mat­ters more dif­fi­cult, in Bri­tain an out­spo­ken critic of the state of Is­rael has been elected leader of the Labour Party; aca­demics are pro­claim­ing they will boy­cott Is­raeli ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions; and many of our youth and young adults want noth­ing to do with Is­rael.

And yet, there is still hope. Last week, I had the hon­our of de­liv­er­ing the ap­peal speech to record num­bers at the New Is­rael Fund’s An­nual Din­ner. The Con­naught Rooms venue in Cen­tral Lon­don was over­flow­ing. More than 400 peo­ple, with al­most 100 young adults, had gath­ered to hear the gen­tle words of Yu­val Rabin, proudly ex­claim­ing the legacy of his fa­ther, Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin, who was gunned down 20 years ago af­ter giv­ing a speech call­ing for peace, and to hon­our three Is­raeli activists who ded­i­cate their lives to ad­vanc­ing shared so­ci­ety in their coun­try.

The din­ers heard from Gadi Gvaryahu, chair of the Tag Meir Fo­rum, a coali­tion of or­gan­i­sa­tions that fights racism in Is­rael, and clears up af­ter at­tacks on mosques and Arab homes; Samah Salaime Eg­bariya, an Arab cit­i­zen of Is­rael who works to rid her com­mu­nity of hon­our killing and do­mes­tic violence and ad­vance the sta­tus of Arab women; and Eli Bareket, Di­rec­tor of Mimizrach Shemesh (“the sun from the East”), who seeks to ed­u­cate Mizrachi (Sephardi) youth about so­cial jus­tice, tol­er­ance and plu­ral­ism through tra­di­tional Jewish texts.

There was real ex­cite­ment in the room as each of the Is­raeli activ- United: A rally out­side the Royal Courts against those who crit­i­cise Jews and Is­rael ists re­ceived their Hu­man Rights award, and im­plored us to help them build an Is­rael to be proud of. An Is­rael which lives up to the fine words of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence; an Is­rael whose plu­ral­ism, tol­er­ance and jus­tice mir­rors the kind of world that we take for granted here in Bri­tain.

They wanted us to know that their voices should not, and would not, be drowned out by those op­posed to hu­man-rights or­gan­i­sa­tions – to work­ing to­gether across the com­mu­ni­ties — who sew fear (on both sides) rather than hope. Those mes­sages res­onated with the hun­dreds of guests at the din­ner.

It seems to me that those voices ought to find a pos­i­tive re­cep­tion be­yond the NIF din­ner. That the as­pi­ra­tions and ideals of th­ese in­spir­ing Is­raelis match the val­ues of large parts, per­haps the ma­jor­ity, of the Bri­tish Jewish com­mu­nity.

That is cer­tainly the mes­sage of the City Univer­sity re­search into at­ti­tudes to­wards Is­rael in our com­mu­nity, pub­lished last week by Yachad. The re­search showed that the vast ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents (71 per cent as against 16 per cent) agree that “the two-state so­lu­tion is the only way Is­rael will achieve peace with its neigh­bours in the Mid­dle East; with 62 per cent say­ing that “Is­rael should give up ter­ri­tory in ex­change for guar­an­tees of peace”.

The re­search also showed that those with more hawk­ish at­ti­tudes in re­la­tion to Is­rael tended to over­es­ti­mate how many other Jews agree with them; they be­lieve that their own opin­ions are roughly twice as com­mon as the re­search sug­gests they are. Peo­ple with more doveish views have a slight ten­dency to un­der­es­ti­mate the per­va­sive­ness of their views. Those with more hawk­ish at­ti­tudes also tend to shout the loud­est, which may ex­plain why their views tend to be dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented in Jewish me­dia, in­flu­enc­ing Bri­tish so­ci­ety’s im­pres­sion of what it means to be a Zion­ist.

Ac­tu­ally, how­ever, that Zion­ism comes in many shapes and colours. This is the case in the di­as­pora and in Is­rael it­self. I think that it is time for those of us who cam­paign for so­cial jus­tice for all of Is­rael’s in­hab- itants, who are push­ing hard for an end to set­tle­ment-build­ing and are try­ing to en­cour­age both sides to move to­wards a two-state so­lu­tion, to re­claim the term “Zion­ist”. Rather than sink into de­spair, or wash our hands of Is­rael, we should build stronger con­nec­tions with those like Gadi, Samah and Eli, and the thou­sands of oth­ers, who work tire­lessly to make Is­rael a bet­ter place.

Out of the dark­ness of the past few weeks, scores of grass­roots ini­tia­tives have sprung up in Is­rael with the goal of reach­ing out across the com­mu­ni­ties. Many are be­ing sup­ported by a new emer­gency fund es­tab­lished by the New Is­rael Fund in re­sponse to the cri­sis. There is even an or­gan­i­sa­tion called “Peace of Cake” that is pro­vid­ing pas­tries to Arab con­struc­tion work­ers who are help­ing to build a bet­ter Jerusalem. As Bri­tish Zion­ists, we should do all that we can to sup­port th­ese in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions and pro­mote their mes­sage of hope for Is­rael’s fu­ture. Clive Shel­don QC is Chair­man of the New Is­rael Fund UK


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