Koech! All strength to these rebel voices!
IT has started! Sooner than I expected, but in my view overdue - a significant number of Jewish personalities in Britain have rebelled, and proclaimed their independence from the Jewish Establishment that continually acts as a mouthpiece for the Israeli government.
"We are a group of Jews in Britain from diverse backgrounds, occupations and affiliations who have in common a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights", says their statement. "We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty.
"We have therefore resolved to promote the expression of alternative Jewish voices, particularly in respect of the grave situation in the Middle East, which threatens the future of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as the stability of the whole region. "
Calling themselves Independent Jewish Voices, the signatories declare firm opposition to racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, affirming that human rights are for all.
"These principles are contradicted when those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people. The Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip face appalling living conditions with desperately little hope for the future. We declare our support for a properly negotiated peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people and oppose any attempt by the Israeli government to impose its own solutions on the Palestinians".
Upholding their right to speak out, and condemning attempts to bully and silence critics, the rebels' statement is very timely. It comes after a row in the British Jewish community over views expressed by Dr.Tony Lerman, director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, who said before he was appointed that Israel could join with a free Palestine to form a binational state. Lerman was also under fire for questioning the Community Security Trust's reports on antisemitism, and for attending a conference on "The Clash of Civilisations" called by the Greater London Authority. Ostensibly the Board of Deputies of British Jews was upset because the conference was on the Sabbath, though most people will recognise the Board's unremitting year-round, seven days a week, feud with London mayor Ken Livingstone, dating back to his pro-Palestinian position during Israel's 1982 Lebanon war.
According to the research institute's board chairman Peter Levy, defending Tony Lerman's participation in the conference, "A deeply disturbing, orchestrated campaign has been waged against Tony and JPR ever since the proposal to appoint him was made. The people responsible do not seem to value independent thinking, and wish to prevent discussion of matters that may be uncomfortable but are essential for us to address."
Levy and his board see JPR's role as assuring the future welfare of Jews in Europe. But billionaire Baron Stanley Kalms, ex-boss of Dixons, Curry's and PC World, and Tory party treasurer from 2001-3, says Jewish institutions must support Israel, whatever it does. Accusing Lerman of advocating the Zionist state commit "suicide", he has resigned as JPR vice president and patron, saying there can be no room for tolerance of such views.
Not content with trying to stifle independent thought in the Jewish community, the Zionist Federation followed up last week with a call to the BBC to sack Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen because of his views on Israel. Zionist Federation chair Andrew Balcombe cited a leaked memo from Bowen appearing to blame Israel for continuing violence, criticised a Radio Four interview with an Israeli lawyer who described what was happening as "Apartheid", and suggested that Bowen might have been influenced by the incident in May 2000 when his Palestinian driver was killed by Israeli tank fire.
Writing in the Guardian, Oxford philosopher Brian Klug, one of the signatories of the independence statement, sees a conflict between the Board of Deputies calling itself "the voice of British Jewry" while devoting so much of its time to defending Israel. He also criticises Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks for telling a pro-Israel rally in London last year, while the bombs were devastating Lebanon, "Israel, you make us proud".
"Others felt roughly the opposite emotion," says Brian Klug.
(No one has the right to speak for British Jews on Israel and Zionism
The declaration of independence featured on BBC2's Newsnight last night, with Jeremy Paxman refereeing exchanges between a somewhat fatigued-looking Rabbi David Goldberg, who is one of the signatories, and Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips. The liberal rabbi said forty years of occupation was too long. To hear neo-con Philips you would think it was Lebanon that sent its tanks and bombers into Israel last year, and Palestinians who were taking land from Israelis.
Brief as the confrontation was, seeing Jewish dissent aired at last was almost enough to make me forgive the BBC's inadequate coverage of the occupation struggle; and the way BBC South East misreported the London Skies Are Weeping concert in November 2005, suggesting Zionist protests fully reflected Jewish opinion, whereas in fact the concert, in honour of Rachel Corrie, was mounted with Jewish participation and support.
Some of the signatories of this statement, such as Iraqi-born writer Morris (Musa) Farhi and playwright Harold Pinter, were sponsors of that concert, and they are joined by an impressive list of community and cultural figures, including Rabbi Goldberg, Dr.Edie Friedman, president of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman, actess Janet Suzman, novelist Gillian Slovo, film director Mike Leigh, child poverty expert Carey Oppenheim, and law professor Francesca Klug. The full list of signatories can be found at http://www.ijv.org.uk/.
There have been previous Jewish petitions criticising Israeli actions. The founding statement of Jews for Justice for Palestinians eventually collected over 1,000 names. But this new declaration, by affirming independence from the Zionist Establishment and making the independent voices heard, is a blow not only to aggressive Israeli policies but to those British politicians and media who took Jewish support for such policies, and their allies, as read.
Both the European Union and British parliamentarians had accepted Zionist-tailored definitions of "antisemitism" as including opposition to "Jewish self-determination", really meaning Zionist statehood. They will now have to think again.
"We are not setting ourselves up as an alternative to the Board of Deputies or any other body", says Brian Klug. "But we challenge the standard concept of 'the Jewish community' as a collective entity for which the board is the secular voice and the chief rabbi the religious voice".
The battle for Jewish freedom and genuine self-determination, in a perspective of democratic and human rights for all, has been joined. Let's wish these independent voices koech, as we say in Yiddish, strength - or bid them, to borrow a Hebrew motto, be strong and of good courage, khazak ve'amatz!