Chair's Message: August 2014

This is a very difficult time for Israel and it is a difficult time for Diaspora Jewish Communities. If you had no opinion on the Palestinian conflict before, you would have no choice but to form one now given how prominent it has been in the media and the role of Hamas in the latest conflagration. There is no escape – prime time news, political cartoons, and front page splashes. Even though we, the British Jewish community, are physically far away from the conflict, it is one that affects us all. I think it is true to say that it would be entirely uncontroversial when I say that the British Jewish Community believes in the fundamental right of Israel to exist, and in the right of its citizens to security. But beyond that it is all very complex and there are a myriad of views about the strategic imperatives for Israel, the rights and wrongs of Operation Protective Edge and its considerable spill over into Jewish life.

Recently we heard the news of the Tricycle theatre’s refusal to host the UK Jewish Film Festival on the grounds that it is sponsored by the Israeli embassy. We also heard that the National Union of Students decided to boycott Israel, and mass protests of supermarkets selling Israeli produce forced some of them to stop trading for a short while. The tide of BDS is upon us.

These are successes for the Boycott Israel brigade and a failure for all those seeking positive engagement in order to build bridges and foster peace.

As I said in my recent article in The Times, support for Israel in its war with Hamas is not at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Hamas is not Gaza, and Hamas is not Palestine. I hope that all parties will properly explore and implement plans for a lasting settlement and deliver that elusive goal of peace. But that is not a role for us in the UK. We have to focus on the vibrancy of Jewish life and the nurturing of our youth. Israel and its legitimate position as the Nation State of the Jewish People is central to this focus and the new momentum that has been breathed into the BDS campaign in the UK must not go unchallenged if we are to fulfil our mandate. So today our voices must be heard.

But if we want to make our voices heard, we need to speak out. All of us must stand up and be counted. Rather than complain about the influence of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, or the creeping tide of the boycott agenda, let us use our democratic right to make our voices heard.

We are a richly diverse community with different views on the wider issues relating to the peace process and none should be asked to compromise these views or be prevented from giving them, but if as a community we want to change the momentum of the BDS movement, we need to act.

Many MPs have been overwhelmed by the correspondence that they have received criticising Israel or advocating boycotts and sanctions. Correspondence has a real impact. If you want to make a tangible difference, write to your MP, highlighting your concerns. Make sure your MP hears what you think and ask them to refer your letter to the Foreign Secretary.

We also call on the community to report any anti-Semitic incidents to the Police or the CST. We must not be complacent to any threat our community faces.

Elsewhere in this newsletter Simon Johnson has spelt out the role that the JLC and its member organisations have played and will continue to play as we navigate this complex and worrying time.