Simon Johnson: The JLC and Israel

Something odd happened in the Jewish media a few days after I was confirmed as full time CEO of the JLC. We began to see articles and letters criticising the JLC and its leaders for being anti-Israel. I thought it was high time that I, as the CEO of this organisation, put that mischievous and scurrilous suggestion to rest.

The JLC is an umbrella body for major Jewish communal organisations. Amongst our members are major Israel focused charities, such as UJIA, the Zionist Youth Council, WIZO and BICOM. For them to derive benefit from our membership, Israel must play a central part in our strategic delivery.

So, the way that we describe our Israel related activity in our strategy is that we “facilitate appropriate community response and engagement when Israel related matters impact upon the UK Jewish community”. This means that we are at the heart of the community’s fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) jointly with the Board of Deputies through the Fair Play Campaign Group. We are also soon to announce a major new initiative in which we will bring together a number of organisations to counter those of Israel’s opponents who seek to delegitimise the State of Israel. This will deliver real and concrete outcomes. We also work closely with the Israeli Government to promote the UK’s relationship with Israel. The JLC organised the 2013 Closer to Israel parade and has been gratefully thanked for organising the Israel 60th event and supporting the Big Tent for Israel in Manchester. We may not be an Israel advocacy body, but we reflect the community’s pride in and support for Israel as actively as any organisation.

That is why I have been mystified by those who have described the JLC as anti-Israel. They cannot possibly mean the organisation which I am privileged to lead.

I also sense some vindictiveness in those who have criticised our leaders, including our Chairman, for being anti-Israel. Even as someone who is a relatively recent newcomer to the community, I know that Mick Davis is one of this community’s most passionate, active, generous and engaged supporters of Israel. As Chair of UJIA, he put himself literally on Israel’s front line during the most recent Lebanon war, and personally galvanised the community to organise and fight against boycott motions when the community was caught napping. He leads from the front foot where Israel is concerned.

I am proud to lead the JLC at this exciting time. I am also proud to put Israel at the heart of the JLC’s eight strategic objectives. I do hope that those who have criticised us or questioned our commitment to Israel in recent weeks will think again.