Sir Mick Davis: A Renewed Commitment

In the Rosh Hashanah edition of The Jewish Chronicle, JLC Chair Mick Davis has outlined, amongst other details, a clear plan for the work that lies ahead for the JLC and its member organisations.

After more than a decade of involvement in Anglo-Jewish communal activity I am still in awe of the giants of this community who stepped in as young men many years ago to take on the mantle of leadership when Israel was at its most vulnerable, anti-Semitism was not yet tamed and when our communities structures were fragmented. Trevor Chinn, Michael Levy, Greville Janner, Gerald Ronson and the late Cyril Stein inspired a generation and laid the foundations of this great community we are all blessed to be part of today. There were of course many others who played key roles but it is to these that I look to for my inspiration.

It was interesting that two weeks ago the JC named me the most influential figure in Anglo Jewry, just one week after it highlighted the new face of Jewish protest and Jewish leadership: the demonstration against anti-Semitism outside the Royal Courts of Justice organised by a grassroots group that did not exist only a few months ago. If it was up to me, I would have nominated the community itself as the most influential figure in its own development. The community is diverse, sometimes fractious but so often inspiring. It has demonstrated its commitment and collective influence many times: when it came together to support Israel through its wars and to free Soviet Jewry in the 1980s and played a unique and decisive part in one of the greatest projects in Jewish History, the building of the Modern State of Israel. In the face of horrific virulent anti-Zionism and renewed anti-Semitism it is once again demonstrating its commitment and beginning to show its influence.

As the Chairman of the JLC I am writing in these pages today to tell our community how we and our member bodies have been engaging in the fight for Zionism and for Jewish safety. There are many who would have us do more and have us be more vocal. There has been much criticism of our actions and inactions in these pages. I accept that we have not done all that we might but we have done much that has not been visible. Trying to speak with the voice of “the Jewish community” in the public sphere is inevitably limiting as we are a diverse community with a wide variety of opinions. But now is the time has come for leaders to lead and, on behalf of the JLC and its members, l take that responsibility as seriously as our new grassroots leaders have taken theirs.

To start, what have we done? First of all, the work of BICOM has been tireless and impressive to represent the truth of Israel's actions and challenges in the face of bias and lies. The Community Security Trust has identified anti-Semitic activities, protected Jews and worked with the Police to ensure that criminal activity is punished. The UJIA and our youth movements took over 1,200 young people to Israel and kept them safe while meeting their missions of education and inspiration – it is a testament to them that only 20 young people cancelled their tours. UJS has worked to resist the tide of anti-Israel activities on campus and provide a safe environment for our students. The Board of Deputies has together with the JLC challenged every unwarranted criticism of Israel and made numerous representations to Government. I have written in the Times about the fateful choices that we must take as a Nation, even in the face of the deaths of the innocent, that it is right to battle against evil and recognise that Hamas is no better than Islamic State.   More recently I joined our grassroots activists and publicly challenged the leadership of this country to speak out against the rising tide of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism: I am pleased that from the Prime Minister down there was a decisive outcry against the unacceptable events of recent times.

These are only a few of our public actions. Privately, we also worked with the government, political parties, the media and business to ensure that the voices of hatred and destruction have no place in modern Britain.

Now that the hot battle is over in Israel we should be clear: the fight is not over. The voices of hatred that we saw so clearly and loudly in our streets, in the press and most of all on social media have not gone away. I believe that something has changed in the world and in Britain: it has become acceptable to hate again. We do not know what the average Briton thinks about Israel or what will happen next. But I do know that the Jewish community has to stand up for tolerance, for compassion, for a peaceful and constructive road to the two State solution, for Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People and against anti-Semitic attitudes, language and acts. We are doing that and are going to do even more. But this is not the work of a few; it needs to be the work of many. It is not a task only for official leaders; it requires new leaders as well as old. It will not be over quickly.

I intend to take my responsibility seriously both to provide leadership to those in the community who want that as well as to take action. Here is what the JLC and its member organisations plan to do:

  • We will provide public leadership and forums for communal involvement. We do not have all the answers so we need to engage and to listen. We will use Facebook, Twitter and the Jewish media to share our plans and responses. We will have town halls in all cities where there are sizeable communities, to share and to listen.
  • We will provide and support public opportunities to demonstrate our support for Israel with appropriate rallies and missions to Israel.
  • We will create a support network for grassroots activists: seed funding, training, advice on organisation, logistics and legal issues. And we will create a world-class social media operation that is a resource both for our official organisations and our grass roots.
  • On campuses, we will devote more resources and engage our communities to support our students and to combat the very extreme expression of hatred that seems to have become acceptable on some university campuses.
  • In the public affairs sphere, we will increase funding and support for those who communicate Jewish values and facilitate our contribution to British society and build bridges of understanding and support for Israel and repudiate hatred.

I want to be very clear: both personally and on behalf of the many JLC member organisations, we welcome and support the grassroots organisations: both the old and the new. We will not always agree on every tactic and debate is an eternal feature of Jewish life. Our plans as communal leaders include providing support to those grassroots and to grow the leadership of the community.  A complex question in all of this is how do we truly benefit from the energy of the newly engaged who are unfettered by structure and organisational disciplines in a way which challenges the organised community to reach a higher level of effectiveness but does not distract our heroic community professionals from their important day to day tasks. I am hopeful that the overarching plans which I have set out will address this in some respect but we will need this to be translated into a series of actions planned for execution over the next few months which will connect the power of the organised community with the innovation and drive of the grass roots. I hope shortly to publish further in this regard once I have received the counsel and direction of the Lay Leaders of both the JLC organisations and other important non-member groups such as the Zionist Federation.

As British Jews, we live in one of the best countries for Jews – a tolerant, supportive and multi-cultural society, whose government has supported Israel since its foundation. But we cannot take that for granted. Our grandparents fought Moseley; our parents built a community that is the envy of other faiths for its cohesion and care. It falls for our generation to fight to preserve what they created with so much hard work.

There is a power in this tiny Community for good and for decisive action. Now is the time for it to be harnessed: in unity and with a common purpose and directed where it can be most effective. But because we are small in  numbers and limited in resource we cannot afford the dissipation of energy that comes from carping criticism of others and exclusion of those with whom we disagree. All Jews who are proud of their heritage, all Jews who hold Israel dear in their hearts, all Jews who actively seek peace in the Land and peaceful coexistence of Israel, the Nation State of the Jewish People, with its Palestinian and Arab neighbours are part of this great endeavour.  Your Community, the Jewish People need you. As we enter Rosh Hashanah let us all resolve to join with each other and create a new year full of promise and hope and uplifting acts in this great cause.