NOTES OF BOARD OF DEPUTIES “TOWN HALL” JEWISH COMMUNITY MEETING, 13.08.14 HELD IN JFS (Jewish Free School)
SUMMARY OF PANEL SPEECHES
VIVIAN WINEMAN, PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF DEPUTIES
I am introducing this meeting with mixed feelings. I am chuffed that so many have come, but sad about the circumstances in which we meet. We all have relatives in Israel and we are all sad about the terror that they are experiencing there [Note: no mention from VW at all of Gaza]. And with the rise of antisemitism in Britain, we are moving into very difficult territory. All the communal organisations have worked well together to organise this meeting.
CHIEF RABBI: EPHRAIM MIRVIS
I have to leave soon, as I am very busy; but I had to be here to accompany the meeting in expressing solidarity with Israel. Ever since the three Israeli teenagers were abducted and murdered, we have been going through anxiety on a daily basis. I am saddened by the loss of Israeli soldiers and saddened by the loss of civilian life in both Israel and Gaza. [Note: this and a reference from Gillian Merron, CEO of the BoD, to “loss of life on both sides”, were the only references during the entire meeting to civilian deaths in Gaza, apart from a reference by the BICOM speaker to misleading images of dead children in Gaza and comments both from the BICOM speaker and at question time that the casualty figures can’t be believed]. We live with a dual existence, as individuals and as part of a people. We feel totally part of Am Yisrael. In July, there were over 200 antisemitic incidents in Britain. Tomorrow I am going to Israel, on my fifth visit since the start of the conflict. I hope the meeting will consider how we can all help for the sake of Israel’s future.
DERMOT KEHOE, CEO OF BICOM (The Britain-Israel Research Committee, the UK equivalent of AIPAC).
We all stand with Israel; we are not divided. We are united in our support for democracy. There is a rise in antisemitic attacks and increasing fear within the Jewish community. BICOM exists to give pro-Israel voices a platform. I wish we had in Britain a fair and balanced media. I wish we had a media that expressed complex ideas in depth. But Dan Meridor, Uri Dromi etc [a long list of more names] have been interviewed in the British media. We have taken the argument to Israel’s fiercest critics; we have debated in public with Mira Bar-Hillel, Ben White and Mehdi Hasan. Not one opportunity to put the pro-Israel point of view has been turned down. A third of children in Sderot are likely to grow up with long-term learning disabilities. BICOM has exposed the use on social media of misleading images of dead children in Gaza that were actually of children in Syria or Iraq. Hamas casualty figures cannot be taken at face value. Whenever you see or hear anything wrong in the media, complain to the media and seek help from groups such as We Believe in Israel. Israel still has many friends in the UK.
SPEAKER FROM UJIA (the United Jewish-Israel Appeal)
Every year, we send children on summer tours. When war broke out in July this year, we asked “can we keep them safe? Can we still give them an educational programme?” We decided to carry on, and right now approximately 1,225 children have completed their summer tours in Israel. A large number of parents from the US cancelled the summer tours; but – without wanting to sound anti-American – only 20 parents from Britain cancelled. UJIA has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for relief projects in the south of Israel, including projects for the Bedouin [no mention of relief for Gaza]. We are running a two-day programme in Israel for British Jews to go there to see these relief projects for themselves. This has been the busiest month in the UJIA’s history. Yes, there are critical views of Israel in the Jewish community [Note: this and remarks about Yachad and making peace with the Palestinians were the only references to critical views of Israel in the Jewish community in the whole meeting]; but instinctive, gut love for Israel has never been greater.
GILLIAN MERRON, CEO OF THE BOARD OF DEPUTIES
This is a high-profile, complex and long drawn out conflict. We are all deeply saddened by the loss of life on both sides. But Israel’s safety and security are paramount. It has been attacked with rockets and terror tunnels. I am proud to stand with Israel. We face a challenging environment in the UK. Graphic images are beamed into our TVs every night. There is effective campaigning from PSC and Stop the War. The British government has acted with integrity. I congratulate our government for pursuing the de-militarisation of Hamas; but it has also reached the decision to restrict the export of weapons that enable Israel to defend itself. We continue to challenge the Lib Dems over the comments made by David Ward. We have also challenged John Prescott for calling Gaza a “concentration camp”.
SPEAKER FROM CST (COMMUNITY SECURITY TRUST)
There were over 200 antisemitic incidents in July, This is over four times what could be expected. It is the second highest monthly total since CST started recording antisemitic incidents in 1984 – the first highest monthly total being in January 2009, under similar circumstances. There were 374 antisemitic incidents in the first six months of this year. We have increased security at synagogues and Jewish events. CST is working closely with UJS (the Union of Jewish Students). If you are a victim of an antisemitic incident, please report it to CST.
SIMON JOHNSON OF JEWISH LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
We are challenging BDS, which means the delegitimisation of Israel. The National Union of Students and the TUC Conference have passed boycott motions. Even Tesco might be in the process of boycotting certain products. There are demonstrations outside the Kedem store in Manchester. Labour and the Lib Dems could have plans for boycott. [Note: the NUS motion included support for a two state solution; and the TUC motion was only against settlement goods; the Kedem demonstrations are against the Occupation, not Israel per se; Tesco, Labour and the Lib Dems would only support boycott of the Occupation]. What are we doing about it? Our mechanisms include: a) the Fair Play Campaign; b) supporting the TUC Friends of Israel; c) re-organisation of the way we coordinate responses to the delegitimisation of Israel. We are protesting against local councils that have taken the ludicrous decision to fly Palestinian flags. We are opposing the Tricycle Theatre’s discriminatory decision to force out the UK Jewish Film Festival [Note; the Tricycle asked the UKJFF to drop its funding from the Israel Embassy, in view of the situation in Gaza, so that it would not look as though the Tricycle was supporting the Israeli government, and offered to make up the shortfall itself; the UKJFF chose to keep its Israeli Embassy funding and leave the Tricycle].
LUKE AKEHURST FROM WE BELIEVE IN ISRAEL
I am not Jewish but am proud to support Israel. MPS have been getting thousands of anti-Israel letters. Anti-Israel groups have generated 58,000 letters to MPs. Our side has only sent 5,000. The government is threatening to suspect licences for the very weapons that Israel needs to defend itself. What you can do: complain about media bias; visit Israel; attend rallies. Sussex Friends of Israel are organising a big rally in Brighton this month. There will be another Israel Solidarity Rally in London next month.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS INCLUDED:
1) We all know what “from the river to the sea/Palestine will be free” means.
2) Hamas has links with ISIS.
3) The Gaza casualty figures are all lies.
4) Tirade against Yachad, the UK equivalent of J-Street, for organising tours in which people from Britain are taken on Breaking the Silence tours of the West Bank.
5) Can we try to get Jon Snow off the air?
6) Why isn’t the Zionist Federation up on the platform?
7) Why are we not being led by the Board of Deputies? (loud applause and anger against the BoD).
8) A woman said she had gone with a delegation to Bradford to oppose George Galloway’s call to make Bradford an “Israel-free zone” and had brandished her Israeli passport there, but had got no support from the Board of Deputies. (Standing ovation from audience).
9) Question from JfJfP signatory: what perspectives do you have on ways to make peace with the Palestinians? No-one has mentioned this all evening.
10) Comments from Chair of UK Jewish Film Festival denouncing the Tricycle.
11) Comments about the Hamas Charter
12) Comments about Yvonne Ridley speaking in Glasgow. What is the Board of Deputies doing in support of the Glasgow Jewish community?
A few responses from the panel (who seemed overwhelmed by the antagonism and didn’t answer all the questions).
a) Re Yachad: we caution everyone in this room against demonising any organisation in the Jewish community that reflects a basic commitment to the Jewish and democratic state.
b) re Jon Snow: BICOM rep said they were going to look into prosecuting him for contravening media standards.
c) In response to question 9 from the JfJfP signatory: we want to acknowledge the absolute legitimacy of this question., 76 per cent of Israeli Jews would like to see a two state solution, but the same percentage thinks it won’t happen in their lifetime. A majority of Israelis wants to see a peaceful outcome.
SINGING OF HATIKVA AND GOD SAVE THE QUEEN