The complex relationship between Israelis and the Jews of the diaspora led to clashes at the Haaretz conference on Sunday between Sir Mick Davis, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, and the hard-right former Knesset member, Professor Arieh Eldad.
In a session billed as “Easyjet Zionism”, Sir Mick spoke of how when Israel took actions “not in accordance with Jewish values”, it had an impact on his life as a Jew and his central engagement with the Jewish state.
But Professor Eldad, a plastic surgeon and former chief of medical staff in the Israeli army, made a tough response He said: “Describing Israel as the epicentre of Jewish identity and not agreeing with that identity, that’s called schizophrenia. If you want your national identity to be something else, it’s very nice, but we’re not going to cater for these demands.”
Professor Eldad was plainly deeply unhappy to hear Hannah Weisfeld, the national director of Yachad, speak about the difficulties for students in defending Israel on campus. She said: “When [Jewish] students want to be able to go out and say, terror is terror, and we condemn what happened in Kiryat Arba, they’ve got their right hand cut off by the Israeli government, because it says, we are going to do the very thing which we know inflames the situation — and it makes it much tougher to defend Israel.”
Sir Mick Davis observed: “I’m talking about the essence of what Israel is and what it is there for. If you separate diaspora Jews from Israelis, then you are saying that Israel is a country for Israelis, and the Jews are the Jews. I don’t see it like that. I sure as hell want to be part of the debate, and when Israel shuts me off from the debate, I get very angry, Israel has never allowed diaspora Jews into the debate — unless it signs the right cheque and subscribes to the same principles as the government of the day. I have obligations — and when I defend Israel to the British government, or fight BDS, or help students fight anti-Semitism on campus — I do it because I am a Jew and Israel is a Jewish state. And I want Israel to recognise that it has obligations to me as well.”
A clearly irritated Professor Eldad responded: “It’s very nice that you want it — but it’s unacceptable to me. We are not going to change, or risk our very existence by catering to your demands that we give up the Occupied Territories, or whatever you call it. It makes me sad; unfortunately this feeling that you are offering conditional love makes it more difficult for Israel to take you into consideration”.