JNF Donors Dinner held at The Park Lane Hotel

JNF Donors Dinner held at The Park Lane Hotel. Photo credit: Blake Ezra photography

The Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) has defended itself against a blistering attack from the chairman of JNF UK after he claimed it failed to speak out enough during the Gaza conflict and that it would be a “welcome and much-needed change” to have new figures at the helm of Anglo-Jewry.

Samuel Hayek used a major fundraising dinner to reflect on the threats faced by Israelis during the conflict with Hamas and the simultaneous rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the globe including in the UK.

“And then there was the silence of those who proclaim to be leaders of Anglo-Jewry”, he told guests at the event last Thursday including Ambassador Daniel Taub.

“Against this terrible backdrop very few people in leadership positions stood firm. For weeks there was silence. The self-appointed leadership of the Jewish community turned out to be no leaders at all.

“In many cases it was left to grassroots activists, British Jews who refused to stand by, to make the case their alleged leaders did not.”

“The Israeli Government spent the summer looking after the people of Israel. But where were the leaders of Anglo-Jewry when the Jews of Britain needed people to speak up for them?”

Communal leaders have been publically accused of failing to do enough to respond to the Gaza conflict – with the Board of Deputies facing the brunt of criticism despite its work with Government, and faith groups as well as a ‘buycott’ campaign to counter boycotts.

Although Hayek made no direct reference to any specific group, his office later confirmed that reference to ‘self-appointed’ leaders, his office later confirmed he intended to aim his fire at the JLC, as he has done in the past.

Hayek – who also referred to his charity’s efforts during the conflict and said any opposition to the charity’s work made him all the more determined to continue its efforts to build the Negev – said: “New leaders are emerging in our community. New voices are springing up say ‘enough’. They are bypassing the present leaders and saying: ‘We do not need you to speak for us. We are Jews. We will speak for ourselves. If you do not lead we will.’ A new leadership in our community will be a welcome and much-needed change.”

While saying that Hayek’s views on the quality of UK Jewish leadership is “a matter for him”, JLC CEO Simon Johnson said: “Distorting the truth of the interventions of the Leadership at this time is disgraceful and unhelpful.”

He pointed to chairman Mick Davis’ articles in defence of Israel and on anti-Semitism in the national press as well as statements issued by the JLC and the Board of Deputies during the Gaza crisis challenging comments by Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

Johnson added: “Member organisations also issued statements. The CST and Bicom were constantly active during this period and calls for action by the Community were initiated at synagogues and via adds in the main Jewish press.”

He added that “surely Mr Hayek has the wherewithal to locate the numbers of the JLC chairman or I and discuss his concerns with us”.

In 2011, JNF dramatically quit the JLC, with Hayek charging that the organisation’s remit had shifted “to matters of Israeli government policy” and its actions would give ammunition to those pursuing a campaign of delegitimisation. Earlier this year, Hayek accused JLC chair Mick Davis of “wretched armchair Zionist leadership”.

He had taken exception to a series of articles by Davis including one in which he questioned where the “nugget of hope” for progress towards peace was in a major speech by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Without a clearly-expressed vision for progress with the Palestinians, Israel’s supporters were defending the country with “one hand tied” behind their backs.