Lord Sacks has told an international gathering in Israel that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) has succeeded in dividing Diaspora Jewry and made it increasingly difficult to support the Jewish state.
Addressing the prestigious Herzliya Conference, the former chief rabbi said BDS had triumphed where traditional anti-Semitism had failed, managing to divide Jews in the US and Europe by winning supporters among the community.
“Israel was always a uniting factor in Jewish life,” he was quoted as saying, “[but] it has become a divisive factor.”
He further added that the boycotters had made it “almost impossible” for Jews living in Europe to support Israel, saying: “We have been faced with a choice: live in Europe and criticise Israel, or be silent, or leave Europe.”
Sacks was immediately attacked by prominent U.S. rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who said the comments during a round-table debate were “deeply troubling”.
In a statement, Boteach said: “Rabbi Sacks should immediately clarify his position and make clear that Jews must not raise the white flag against the BDS movement and its naked, ugly anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Now is not the time for Jews of Europe to silently shrink from public life.”
Talking about anti-Semitism through the ages, Sacks, who served as chief rabbi from 1991-2013, said: “In the middle ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, they were hated because of their race. In the twenty first century, they are hated because of their nation state,” he said.
A spokesperson for Rabbi Sacks’ office said: “Rabbi Sacks was taking part in a two hour, high level roundtable discussion about how to best tackle the growing threat posed by the BDS movement. He was clearly referring to the environment that BDS is attempting to create in Europe for Jews and Jewish communities, unfortunately with some success. This poses a challenge for us all and we must all do our utmost to defeat it.”