By Jeremy Havardi, Author and journalist
It is often said that British Jews are poorly served by the organisations representing them. Too often there is a lethargic response to anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli hostility with a lack of willingness to raise the communal head above the parapet.
Now the Board of Deputies has given us another reason to question our leadership after signing a joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain.
On the face of it, the sentiments expressed are laudable. Few can argue with the view that it is vital to work for better communal relations and that it is better to ‘export peace’ than to ‘import conflict’.
Clearly there can be “no excuse for racism, violence, or other forms of intimidation” when expressing one’s views. There is a welcome call for ‘constructive dialogue to limit our disagreements’ and for the communities to harmonise on the issues that unite them. So why the furore exactly?
In a nutshell, the Board has separated the issue of anti-Semitism from the demonisation of Israel, failing to see how one is directly causing the other. As a result, it has allied with a group that has given succour to bigots because of its hysterical presentation of the recent conflict.
Critics have rightly seized on one sentence from the recent statement, namely that “the targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions”. If this was intended as a denunciation of Hamas and its indiscriminate warfare upon Israeli civilians, then who could complain?
But that was clearly not the MCB’s intention. A spokesman for the Council subsequently confirmed that the accusation referred to both sides, not just Hamas. The notion that the IDF deliberately attacks civilians is a staple of anti-Israel propaganda, a modern blood libel that helps to demonise the Jewish state.
Yet the MCB can now claim that this venomous charge is supported by Anglo-Jewry’s leading communal body. Indeed, the MCB seems to be at the forefront of anti-Israeli activity. It has called on Muslims to support boycotts against the Jewish state and urged people to attend global anti-Zionist rallies. On its website, there is a reference to Israel’s “indiscriminate slaughter” in Gaza, as well as other vituperative language.
It is one thing to argue for a just Israeli-Palestinian accord, while criticising the Netanyahu government. It is quite another to espouse insidious anti-Zionist propaganda. For the Board to hope that such hostility will be lessened by this rapprochement is naive and misguided, as the Oxfam precedent clearly shows.
More importantly, the Board has given a Jewish seal of approval to an Islamist organisation which masquerades as a moderate one. The MCB has been implicated in the so called Trojan Horse plot, where there was clear evidence that religious extremism was being promoted in some Birmingham schools.
Counter terrorism expert Peter Clarke specifically blamed the Muslim Council in his investigation, citing a pamphlet written in 2007 by a former MCB chair which allegedly set out a blueprint for the ‘Islamisation’ of secular state schools.
In its response, the MCB condemned extremism and called for an “inclusive” education. This was followed by a caveat, namely that it was unwise for the state ‘to pass judgement on the acceptability of certain strands of Islam over others’. Such a statement ignores the fact that some strands of Islam are so anti-western, racist and homophobic that they feed the violence we abhor.
The state has not just a right but a duty to challenge them. Yet it is hardly surprising that the MCB excuses more extreme or “conservative” interpretations of Islam. Some of its member groups openly admire the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and have adopted quite willingly the virulent antisemitism of its spokesmen.
With such associations, it is absurd to regard the MCB as a voice of reason and moderation. Certainly, British Jews should ally themselves with moderate Muslims as part of a united stand against extremism. But the hysterical demonisation of Israel, invoking age old stereotypes, is part and parcel of that extremism.
By allying with the MCB and its dubious agenda, the Board’s leadership has shown an alarming lack of judgment and done a disservice to those it claims to represent.