By Gillian Merron, Chief Executive, Board of Deputies
It is inevitable, but no less sad, that, at such a difficult time for Israel and the community, some fall prey to the temptation to find someone – anyone – to blame.
Readers will form their own judgments as to whether the decision of someone within the community to spend time and money on a full-page advert in another community newspaper to attack the community leadership was a good use of resource and effort at this time.
Nonetheless, it is perhaps most charitably judged as an expression of the frustration and powerlessness that we are all experiencing in the face of events in Israel and Gaza. With highly emotive pictures beamed into every living room in the country, increasingly strident campaigning by Israel’s opponents and the decision by some domestic politicians to seek to make capital out of the tragedy, I do understand the plaintive cry that “someone should do something”.
Nonetheless – even if those cries are without reference to what has been done already or what else would be effective – the message to all communal organisations is that we must communicate far more effectively the actions we have been taking, and continue to take, to stand up for Israel and British Jewry.
Our aim is to prevent the conflagration of legitimate expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians with the delegitimisation of Israel, and even with blatant anti-Semitism. To this end, the six organisations that have been co-ordinating the community’s response throughout this crisis hosted a meeting attended by more than a thousand members of our community last week.
Those readers who were unable to attend will no doubt welcome the opportunity to learn what was said. I took the opportunity to outline the extensive political lobbying programme undertaken by the Board in conjunction with others.
And I also explained that some of what communal organisations and individuals do in this type of situation cannot necessarily be publicised, as it can reduce its effectiveness – whether making direct representations to political leaders, supporting Jewish organisations across the continent facing anti-Semitism, or challenging journalists and media and retail outlets.
Our priority is always to get on with the job at hand on behalf of the community. My colleague, Dermot Kehoe, from BICOM, announced that not a single invitation to make Israel’s case in the media had been turned down and that between us not a single day of the conflict has passed without numerous media appearances. By way of illustration, in the past week alone, I and colleagues at the Board have spoken with and appeared on the BBC, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent and London news stations.
The work that we have all been doing together has yielded some significant successes, not least the continuing support of the Government for the right of Israel to defend itself, despite intense pressure to the cotrary, while the reversal of the Tricycle’s decision to effectively ban the UK Jewish Film Festival is most welcome. In the light of the ongoing media storm, however, such work perhaps never feels enough.
One of the messages that I took most strongly from last week’s public meeting was the need, not just to do the work, but also to be seen to be doing it. We aim to keep members of the community informed about all our work through various means including our weekly community briefings (which anyone can sign up to receive at our website), and through our network of 300 deputies.
Nevertheless, we do need to do more to show solidarity with Israel’s grassroots advocates who are supported all year round by the community’s Israel advocacy consultant, Stephen Jaffe. For this reason, over the past week, Board President Vivian Wineman, who was a keynote speaker at the recent ZF rally in London, was delighted to also join activists at a pro-Israel rally in Brighton and joined the community in Manchester, to show support for Kedem.
There remains a wide range of opinions on Israel’s actions within our own community, but now is not the time for division. Instead, I hope – rather than looking for someone to blame – we can focus on the things which unite us all: a love of Israel, a commitment to its right to defend itself, a despair at the loss of life and a determination to promote a sustainable political solution based on justice and peace for all.
We must all play our part: every synagogue, every youth movement, every one of us who cares about Israel. Write to your MP, complain to media outlets that show bias, call the radio phone-ins and come to the pro-Israel, pro-peace rally next month. We can all speak so much louder when we speak together with one voice.