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• My recipe for a new board of deputies
Calling for the resignation of the man elected to serve as president does not address the real issues concerning the usefulness and future of the Board of Deputies, whose claim to be ‘the voice of British Jewry’ must surely be a case for referral under the Trade Descriptions Act.
Just who are the ‘British Jews’ the Board represents? It is true that, unlike those who lead the Jewish Leadership Council, the delegates are elected to the board and the honorary officers are elected to serve by the delegates.
So it could be argued a weak leadership reflects a weak Board and, indeed, I suggest it does so. What percentage of ‘British Jews’ actually participated in electing anyone to represent them on the Board? And of those who did, how many were concerned to know the views of those they were electing? And of those who did bother, how much choice did they have? Synagogues were asked specially before the last election to encourage more female and young members to serve on the board.
Surely the criteria for opting to be a member of the Board should not be based on age or gender, but on breadth of knowledge and experience, and ability to serve the community. Perhaps it is time for a major re-think about how the board is constituted to take into account the realities of the times in which we live.
Doubtless some will say we should not break with tradition, but the fact is the present system is not working and the time is ripe for some imaginative and constructive thinking to bring the ‘Anglo-Jewish Parliament’ up to date and make it fit for purpose.
I know it is radical and I can already see the mopping of brows and beards, but please be open-minded in considering the principles of what I propose and give serious thought to the mechanics that will enable it to work.
The Board will consist of 100 ‘Members’, 33 under 30 years of age, and 67 over 30 years of age. Every Jew over the age of 16 who registers for a vote shall be entitled to a vote.
The present board will oversee the arrangements for voting in the first election. There will be 10 ‘constituencies’ and candidates for election may stand in only one of them. Voters will each have the opportunity to vote for 10 Board members.
The elected members with the highest votes in their constituencies will form the executive and they will elect honorary officers, including president, vice-president and others. An election will occur once every three years.
I am well aware my suggestion will mean synagogues will no longer be represented. I am not at all sure they are truly represented with the present system, especially bearing in mind when two Jews get together there are usually three opinions.
What is important is the revised constitution of the Board will ensure the members will be, as far as is possible, the elected voice of British Jewry.
• Stop the fighting, then start talking
It is not clear to me precisely what strategy Rabbi Wittenberg is suggesting the government of Israel should deploy in combating Hamas in Gaza (Jewish News, 4 September).
First, I am not aware that Israel, or any other nation, has ever stated that the use of military action, or force as he prefers to describe it, is the only solution.
To my knowledge, no sensible person, even a politician, has ever suggested this. In this respect, he is simply stating the obvious. However, when under attack from declared enemies, as Israel has been since its establishment as a sovereign, independent Jewish nation state, the attacks must be stopped first before any diplomatic and/or political agreements can be reached as a means of trying to avoid continuance of the conflict.
Rabbi Wittenberg describes Hamas in terms of a hateful ideology yet also believes it is in some way morally diminishing to confront and defeat it if military action is involved.
No debating or moralising ever helped when one is confronted by an enemy wielding a weapon and determined to kill you and/or your family, believe me. I know.
At this stage it is far too late for that. Perhaps it is necessary to understand that, as much as we would wish otherwise, enemies will always exist and military action has, historically, often proved to be necessary before other vital activities can be put into effect.
To imply that any Israeli government since 1948 ever followed a policy of military action only is to ignore history. As for suggesting (as Rabbi Wittenberg does ) that there is a danger of being ‘lured’ or ‘goaded’ into action if confronted by an enemy determined to kill you, Israel, although aware of this, must always take urgent, pragmatic, realistic action which is, itself, morally acceptable.
There were those in this country who opposed Churchill virulently when he ordered the overwhelming and decisive bombing of Germany in 1944/45, with thousands of civilian casualties, as a way to stop the production of rockets (the first missiles) already raining down on our cities.
He was right, they were wrong – morally. Peace followed.
• Bound forever on the wheel of fire
Every word Rabbi Wittenberg wrote (Jewish News, 4 September) on the Israel-Hamas conflict was correct.
So why have negotiations between the two sides failed to produce any overall settlement to date? I suggest there are three significant reasons.
First, the moderate Palestinian side wants the right for its refugees (with offspring) to return to and reside in Israel. While the Israeli side could accept a small number, it could not accept such a right for all because Israel would then cease to exist as a Jewish state.
Secondly, the moderate Palestinian side wants its capital to be in Jerusalem. While the Israeli side could accept this, it could not accept the city being divided by a wall, which in turn means that its acceptance would have to be contingent on the cessation of all terrorism by Hamas and all other militant groups. This in turn means the militants have an effective veto on any settlement.
Thirdly, the moderate Palestinian side fears that if it accepts terms that do not include the two demands described above, its members will be assassinated. This fear is likely to be justified and, understandably, they are unwilling to sign their own death warrants.
If Rabbi Wittenberg is able to translate his obvious anguish into a solution to these hitherto intractable issues then I for one would welcome sight of his proposals. If he cannot, then we are indeed likely to be ‘bound on a wheel of fire’, as he says.
• Ignore the rockets and pay your bill
Now things have settled down a little and there’s the possibility of some constructive negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, we can look back and sometimes see the odd lighter moment.
During the height of the hostilities, there was a rocket-alert procedure at our Jerusalem hotel and we all accordingly filed into the hotel’s safe area.
Members of one family were settling down when they were pursued into the shelter by a waiter requesting they sign the bill for the meal they had just consumed.