Israel’s advocates are defending with “one hand tied” behind their backs amid questions over the Israeli leadership’s desire to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
That’s the stark verdict of one of Britain’s most senior Jewish leaders, as he called for a “new” relationship between the Jewish state and diaspora Jews.
In a hard-hitting opinion piece in Israeli daily Haaretz, Jewish Leadership Council chairman Mick Davis said the words of the state’s leaders have a direct impact on the lives of those in the diaspora.
And while he claimed that many would have been supportive of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar Ilan speech affirming his commitment to a two-state solution, Davis argued British Jews had had “less to cheer” from his second Bar Ilan speech last month.
He wrote: “He gave a learned account of Palestinian rejectionism, including an accurate reference to the Palestinian leadership’s collaboration with the Nazis. Israel’s leaders should deliver such correctives to the flawed historical narratives permeating so much of the discourse on Israel. But analysis of the past cannot come at the expense of a vision for the future. Where was a new nugget of hope?”
And he warned that the current Israeli leadership was seen by some around the world as not being serious about pursuing peace – an impression particularly dangerous when global advocates for Israel were facing an “emboldened” movement for boycott and sanctions.
“A lack of trust that Israel’s political leadership is serious about shaping a viable peace process is unquestionably an obstacle to our defence of Israel,” he wrote. “If Israel’s leadership articulated a vision of progress, it would boost the diaspora’s diplomatic arsenal immeasurably.”
“Without that vision, however, we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back.”
He also claimed that growing numbers of “young and actively engaged Jews” frustrated at the lack of progress were redirecting energies towards other causes or even drifting “into the fringes of the BDS space”, saying the trend would be reversed by a “reinvigorated and sustained” expression of the two-state vision.
But while London’s Israeli Embassy and some groups at the forefront of advocacy remained tight-lipped over the article, Davis’ remarks drew both outright support and scorn.
“His assertion that we are fighting ‘with one arm tied behind our back’ is something we hear echoed by students,” said Hannah Weisfeld of Yachad.
“We have been told presenting Israel’s case to the wider student world is nearly impossible when students do not have proof that Israel stands firmly behind a resolution to the conflict.”
Also welcoming his comments was Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who said: “His is a voice of bold leadership, a voice that loves Israel and believes in a vigorous and frank dialogue between Israel and the diaspora.” While saying “everyone has the right to criticise Israel”, Zionist Federation chairman Paul Charney said: “We believe the primary role of community organisations should be to counter the falsehood that Israel doesn’t want peace, rather than inadvertently promoting it.”
Davis also called for a “truer partnership” with the country’s leaders. And he insisted that developing “a real shared agenda between government ministries and an effective group of Jewish leaders would facilitate a new narrative in Europe and beyond”.
But an Israeli government source said it was “very sad and perhaps a little disturbing” he saw Israel “in such a one-dimensional manner”.
They added: “The conflict should not define us.”