Prominent Jews call for open debate on Israel - Julian Borger: Harold Pinter is among 130 signatories calling for freer debate about the Middle East within the Jewish community. 10.02.2007 15:21
A group of prominent British Jews will today declare independence from the country's Jewish establishment, arguing that it puts support for Israel above the human rights of Palestinians. Independent Jewish Voices will publish an open letter on the Guardian's "Comment is Free" website calling for a freer debate about the Middle East within the Jewish community. Among the more than 130 signatories are Stephen Fry, Harold Pinter, Mike Leigh, Jenny Diski and Nicole Farhi, as well as leading academics such as Eric Hobsbawm and Susie Orbach.
»We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole«, the letter says. Jewish leaders in Britain, it argues »put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people« in conflict with Jewish principles of justice and compassion. The statement does not name the institutions it is criticising. But one signatory, Brian Klug, an Oxford philosopher, writing an accompanying article on <Comment is Free>, singles out the Board of Deputies of British Jews for calling itself »the voice of British Jewry« while devoting »much of the time and resources of its international division to the defence of Israel«. Mr Klug also criticises Britain's chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, for telling a pro-Israeli rally in London last year: »Israel, you make us proud.« »Others felt roughly the opposite emotion«, Mr Klug writes.
The emergence of the group, which calls itself a »network of individuals« and can be found at www.ijv.org.uk comes at a time of ferment over attitudes towards Israel, stoked by the war in Lebanon and the bloodshed in the occupied territories. The question of whether radical opposition to Israeli policies necessarily amounts to anti-Semitism is central to the debate. The row was brought to a head in recent weeks by the resignation of board members of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (IJPR) after it emerged that its director, Antony Lerman, had voiced support for the merging of Israel with the Palestinian territories into a single bi- national federation and a repeal of the ‘law of return’ giving the right of anyone of Jewish descent to Israeli citizenship. Stanley Kalms, the former head of the Dixons Group, stepped down as the IJPR's honorary vice president, saying Mr Lerman's views made his position ‘untenable’. Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Lord Kalms called his views »dangerous and unacceptable and contrary to my concept of the role of the diaspora - to support the State of Israel, wars and all«.
The row has brought furious exchanges to the Jewish Chronicle's letter pages. »Some of our biggest mailbags lately have been prompted by prominent Jewish public figures voicing dissenting views of Israel, which typically provokes angry rebukes from other members of the community«, David Rowan, the editor, said. A parallel struggle is under way in the US where the American Jewish Committee published an article accusing liberal Jews such as the historian Tony Judt of fuelling anti-Semitism by questioning Israel's right to exist. The essay by Alvin Rosenfeld said that »one of the most distressing features of the new anti-Semitism« was »the participation of Jews alongside it«. Prof Judt told the New York Times: »The link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is newly created.« He feared the two would become so conflated that references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust would be seen as »just a political defence of Israeli policy«.
From The Guardian of Monday February 5, 2007 » «
Independent Jewish Voices - A time to speak out
There is a need for alternative Jewish voices to be heard - especially in the light of the grave situation in the Middle East
We are a group of Jews in Britain from diverse backgrounds, occupations and affiliations who have in common a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty. We have therefore resolved to promote the expression of alternative Jewish voices, particularly in respect of the grave situation in the Middle East, which threatens the future of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as the stability of the whole region. We are guided by the following principles:
1. Human rights are universal and indivisible and should be upheld without exception. This is as applicable in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as it is elsewhere.
2. Palestinians and Israelis alike have the right to peaceful and secure lives.
3. Peace and stability require the willingness of all parties to the conflict to comply with international law.
4. There is no justification for any form of racism, including anti-semitism, anti-Arab racism or Islamophobia, in any circumstance.
5. The battle against anti-semitism is vital and is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as anti-semitic.
These principles are contradicted when those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people. The Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip face appalling living conditions with desperately little hope for the future. We declare our support for a properly negotiated peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people and oppose any attempt by the Israeli government to impose its own solutions on the Palestinians.
It is imperative and urgent that independent Jewish voices find a coherent and consistent way of asserting themselves on these and other issues of concern. We hereby reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice. The lessons we have learned from our own history compel us to speak out. We therefore commit ourselves to make public our views on a continuing basis and invite other concerned Jews to join and support us.
Dr Lisa Appignanesi
Sir Geoffrey Bindman
Lady Ellen Dahrendorf
Dr Edie Friedman
Rabbi David Goldberg
Dr Anthony Isaacs
Dr Brian Klug
Prof Francesca Klug
Dr Tony Klug
Prof Susie Orbach
Prof Jacqueline Rose
Prof Donald Sassoon
Prof Lynne Segal
Plus many others.
The full list of signatores can be found at www.ijv.org.uk.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/independent_jewish_voices/2007/02/hold_jewish_voices_statement.html February 5, 2007 07:05 AM