Don’t be surprised if PA vote is abandoned

Those in favour of an early recognition of statehood have a reasonable argument. While there are many refugees around the world, and national minorities who are citizens of countries they would wish to sever from, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are the only places whose permanent residents remain stateless. They are not yet Palestinian nationals and they cannot be considered Israeli citizens.

Some alteration of the status quo must happen at some time. Most observers recognise that the creation of a Palestinian state is an essential component of any lasting peace agreement. Anxiety, however, has been expressed about the nature of the process being employed.

Some fear allowing developments of such prominence to occur outside of a formal dialogue will encourage other unilateral efforts. Others fear passage of the resolution will raise expectations beyond what is feasible, agitating public opinion in the territories.

These are reasonable fears. Yet these concerns should not be exaggerated. For one thing, this cannot be said to be a unilateral declaration of independence, for Yasser Arafat already adopted such a move in 1988 which had little effect. Moreover, only recognition of statehood is being contemplated. The granting of full UN membership would require a Security Council motion for which sufficient support does not exist. Lastly, a UN resolution will do little to change the facts on the ground. A de facto Palestinian state will only emerge when recognised as part of a peace deal by the parties themselves.

While the wording of the motion has yet to be finalised, it is likely that any recognition will be based on the 1967 borders. Adoption of the motion would therefore give UN endorsement to a two-state solution as the only viable solution to the conflict. Holders of uncompromising and maximalist positions would be undermined, especially Hamas, which detests the prospect of a permanent state of Israel.

It might also be the case that recognition of statehood at the UN would strengthen the Palestinian Authority, as opposed to Hamas, in its efforts to become a counterpoint to the Israeli Government.

Israeli policymakers have long sought to generate both symbolic and tangible improvements in the status of the Palestinian Authority as the chances of a negotiated agreement depend on a counterpart capable of acting on behalf of the Palestinians as a whole. Passage of the motion could strengthen its legitimacy in the eyes of Gaza and West Bank residents, allowing it to demonstrate real progress.

Voting on motions of this kind always place countries in a difficult position. It is especially so on this occasion. Britain will be acutely aware of its allies’ key concerns. France and Germany are keen to maintain a “united front”, while the United States will want as many countries to join it in opposition as possible. In addition, the Foreign Office will be torn between its long standing support for Israel and its desire to see the creation of a Palestinian state.

However, it is worth noting that the final choice is rarely so stark at the United Nations. A myriad of options exist to amend, defer and reconsider such motions.

We could well see a situation in which some reference is made to Palestinian statehood, followed by a longer period of consideration. Indeed, do not be surprised if the much heralded vote does not take place next week.

I am not enthusiastic about this Palestinian initiative and would be pleased if it were withdrawn. However, the success of a UN Resolution on statehood will neither do as much good as some want nor as much harm as others fear.

Ultimately, peace between Israelis and Palestinians will depend on negotiations between them. Nothing will change that reality.

Learn more »
Comments Off on Don’t be surprised if PA vote is abandoned

Bereavement has closure but Gilad’s parents are denied it

It is hard to imagine the suffering he has been through. But it is all too easy to know the agony his family has been through, especially his parents Aviva and Noam.

There is only one thing worse than losing a child, and that is being cut off from all contact, not knowing how he is being treated, wondering whether he will survive the ordeal, unsure whether they will see him again and when. That is emotional torture. Grief has a limit. Bereavement has closure. But Gilad’s parents can know no closure. That is just one of the evils of hostage taking, and why it has no place in any society that claims to be civilised.

What makes Gilad’s position worse is that Hamas continues to refuse the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to him. The ICRC is mandated by the international community, under the Geneva Conventions, to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees to verify whether they are being treated according to relevant international standards.

The purpose of the detention visits is to ensure respect for the life and dignity of the detainees and to prevent torture, ill-treatment or abuse.
Thus far, that has not happened. The only contact between Gilad and the outside world in four-and-a-half years consists of three letters, an audio tape and a video.

The video, showing Gilad alive and still in captivity, was received by Israel in return for the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners. Several human rights organisations have made it clear that the terms and conditions of his detention are contrary to international humanitarian law. The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which released a report in September 2009, has called for him to be released. In November 2010, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also joined the calls for Gilad to be released.

Gilad Shalit was the first Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants since Nachshon Wachsman in 1994, who died during a rescue attempt. In exchange for Gilad’s freedom, Hamas is demanding the release of 1,000 prisoners including 450 jailed for violent attacks on Israelis. This includes a myriad of Hamas leaders responsible for the planning of multiple terror attacks and suicide bombings in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly said that he would be willing to accept the release of 1,000 prisoners but not those who, once released, “will greatly strengthen Hamas’s leadership and will give great support for new terror attacks”. The use of human lives as bargaining chips is horrendous and repulsive, and the denial of access by the Red Cross deeply disturbing.

For this reason, the Embassy of Israel alongside 10 other community organisations has launched a national, two-week Gilad Shalit Awareness Campaign, which started on Monday.

I urge members of our community to support the Meet Gilad campaign and to attend the vigils that will be held on 24 February. I urge them also to lobby their MPs, to write to their local papers, and generally to raise awareness of Gilad’s plight.

This is a cause that the whole community can and should support; it goes to the very heart of our traditions. Pidyon shevuyim, the redemption of captives, is a fundamental mitzvah in Judaism, and the sanctity and significance of a single life one of our highest values. Gilad’s fate symbolises the future of human rights in the Middle East. If his captors can be persuaded to show some signs of humanity, there is hope.

And we, as a community and as individuals, should do what we can to persuade as many as possible to work for that hope: for the sake of Gilad and his family and for the sake of the future between Israel and her neighbours.

Learn more »
Comments Off on Bereavement has closure but Gilad’s parents are denied it

End or extend

Danny Danon MK, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Chairman of the World Likud, believes the freeze should end: “This Sunday we will celebrate the end of the ill advised building moratorium in the Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria.

“Ten months ago Israel unilaterally declared this unprecedented step as a supposed incentive to encourage the Palestinians to return to the negotiation table. We now find ourselves in an extremely weakened strategic position as we begin peace talks under threats from all sides that all will be lost unless we extend and increase this freeze on people’s lives. Prime Minister Netanyahu has told me repeatedly in private, as he has told Israeli people, that all citizens of Israel will be allowed to build once again beginning next week. This is the right policy for Israel, and the Likud Party together with a majority of Israeli citizens will provide full backing to the Prime Minister on this most important decision.

“There are numerous reasons why this policy was the wrong decision at the wrong time for the State of Israel. From a pure human standpoint, the freeze has been highly unfair to the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria. It is important to remember that these Israeli citizens have broken no laws. On the contrary, a vast majority of them were encouraged by successive Israeli governments and all the leading political parties (Labor, Likud and Kadima) to settle in these historic areas. These “settlers” are the crème of the crop of the Israeli population, serving in our most elite army units and are active in all parts of Israeli cultural, business, and social society.

“Last November, the Israeli government decided out of the blue to essentially freeze their lives. Since then, young couples have been unable build their new homes that for which they had already begun paying mortgages. Growing families have been prohibited from expanding their houses for their growing families. Our government has basically designated the residents of Judea and Samaria as second class citizens enacting draconian rules that don’t apply to anyone else in our country.

“Leaving aside the extreme unjust implications on the lives of our citizens, the long term strategic damage of the freeze is something that must be rectified immediately. Israel has never before declared a building freeze – even when negotiations with the Palestinians were at their most intensive peaks under the left wing governments of Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and Barak. There was sound strategic thinking behind this policy. Why should we declare at the outset that our historic and legal claims to these lands are less legitimate than those of the Palestinians? Why should we put our peoples’ lives on hold while at the same time our Palestinian neighbors have continued to build unabatedly, putting facts on this disputed ground as they expand their existing cities while even building a completely brand new metropolis with full financial and logistic support of the Americans and the Europeans?

“We now enter these negotiations with an extremely dangerous fait accompli – that it is illegitimate to build anywhere in Judea and Samaria and doing so would somehow be more dangerous to the prospects for peace than the thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli population center by the Hamas entity in Gaza. This is not the ideology of the Likud Party and its coalition partners that triumphed in the 2009 elections, but rather the historic claim of extreme left wing groups like Peace Now that have been discredited at the ballot box where their representatives in the Meretz and Labor parties have suffered historic blows in recent years.

“Some supporters of the Prime Minister have claimed that the objective of the freeze was to call Mahmoud Abbas‘ bluff and unmask his real intentions about his unwillingness to really reach a negotiated settlement to this century old conflict. This too is a dangerous strategy that has been tried before. In fact, Ehud Barak publicly made that argument following the failed Camp David talks in July of 2000. We all know the result of that experiment – almost a decade of Palestinian initiated bloodshed that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Israeli citizens. We cannot risk repeating this mistake.

“It is now clear that our government policy regarding a moratorium in Judea and Samaria was mistaken from both a moral and strategic standpoint. The good news is that this mistake can hopefully be rectified. If the Prime Minster and his cabinet stay true to their word and end the freeze on September 26th then we will make clear to our own citizens, the Palestinians, and the world, our true intentions and goals. We all want peace and an end this conflict, but we are not ready to enact ill-advised, unjust, and dangerous policies that serve only extreme elements on all sides while only moving us further away from a peaceful and prosperous existence that we so desperately strive for.

Paul Usiskin, chair of Peace Now UK, believes the freeze should be extended:

“In the gap between ‘we took it’ and ‘we never left it’ is a reality that Israelis and many Jews are either unable or unwilling to confront, echoing the “Ain Breira”- “No Choice” attitude in the years before Israel stepped into the limelight after June 1967. These phrases are shorthand definitions of Jewish history and the Jewish people’s relationship with Eretz – the Land. Part of that Land is regarded by both the international community and the Palestinians as territory illegally occupied by Israel.

“The former, many believe, has nothing to tell us. We were the butt end of everyone else’s history, and suffered the consequences of it. Only our own moral code provided us the key to survival. With it were we able to rise above the exigencies of our endless ‘guesthood’, believing that we were the equals of the majorities amongst whom we lived, and aspiring to be better than them, should our oppression ever end. Herzl dreamed of removing us from the path of the eternally rushing train of anti-Semitism, and his successors set the bar with ‘a light unto the nations.’ Whether that train has finally reached its terminus and we have crossed the bar are moot points.

“Of the latter, the Palestinians, we have few if any positive or amicable thoughts. For some they are Amalek and deserve the fate of that tribe. For others their existence is conveniently hidden away by a separation fence that must have cost the citizens of Israel as much as the Bar-Lev line along the Suez canal.

“’We took it’ summarises how the West Bank was occupied. Whether unwittingly as Shlomo Gazit suggests in “Trapped Fools” (Frank Cass 2003) or accidentally in Gershom Gorenberg’s “The Accidental Empire” (Times Books 2006), is not moot but fact.

“‘We never left it,’ reflects what has been in our hearts and souls. But the very code by which we have survived, reminds us of the reality behind that quintessence.

“There are a couple of familiar signposts. The first is the Mitzvah we read in shul on Yom Kippur – “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In one sermon our Rabbi reminded us of the inherent reciprocity in this Mitzvah and she went to the heart of it when describing it as the fulfilment of the highest of our values.

“The second I stumbled across one Shabbat a few years ago. It is from the Soncino Humash notes for Exodus 22.20: ‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ We learn that the Talmud says the precept ‘to love, or not to oppress the stranger,’ occurs 36 times in the Torah. The commentary concludes: ‘The reason for this constantly repeated exhortation is that those who have been downtrodden frequently, prove to be the worst oppressors when they acquire power over anyone.’

“Israel has become the regional power. But there are limits to that power and for a people that has rightfully been greedy for freedom, accepting limits is hard indeed. We resent questions, especially when we know the answers. We cannot be told that the occupation is morally corrosive even if we know that it is. We pretend not to notice how we and it have become pejoratively synonymous abroad.

“We have forgotten the ‘light unto the nations’ message and the minority experience from which it was born. We seem intent on ignoring any limits, even those set by whatever or whoever we believe is our Jewish moral arbiter. The Mitzvot and exhortations are just a nuisance.

“Those who insist on us having our cake and eating it too, who simultaneously seek to blur the green line and pretend the separation fence they built isn’t there, are in danger of creating a divide as destructive as between Judah and Israel. They undermine the moral values the state of Israel is supposed to represent and call into question whether Israel as an occupying power is capable of being the guiding spirit for the House of Israel.

“We owe it to ourselves not just to extend the settlement freeze but to use it as a statement of our sincere desire for an end to occupation and for peace. Not doing so says the opposite of what we believe and what we want to be.

Danny Danon MK

Learn more »
Comments Off on End or extend

Non-Orthodox Outreach Dilutes Authentic Judaism

It is obviously a lively event, consisting of numerous sessions on a wide variety of topics of interest to Jewish people. The latest one, we were told, attracted more than 2,000 participants.

Although I have never attended Limmud, and cannot say that I have any particular intention of doing so, I have nothing against its existence. If people find the atmosphere convivial and are stimulated – even inspired – by its content, it obviously has a value.

What I do object to most strongly, however, is the fact that every year the same old tedious question is asked regarding the absence from Limmud of the overwhelming majority of United Synagogue rabbis. A recent opinion poll on the subject reported that 76 percent of respondents thought Orthodox rabbis should participate.

I will deal with the question fairly and squarely. There is every reason why Orthodox rabbis should steer clear of an educational event like Limmud, which endeavours to present Orthodox and non-Orthodox ideology on a level footing. They are simply not equal. Reform and Liberal clergy officially deny much of the authentic Judaism of the Torah. They dilute or ignore the laws of Sabbath observance, accept people as converts to Judaism when they are not, recognise and even “sanctify” biblically forbidden relationships and ordain women as rabbis even though this is halachically forbidden.

No doubt there will be a barrage of protest that I am being narrow-minded and bigoted, but halacha is halacha. We have to mould our lives and outlook according to the Torah, rather than the other way round. That is what authentic religion is all about – otherwise it is fake. It goes beyond the issue of tolerance and listening to other people’s ideas. Those who claim rabbinical status and then propagate distortion in the name of Judaism forfeit their right to democratic parity.

“What are you afraid of?” is the taunt often hurled at Orthodox rabbis by the more zealous elements among Limmud activists.

In truth, their provocative attitude is far more hostile and intolerant than anything that would be encountered within Orthodoxy. People on the Orthodox side are not afraid of expressing their religious views. Any Orthodox person who is articulate and well versed in the Torah and its commentaries could draw rings around a reformist clergyman in a debate.

However, debating can be extremely hazardous when it effectively legitimises an organisation whose ideology is fundamentally flawed. And sacrosanct concepts such as the divine origin of Torah and the authenticity of the oral law are rather degraded when subjected to scrutiny in an atmosphere of biblical criticism.

It is true that a number of modern Orthodox rabbis do participate in Limmud. However, they are, in the main, either from America where unfortunately the distinction between authentic and inauthentic Judaism has become dangerously blurred., or, if from the UK, they are of relatively junior status.

The London Beth Din stated unequivocally that United Synagogue rabbis should not attend Limmud and the one or two who have nevertheless done so have acted in complete defiance of this ruling and they ought to be called to account.

Furthermore, the fact that non-Orthodox clergy are so desperate to secure the attendance of US rabbis. and even the chief rabbi himself, shows the nature of their own insecurity.

There is no shortage of Orthodox organisations, seminars and holiday schemes which are every bit as impressive and open-minded as Limmud, and – in terms of outreach and generating proper “baalei teshuvah” – far more successful. Among them are Aish, JLE, Seed, Tribe and Chabad.

Those aspiring to learn more about authentic Judaism in the most enjoyable fashion, and avoid being misled, would be far better advised to give events like Limmud a miss and check out the activities of one of those excellent movements instead.

– Brian Gordon is a Barnet councillor.

Learn more »
Comments Off on Non-Orthodox Outreach Dilutes Authentic Judaism

A heavy-handed approach to a highly sensitive issue

At Streetwise, which helps to develop the physical and spiritual wellbeing of young Jewish people, we took a dim view of the opinion piece by Marcus J Freed in last week’s Jewish News, entitled “All the single ladies: shed some weight, get a mate.”

Although clearly tongue-in-cheek, it is a concern that Freed’s opinion is not an isolated one. Consequently this piece has the potential to act as a catalyst for young women to feel even more pressurised to conform to a certain look, style and size in order to attract their ideal partner.

We are currently celebrating Streetwise’s fifth birthday and, during this time, we have been advocates in providing young people with a safe environment to make positive, educated decisions.

We are proud to assist young people in gaining confidence and self esteem, as well as acknowledging the difficulties they face in the 21st century – especially surrounding the topic of body image.

Freed acknowledges he is “about to make social suicide”, but what he has failed to recognise is the negative results of opinions such as his. MIND, the leading mental health charity in England and Wales, states that, “in the UK one in 100 women aged between 15 and 30 suffers from anorexia”. It also warns that “girls as young as five years of age have weight concerns and think about going on a diet”.

So although Freed’s piece is clearly meant to be argumentative, there are consequences to his blasé attitude that looking good equates to meeting a partner.

The NHS states that, on average, anorexia occurs mostly between the age of 16 and 17, just a couple of birthdays shy of the age ancient rabbis used to advise people to get married.

Freed came close, but ultimately missed an opportunity to have any positive content in his article. He wrote: “Our religious culture has a lot to answer for when it comes to healthy living and the commandment of keeping the body fit – brigut haguf – is rarely taught.” This may have been the case when Freed was in education himself, but his lack of knowledge on the matter shows just how out of touch he is from his new home in Los Angeles. It is a statutory requirement for all schools to teach physical education to children five-years of age and older. The Jewish community can be seen as pioneers in this area. In fact, next month Streetwise will once again be working with Jewish primary schools to deliver our healthy living programme in partnership with the government initiative Change4Life.

This is just one example of the schools and the Jewish community coming together to ensure there is healthy physical activity taking place among the young.
Maccabi GB, the leading Jewish sports organisation, engaged more than 3,500 young Jewish people in school sport programmes in 2009. Healthy living and having a balanced diet are essential for making young people grow into healthy adults.

We stress the importance of accepting and feeling comfortable with your own body.

Healthy living plays an important role in this and includes having a balanced diet and taking regular exercise. It is about feeling confident inside and out.

Learn more »
Comments Off on A heavy-handed approach to a highly sensitive issue

Can The Board Remain Relevant? Yes

That wry observation followed the untimely publication of an obituary, and while Mr Gordon generously concedes that the Board of Deputies still performs a necessary service and does so “fairly effectively”, he clearly feels that his departure marks the beginning of the end for the Board.

In fairness, he actually dates this decline to 1966, strangely better known as the year of England‘s World Cup victory, than for the schism within the Board of Deputies that resulted from the disaffiliation of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.

I believe that, in fact, the split took place some years later, in 1971. But as we are an organisation that looks at the present and future of the community rather than its past, I will not dwell on it.

Where Mr Gordon is most definitely wrong, however, is in his understanding of how the Board works, what is its primary purpose and how it is perceived by wider British society.

While our eight annual Board meetings provide an invaluable forum for discussion and debate, it is self-evident that much of the Board’s work goes on outside of this arena.

Lobbying government, responding to policy consultations, guiding and advising policymakers on issues of the day clearly do not all take place on a Sunday morning in Bloomsbury, as Mr Gordon must know.

In fact, a huge volume of work is undertaken by Deputies expert in their fields and by the Board’s highly professional and knowledgeable staff.

The Board has never been busier and the sheer effort of reporting all of this activity to the Deputies may perhaps have transformed the meetings that he so fondly remembers, but modern methods of communicating information mean that we are able to inform more people than ever of our work.

As he notes, the Deputies are indeed democratically elected – by synagogues and other communal organisations ranging from the Union of Jewish Students, Limmud, the Jewish Committee for HM Forces through to AJEX and the Holocaust Survivors‘ Centre (to name but a few). All ages and most affiliations and interests are represented. The democratic process gives the board its mandate and its credibility with government, other faith communities, the media and beyond.
But the Board does not simply represent those formally affiliated to it. We serve all British Jews, have as much regard for the interests and concerns of the Charedim as we do for other parts of the community. And we consult with them all, whether they like to admit it publicly or not.

Some issues, such as our work on the guidelines for religious charities, affect all parts of the community. Some, such as those relating to immigration and marriage visas, have very little or absolutely no relevance beyond the Charedi community, and yet we still work on them.

Of course it can be a challenge to represent the diversity of opinions that exist within the community, but that diversity can also help us explain why the one-size-fits-all approach often advocated by government simply cannot be applied to faith communities such as ours. For this reason we have welcomed and embraced efforts from within the Charedi community, which of course is also not a monolith of uniform thought, to organise itself to speak with greater clarity and unity so that communal representation can be more effective.

Mr Gordon is correct, of course, about the relative growth of the Charedi community, but even with its high birth rates, it still currently represents less than 15 percent of British Jewry. Other parts of the community, as he concedes, remain vibrant.

The uptake of Jewish school places has never been higher. Jewish learning, cultural activities and initiatives like Limmud are setting world standards for Diaspora communities.

And it is precisely these other parts of the community, where the threat of assimilation may be more acute, that need and deserve professional and effective representation to ensure that living a Jewish life in Britain in 2010 and beyond remains the preferred choice for us and for future generations.

Jon Benjamin is chief executive of the Board of Deputies쇓

Learn more »
Comments Off on Can The Board Remain Relevant? Yes

Can The Board Remain Relevant? No

When I stood down from the Board last year, 25 years and one hundred or so personal speeches later, certain features had changed considerably since I first stood up to make my maiden speech. One was the average age of deputies, illustrated by the fact that I still seemed to be within the Board’s younger age bracket. Secondly, the style of plenary debate had transformed from the old “cut-and-thrust” towards a sleepy consensus approach – mostly rubber-stamping executive decisions. Thirdly, Anglo-Jewry itself looked quite different.
The Board has its uses, let us not deny. Every Jewish community needs activists to engage on its behalf with government and the Board has always performed this role fairly effectively. It is certainly democratic since all deputies are formally elected by the synagogues or organisations they represent. However, it is becoming increasingly unrepresentative of the community as a whole.

A major reason for the Board’s declining representative nature is the erosion of central orthodoxy, which is its largest constituency. Although there are still some very vibrant United Synagogue, Federation and provincial congregations, most middle-of-the-road communities are diminishing. People dying are not being replaced by the next generation. People moving away from outlying areas are not being replaced. There is a trend towards assimilation, with many Jews not identifying with their culture at all. Most significant of all, the Charedi (strictly Orthodox) community is not represented on the Board.

The Charedi community is the only expanding section of Anglo-Jewry. Strictly Orthodox synagogues throughout Stamford Hill, Golders Green, and Edgware (not to mention Manchester and Gateshead) are filled to capacity. With Charedim, marriage at a young age is the norm, intermarriage rare, religious observance automatic and families are very large. There is consequently substantial natural increase. If this continues, in a few decades Charedim could constitute the majority of Anglo-Jewry. Any umbrella organisation not representing them is therefore severely deficient.

Charedim, principally under the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), disaffiliated from the Board in 1966. This followed the decision to expand the Board’s “ecclesiastical authorities” to include non-Orthodox clergy. It was a foolish decision, since it was obvious the Charedim would reject it out of hand. It was also completely unnecessary since the Board rarely consults with its ecclesiastical authorities anyway.

Even on matters that are essentially of a religious nature such as faith schools, organ donation and double summer time, I cannot recall any formal ecclesiastical consultation. But the technical existence of those authorities in their current form perpetuates a halachic state of affairs which, for the strictly Orthodox, is completely untenable.

Although I represented a United Synagogue, I was often asked by the Board whether I could assist in efforts to restore Charedi representation. I would respond that an absolute pre-requisite would be the re-introduction of the pre-1966 definition of ecclesiastical authorities – namely the Chief Rabbi and the Sephardi Rav – or perhaps the abolition of those authorities altogether. Alas, no Board leader had the courage to tackle this issue head-on, not least because it would have met with fierce resistance from Reformist deputies who are desperate for theological recognition and would be marginalised by a new Charedi influx. So it’s not going to happen.

The Board will continue its work for years to come, although its influence will wane as time passes. Its leaders must be realistic in their public relations. They should avoid referring to the Board as the sole representative body of Anglo-Jewry since this is simply not the case. They should refrain from pronouncing on sensitive religious issues such as conversion and agunos, upon which they are not only unqualified but have absolutely no authority to influence change. They should recognise that bodies such as the UOHC and Agudas Israel have developed their own channels of communication with government which have proven to be as effective as the Board.

With all these key conditions, there is no reason why unofficial links between Charedim and the Board should not continue to operate on key issues where there are threats that are common to us all. The community as a whole will have to get used to the idea there is no longer one individual organisation that can realistically claim to speak for us all.

-Brian Gordon is a former deputy and a Barnet councillor

Learn more »
Comments Off on Can The Board Remain Relevant? No

Brown Proves That Israel Is Losing Its Commons Touch

“One year on from the devastating conflict in Gaza, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead, the siege continues. Humanitarian relief is hard to come by and Gaza lies shattered. Although there were undoubtedly war crimes on both sides, does my right honourable friend the Prime Minister agree that what is now happening is the collective punishment of one million people? Will he now make urgent representations to ease the siege of Gaza as a critical step towards a peace settlement?”

Gordon Brown replied: “My honourable friend is absolutely right, and she speaks for many people. We must not forget the people of Gaza. I have raised with Prime Minister Netanyahu the speed at which aid and humanitarian assistance can get into Gaza and we are pressing the Israeli Government to do more to get aid in.

“I will look at exactly the points that my honourable friend has made and see what more we can do in this new year. In the end, this will require a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinian state that gives Israel security and Palestine a viable economic state that it can manage. In the meantime, we must avoid unnecessary suffering.”

This reply is, to say the least, surprising. Yes, of course the Palestinians are suffering. But Brown buys into Karen Buck’s one-sided allocation of blame for Gaza’s plight.

There is no word about the root cause of Palestinian suffering or about how Hamas sabotages Gaza’s future and provoked the war.

There is no word about how Hamas has turned Gaza into a proxy of Iran in its confrontation with the “Zionist cancer”.

There was silence from the prime minister on the massive humanitarian aid into Gaza, facilitated by Israel, despite Palestinian attacks on crossing points and no word on how Hamas has commandeered aid, medical supplies and building equipment entering Gaza.

There was silence on Hamas breaches of international humanitarian law by denying access to kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

There was silence on the blood-curdling incitement by Hamas against Israel on Gaza TV and attempted infiltrations into Israel.

And there was no word about Egypt‘s imposition of harsh restrictions on Palestinian movement.

Instead, Gordon Brown apparently agrees “absolutely” with Karen Buck that Israel is inflicting “collective punishment” on one million Gazans. And he agrees with her claim that Israel “undoubtedly” committed war crimes, even though Richard Goldstone has himself now conceded that “if this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven”.

Every Yom Ha’atzmaut, Gordon Brown proclaims his friendship for Israel and British government policy is to uphold Israel’s security. But real support for Israel in 2010 is about more than Mr Brown’s speeches at Jewish communal functions or general pledges about the Jewish state’s security.
One way support should be measured is by how he faces down Israel’s detractors in Parliament – people like Karen Buck.

Yes, it’s an election year, and he’s under pressure. And yes, he and his advisers face sustained lobbying by anti-Israel pressure groups. But his careless reply suggests that he’s become disconnected from the context of events in Gaza. Instead, he’s casually absorbed a lop-sided narrative, based on falsehoods and half-truths.

The prime minister’s words will not help ordinary Palestinians. Instead, they reward Hamas. And their result, unintended maybe but possible nevertheless, could be to encourage the further demonisation of Israel in the UK.

-Andrew White is a London based solicitor, and author of the website

Learn more »
Comments Off on Brown Proves That Israel Is Losing Its Commons Touch

Remembering The Victims, Honouring The Survivors

All these years after liberation, the numbers of Holocaust survivors in the UK is inevitably diminishing. HMD 2010 is a call to action for people from all over the UK to learn from the experiences and words of survivors as well as those who did not survive, and to make their legacy a meaningful part of our future. It is for these very reasons that the theme for this year’s HMD is “The Legacy of Hope”.

Holocaust survivors have been an inspirational cornerstone of the work that takes place across the country, both on HMD and throughout the year, in educating people about what happened and the lessons we must learn.
By sharing their stories and hopes for the future they have touched the hearts of thousands of people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

The Legacy of Hope is relevant to everyone, regardless of background, religion, race or community and HMD is both an opportunity to pay respect to those who have survived genocide and to honour those whose lives were wasted. But it’s also an opportunity to celebrate the differences between us and create a safer, better future for us all.

This year’s events look to represent these sentiments and we are extremely proud to be hosting the national event in London‘s Guildhall at the heart of one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world.

Survivors from all over the UK, alongside religious leaders, dignitaries and senior politicians will come together to commemorate HMD and share in the hopes we all have for a better world.

The event will represent all that HMD stands for and there will be a broad spectrum of contributions from children and survivors reading poetry and offering tributes as well as a speech from a senior government representative. Howard Goodall will also conduct a piece of music specially composed for the occasion.

The event will culminate in a candle-lighting ceremony where survivors will light candles and add them to an illuminated symbol of hope. This image will capture the theme of this year’s HMD and as such we are inviting everyone to light their own virtual candle on our website at and pledge their support.

As each year passes, HMD includes a wider audience and this year we are delighted to see so many events taking place all over the country. With hundreds of events marking the day from film showings and poetry readings, to survivors’ grandchildren performing music, we hope as many people will attend the wonderfully diverse range of activities that are taking place.
In the words of Rabbi Hugo Gryn: “Time is short and the task is urgent. Evil is real. So is good. There is a choice”

We hope the words and experiences of victims and survivors will help people to think about their own attitudes, behaviour and choices, the way they vote, the way they interact with others and the way they respect and celebrate differences.

I hope that you find some time, even just for a moment to join with us and commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January.

Carly Whyborn is chief executive of Holocaust Memorial Day

Learn more »
Comments Off on Remembering The Victims, Honouring The Survivors

Carey And Williams – A Tale Of Two Archbishops

Perhaps his most notorious intervention came in 2006 when, on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, he lamented the departure of Christians from Bethlehem. In an article he wrote subsequently, he asked how much it mattered to the Israeli government “to have Christian communities in the Holy Land”. He added: “Are they an embarrassment or are they part of a solution?” The clear implication was that Israel was forcing Christians from the Holy Land.

Naturally this ignored the real reasons for the dwindling Christian population: growing Islamisation in the Palestinian territories accompanied by Muslim violence. On the same tour Dr Williams dismissed Israel‘s security fence, claming that it arose from a “terrible fear of the other and the stranger” rather than a legitimate desire for security.

The failure to understand Israel‘s existential plight went hand in hand with his lily-livered approach to radical Islam, particularly the persecution of Christians under Islamic rule. At the same time that he was mistakenly denouncing Israeli policy, Christian communities were being repressed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and a host of other countries. Yet he chose to focus on Israel, a country whose Christian population has more than trebled since 1948.

In response to the endemic problems in the Muslim world, all Rowan Williams felt able to say was that its political solutions were not “always very impressive”. What was certainly unimpressive was his failure to resist the clamour for sharia law in Britain. Unlike moderate Muslims who believed in the application of a single law for all citizens, Williams suggested that in some areas of civil life, sharia was “inevitable” and should not be resisted.

In his role, Dr Williams is supposed to champion Christian values. What he cannot see, or admit publicly, is that radical Islam allied to the state religion of multi-culturalism has undermined those values.

How refreshing then to hear an altogether different perspective from his predecessor, Lord Carey. Last week Carey signed a declaration by the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration which called for Britain’s borders to be tightened in order to stop the British population reaching 70 million by 2029.
He was denounced as a racist but he is nothing of the kind. Carey’s primary concern is that many newcomers are actively rejecting this country’s core Judaeo-Christian values, including religious freedom and parliamentary democracy. And while he acknowledges that most Muslim immigrants are broadly patriotic and share British values, a hardline Islamist core clearly does not. They are opting for segregation, not assimilation.

Indeed not only has Carey understood the threat from radical Islam, he has been prepared to say so quite openly. In a lecture delivered in 2004, he called on Muslims to urgently address their religion’s association with violence. He declared that “very few Muslim leaders” unconditionally condemned “the evil of suicide bombers” and acknowledge the role played by the “intolerant and tyrannical beliefs” of Saudi Wahhabism.

Further, he had no problems labelling Islamic radicals as “terrorists”. What contributed to this radicalism was the “glaring absence of democratic governments,” widespread educational impoverishment and a lack of religious freedom. His ability to connect the dots was impressive.

Those who appreciate the Islamist jjhad are usually more sympathetic to Israel. So it is with the former Archbishop. In recent years he has spoken out against anti-Israeli sanctions which, in his words, “ignore the trauma of ordinary Jewish people”. He was also one of the few prominent churchmen to condemn the anti-Israeli carol service in Piccadilly, declaring that it would “strengthen an anti-Israeli agenda, trivialise the political issues and nourish an anti-Semitic culture”. One cannot imagine such a robust response coming from the present Archbishop.

At a time when both anti-Semitism and militant Islam are on the increase, the Church of England urgently needs a clear moral compass. It is tragic that this commodity is so lacking under its current leadership.

More at

Learn more »
Comments Off on Carey And Williams – A Tale Of Two Archbishops