A food justice campaign called Grow Tatzmiach would see 25 people mentored by Oxfam over a six-month period, with the aim of developing a projects to tackle world hunger.
However, the proposal has sparked fierce opposition among deputies concerned over the influential charity’s record on Israel.
As deputies prepare to consider a motion on 20 January calling for the project to be put on hold, the Board last night undertook not “to establish a project or continue an existing project with any organisation which: supports a boycott of any types of Israeli goods; partners with or supports any organisation that promotes violence; partners with or supports any organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel”.
To ensure these red lines are not crossed an oversight committee would be established to monitor the initiative and the relationship with the charity “and reassess them after four months”.
It will report to the executive after four months and to the entire board at the project’s conclusion.
While Oxfam is described by Board chiefs as the “most moderate” NGO on Israel which has never called for a boycott of goods from the country, it does want to see settlement products labelled.
Oxfam’s positions on Israeli security measures have also been criticised by Board leaders. A policy document from the Board argues, however, that engaging with the charity does not mean it condones its policies.
But former Board vice-president Jerry Lewis, who headed the community division until last May, said leaders were “misguided” in pursuing the joint initiative, which he argued would “in affect give a hechsher to an organisation which will relish a seal of approval from the community. It will give succour to others who are avowedly anti-Israel”.
Also unmoved by the Board statement yesterday was Woodside Park shul deputy Jonathan Hoffman, who described working with Oxfam as a “season’s worth of own goals”. He was upbeat about the chances of success for his motion against the plans if it comes to a vote next weekend.
Meanwhile, Jewish News has learnt that a letter from the chairman of Hampstead Garden Suburb shul to that community’s deputies – referred opposition to the project from its rabbi.
It urges them to note the views of the rabbi and shul board, but says the Board does not mandate deputies to vote either way. HGS’s deputies include Board president Vivian Wineman.
The representatives of Barnet synagogue, however, are set to oppose any collaboration. One of them, Natalie Shaw, a key player in the campaign against the project, said she was “absolutely for chesed (acts of kindness)” but argued that there are many agencies other than Oxfam that the Board could work with.
However, Elstree and Borehamwood shul’s deputies will back the project. One of them, Rowel Genn told the Jewish News: “Our faith guides us to help others less fortunate than ourselves and the alleviation of hunger is a worthwhile cause in which to engage with Oxfam.”
He added: “A secondary motive may include engagement with those who do not see matters as we do, with a view to influencing them. We cannot only engage with people who agree with everything we believe in. Influence comes from positive and persuasive engagement, not petulant boycotts.”
And Wineman’s predecessor as president, Henry Grunwald, said: “I think it’s absolutely right that the Board seeks to engage with Oxfam and other NGOs.”
A spokesman for Reform Judaism added: “This project represents a new way forward and we look forward to working with the whole community on it.”
A policy document from the Board said the joint initiative “answers the Jewish prophetic voice to heal a fractured world” while being “the most effective means of engagement, with an influential NGO, to foster healthy and constructive debates.”
Last night, the Board’s red lines were presented to Oxfam’s Middle East director during a meeting with honorary officers. Lewis, who was also present, said: “It was very clear that what the Board considered to be red lines were not automatically endorsed by Oxfam at the meeting.”
But a spokesman for the charity said: “She wanted to double check that we understand what these red lines are and that everything is OK before signing up. We are excited about this joint work. There’s nothing wrong with having red lines.”Learn more »