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UK’s Jewish leadership sacrifices all relevance with ‘Jewish manifesto’ for EU elections

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EU flag, before European flags

EU flag, before European flags

Britain’s oldest Jewish leadership institution, the Board of Deputies, has long been in denial about the reality on the ground for Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. But in the lead-up to this week’s European Parliamentary Elections (today in the UK and 25 May across the continent) the Board’s attitude is starting to make it look like a communal body with a terminal condition. Not only has it lost touch with political reality but it has turned its back on traditional Jewish ethics as well.

For Palestinians this may be of only marginal interest. What would you expect from a staunchly Zionist Jewish institution? But with the the collapse of the Obama/Kerry initiative and the growing success of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns in Europe, the dynamics of Jewish community politics across the continent are starting to look a lot more interesting.

A close reading of the Board’s EU manifesto, designed to give candidates an understanding of Jewish “issues and concerns”, reveals the moral mess it has got itself into by choosing to take such an uncritical line on Israel at the expense of mainstream Jewish values. These internal contradictions are becoming all the more glaring now that Washington has barely tried to disguise its frustrations at the Israeli government’s intransigence. Any European politician with even a passing knowledge of the conflict is going to find the Board’s position curious, if not laughable, in its apparent naivety.

Let me illustrate the ethical contortions and the political blindness that the Board is now displaying which I believe will lead to its ultimate undoing.

The Board’s EU manifesto starts off in a high minded tone that links Judaism and Jewish history to the development of human rights. There’s plenty to warm the heart of any liberal Western European Jew.

“Human Rights are a central tenet of the Jewish faith. From the Bible onwards numerous texts speak about the importance of caring for others and upholding their rights. Genesis 1:27 tells us that all people are created ‘in the image of God’. If all humans are created in the ‘image of God’, it follows that all human beings have an equal, innate dignity which must be respected.”

The manifesto goes on to co-opt to its cause René Cassin (1887-1976), the French Jewish co-author of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cassin, the manifesto reminds us, was profoundly influenced by the ethical framework of his Jewish background, as well as the recent experience of the Holocaust.

And then things come right up to date with the Board’s call for European action:

“Human Rights abuses continue to occur throughout Europe and around the world, and the Jewish community urges the EU to continue to address these issues.”

All very worthy, until you try and search for any example of the Board expressing the slightest concern over the mounting documentation of human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem.

The Board prefers not to comment on human rights abuses where the Israeli government is concerned. Jewish establishment institutions in the UK, and across Europe, are typically liberal, religiously pluralistic and multi-cultural in all matters – until it comes to Israel. At which point a different set of rules seems to apply and René Cassin, even though he was a supporter of Zionism, is no longer a part of the reckoning.

And so the moral schizophrenia emerges, caused by decades of allowing the State of Israel to dictate policy to the European Jewish diaspora.

So how does this play out in the Board’s advice on EU-Israel relations to would-be European parliamentarians?

Essentially, the Board insists that Europe be nice to Israel as the best way to encourage it to make peace.

“The EU undoubtedly has a role in assisting the peace process. In addition to facilitating high level diplomatic meetings, the EU could offer a variety of incentives that encourage both sides to make strides towards peace, including financial investment packages in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the promotion of trade between the two sides, building trust and links between them.”

Tell that to John Kerry, he could do with a chuckle. After all the “variety of incentives” political and economic offered by the Americans you’d think they might have got something in return. Does the Board really expect MEPs to now believe that Israel will voluntarily give up power, privilege and territory without some kind of external pressure? Show me a moment in history where any group or country has responded only to the carrot.

Now I don’t expect the Board to be promoting BDS, but its opposition only reveals more of its double standards. When it comes to Iran, sanctions are to be kept up until Tehran backs down, according to the manifesto. It seems only Israel has the right to have nuclear weapons. But the right of the Palestinians to call for non-violent economic protest in support of human rights is presented as unfair and illegitimate.

I began to search in the manifesto to find any mention of the word “Settlements”. But no joy. This despite the international community (including the UK, EU and USA) all recognising that they are a central obstacle to any peace. Nor does the document ever mention anything called “the occupied territories” or even “disputed territory”.

Why should any EU politician take this manifesto seriously when it fails to mention the giant blue and white elephant sitting in the room? Especially after Israel gave the green light to nearly 14,000 new Jewish homes on the West Bank during the 9 months that Kerry was trying to get agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state. Such denial of the facts on the ground is making the Board look increasingly irrelevant.

And having lost the respect of the Euro-politicians, the Board will soon find itself increasingly at odds with the next generation of British Jews. The mismatch of proclaimed Jewish ethics and the unquestioning defence of Israel will eventually cause an open schism in the Jewish community. At which point the Board will no longer be able to claim the cross-community Jewish consensus that inhibits politicians of all parties, national and European, from taking a more principled stand on Israel/Palestine.

The Board itself may have already started to acknowledge its perilous position. A leaked internal memo reported in the UK’s Jewish News shows the Board’s executive starting to agonise over its self-inflicted wounds. Some soul searching is long over due.

As American intervention scales back, thanks to the domestic election cycle and the US pro-Israel lobby, it could be Europe’s moment to step up and make a move. European politicians will have to overcome their post-Holocaust guilt complex to do this but the behaviour of institutions like the Board will make it a lot easier for them.

As a British Jew in active solidarity with the Palestinian’s cause, Europe is looking to me like an increasingly interesting place to be.

Robert Cohen is a UK blogger. A related post appears at Micah’s Paradigm Shift.

Robert Cohen

Cohen is a British writer. He blogs at Micah's Paradigm Shift.

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15 Responses

  1. amigo on May 22, 2014, 10:00 am

    “3.2 Restitution
    During the Holocaust, the Nazis used state apparatus to confiscate Jewish property, including both private property, such as homes, art and jewellery; and communal infrastructure, like synagogue buildings and graveyards. To this day, much of it has not been returned and the property remains in the hands of modern states. Sadly, many Holocaust survivors now live in dire poverty, and the return of their property could give them a better quality of life in their final years, and a legacy to pass on to their descendants.”

    This piece of blatant hypocrisy stood right out.

    What about restitution for Palestinians who have been robbed of everything.

    Is it any wonder Jews get a bad name with this kind of self serving chutzpah.

    Tiresome morons.

    • pabelmont on May 22, 2014, 10:47 am

      What about all that German reparations money that was paid to Israel and the 1/4 or so of Holocaust survivors in Israel who live below poverty level? surely there should be a pass-through from Israel to those survivors of German money? And if not, shouldn’t Germany stop making reparations>

      • amigo on May 22, 2014, 11:01 am

        pabelmont, don,t expect the UK,S Jewish leader ship to air Israel,s dirty laundry in public.Don,t expect them to disclose the truth about Jewish Holocaust survivors who have been screwed out of their restitution and left to live in veritable poverty.

        This group of hypocrites are only interested in telling the rest of us what we should do for “Jews” but not what Jews should do for Jews.

        And yes you are right.Germany should stop paying restitution until a method is found that ensures it goes to those it is intended for.

    • seethelight on May 22, 2014, 2:20 pm

      The manifesto recalls the words of the rabbi about 2000 years ago who said “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

  2. annie on May 22, 2014, 10:27 am

    It warns: “The risk of arguing for the fault of failure lying squarely with the Palestinians while many will at least partially blame Israel, is that supporters of Israel will become increasingly discredited, irrelevant and marginal.

    you don’t say.

  3. seafoid on May 22, 2014, 10:48 am

    “Human Rights are a central tenet of the Jewish faith.”

    That was a favourite meme of Rabbi Sacks. As if Jewish rule over the Palestinians were as kind and reasonable as a thought for the day by Rabbi Lionel Blue.

    none of the reality of IDF life in the territories
    “One described beating women. ‘With women I have no problem. With women, one threw a clog at me and I kicked her here [pointing to the crotch], I broke everything there. She can’t have children. Next time she won’t throw clogs at me. When one of them [a woman] spat at me, I gave her the rifle butt in the face. She doesn’t have what to spit with any more.'”

  4. eljay on May 22, 2014, 10:58 am

    >> Britain’s oldest Jewish leadership institution, the Board of Deputies …

    It may be the oldest, but does it have “Jewish street creds”?

    Regardless, this story once again highlights the injustice, immorality and hypocrisy that are the bedrock of Zio-supremacism, Zio-supremacists and the supremacist “Jewish State” of Israel.

  5. HarryLaw on May 22, 2014, 12:07 pm

    Nor does the document ever mention anything called “the occupied territories” or even “disputed territory”. Here we come to the main question, the Israeli government do not regard the territories as either “occupied” or “disputed”, to them they are sovereign Israeli territory and part of the “Land of Israel”, as they see it, and how the Board of Deputies see it. Its not complicated, only when Abbas sees the futility of trying to negotiate a sovereign two state solution with an Israeli government that cannot/will not recognize a separate and importantly sovereign Palestinian state, will progress be made.

  6. Ecru on May 22, 2014, 12:21 pm

    I wonder how the “good people” of the Board of Deputies would react to the British Govt mimicking their beloved Israel and declaring the UK as a “British State” for the “British People” and stating their desire to ethnically cleanse all the others – including the Jews (which, apart from the last bit Zionists seem to have no problem with what with their links to groups like the EDL)

    Would the “good Board” speak of the thousands of years of continuous British inhabitation of the land (genetically the vast majority of Brits can date their ancestry back to the Neolithic), would they mutter about the Brits long history of being invaded by their neighbours and losing even their native languages to these interlopers? Would they perhaps mention the “existential threat” of Brits interbreeding with non-Brits.

    No of course not – why the very idea would call up cries of “Amalek” “anti-semitism” and (of course) “Holocaust!” all over the Jewish world (conspicuously forgetting all the OTHER people that would be effected by such criminal legislation). And yet these very same people when the Judenreich actually DOES the same things, and more, to the Palestinians, they shamelessly cry out their joy, pride and total agreement, all while still whining like spoiled little sociopaths of their own victim-hood.


  7. lysias on May 22, 2014, 1:00 pm

    The recently deceased Stéphane Hessel was also involved in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. and he, later in life, very much saw the injustice of Israeli treatment of Palestinians and protested against it. He was half-Jewish, but I guess they didn’t dare mention him, despite the fact that his last book was a worldwide best-seller.

    The UN Commission on Human Rights, which later drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was established at the insistence of Barnard College Dean and U.S. delegate to the San Francisco conference that established the UN Virginia Gildersleeve, who very much opposed the establishment of the state of Israel, because of its injustice to the Palestinians.

  8. just on May 22, 2014, 1:34 pm

    Thanks for the article! The Board seems stuck in the wayback machine.

    Does the Board really think that the candidates/voters are all deaf, dumb and blind?

  9. Dutch on May 22, 2014, 2:11 pm

    “… European Parliamentary Elections (today in the UK and 25 May across the continent) …’

    Today in the UK and the Netherlands.

  10. James Canning on May 22, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Fascinating piece.

  11. Citizen on May 22, 2014, 9:18 pm

    Nobody with real influence cares about the Palestinians, nor do they care about the US taxpayers who foot Israel’s bills. Name just one who is speaking up and has a prime time seat in the US mainstream media.

  12. DICKERSON3870 on May 22, 2014, 11:40 pm

    RE: “The EU undoubtedly has a role in assisting the peace process. In addition to facilitating high level diplomatic meetings, the EU could offer a variety of incentives that encourage both sides to make strides towards peace, including financial investment packages in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the promotion of trade between the two sides, building trust and links between them.” ~ U.K. Board of Deputies

    MY COMMENT: In response to Michael Oren’s recent op-ed claiming that Palestinians and Jews ‘choose to live apart’ from one another, the E.U. should consider proposing a “mixed” (approx 50% Palestinian & 50% Jewish Israelis) housing project for Area C. Perhaps residents of UNRWA refugee camps should be given priority in selecting the Palestinians for their 50%.
    I wonder what the the Israeli government’s reaction would be. I suspect their response to the proposal might well reveal that Israel has no intention of ever relinquishing control of Area C.

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