The Board of Deputies have done the unthinkable: urged Britain’s leaders to establish a Palestinian state.
Why on earth would the Board of Deputies advocate for establishing yet another radicalized Arab state, this one just a bike-ride away from Israel’s airport which is frequented by so many British Jews (and their Israeli friends and relatives)?
Also, where are the voices of the pro-Israel groups which have BOD representatives, such as Bnei Akiva UK and Emuna UK, among other groups?
Some background which might help make the unbelievable believable. It seems that the history of the Board of Deputies can only be characterized as “not always having been a peaceful one either in its relations with the world at large or (even) within the British Jewish community”. In no small part this was due to the BOD’s regressive attitude to Palestine-Israel.
Historical survey – what you might call the BoD Timidity Timeline:
The Board of Deputies was formed back in the 1760s.
Zionism raised its head in the late 19th century, but British Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler, who served from 1891-1911, set the tone for the BOD of that time by being a ‘staunch opponent of political Zionism’ who denounced the historical First Zionist Congress as ‘an egregious blunder’. Even whatever Zionist sympathies there were, furthermore, did not make their way into any official BOD events and statements.
1915 to 1917:
In 1915, the BoD’s “Conjoint Committee”, with affiliates, denounced Jewish nationalism as ‘reactionary’ and demanded that the Jews in Palestine retract from the Zionist program, their insistence on establishing a Jewish state. In 1917, the same BoD Committee published a statement in the general British press which attacked Zionism, speaking (they said) for all of British Jewry. The letter caused furious protest from Lord Rothschild, Chaim Weizmann and others, while other prominent British Jews supported the BoD’s attack on Zionism. Historian Stuart A. Cohen, claimed that this fiasco was not primarily over the question of Zionism, having at least as much to do with the Board’s undemocratic structure. It is noteworthy that even today, in the Internet era, the identity of nearly all of the Deputies appears to be secret and their contact particulars are certainly not made available to the public.
Edwin Montagu, the British Jewish Minister for India agreed with the BOD’s pro-Palestine/Israel critics in one thing: that the Board had an autocratic character. However, as a vehement anti-Zionist, he accused Zionism of being a foreign import, differentiating (as did many opponents of Israel or Palestine) between Jews merely resident in Britain, and those of British birth, stressing that the latter were opposed to Zionism. Montagu said that any British government favoritism toward a Jewish national home would be ‘a cruel blow by the many English Jews who love England’ – as opposed to those English Jews who, in his view, did not “love England” (i.e. did not love Montagu’s own policies). Despite this, Britain’s Foreign Secretary did miraculously ask Rothschild and Weizmann rather than Montagu to submit a formula for establishing a Jewish national home, and the rest is history.
BoD Chairman Sir Stuart Samuel did timidly dispute Montagu’s insistence that British Jews opposed the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine – now Israel. Samuel said that actually, ‘a large majority’ of British Jews supported the establishment of a national home in Palestine, but made very sure to keep this evaluation confidential i.e. out of the hands of the public.
Once the famous Balfour Declaration had issued, Lord Montagu denounced it and his own Government which had “dealt an irreparable blow to Jewish Britons and … endeavoured to set up a people which does not exist’. Montagu also denounced the Zionists because ‘all my life’ he had been trying to ‘get out of the ghetto’ and the Zionists ‘want to force me back there’.
From the 1920s, Orthodox synagogues led the way to Israel’s establishment – i.e. to the development which is now an obvious boon to everyone. The Orthodox affiliated to the Zionist Federation, providing funds and other assistance for the Zionist movement.
In 1928, the United Synagogue, which was the most influential British Jewish body aside from the BoD itself established an official Zionist fundraising committee although the United S was, at the time, controlled by the non-Zionist Robert Waley-Cohen, who cleverly circumvented the United Synagogue council by various ‘legal manoeuvres’, and managed to delay Zionist fundraising for two years.
In 1936 Nahum Goldmann began urging the BoD to join the World Jewish Congress as British affiliate. He was unsuccessful – the BoD feared being thought of as possessing “dual loyalty”, desired to protect its own particular access to government, and refused Goldmann’s overture for almost 40 years (till 1974).
1930s – 1940s – the Holocaust era:
In 1937 the Zionists secured a majority on the BoD’s Palestine Committee. However it took until the 1940s for the BoD to decisively join the Zionist camp.
Only due to the horrors of the Holocaust, was resistance within the BoD to Zionism finally overcome in the 1940s. First, a Zionist was elected as BoD president, unopposed, in 1940 (Selig Brodetsky), defeating his non-Zionist predecessor Robert Waley-Cohen. In 1943, Zionists achieved a majority at the Board. In 1944, almost 5 decades after the first Zionist calls, the BoD finally endorsed the call to establish a Jewish state. Even then, Non-Zionists like Neville Laski tried in 1948 to remove Brodetsky but fortunately were not successful. In 1946 BoD with the Poale Zion campaigned against the British government’s shocking Palestine policy, but had difficulty finding Jewish MPs willing to speak out despite “desperate” lobbying efforts.
In 1949, Israel’s first president wrote his autobiography. He had harsh words for the Board of Deputies, which, he said “consisted of old-fashioned, well-to-do assimilationist Jews who looked upon Judaism as a collection of abstract religious principles… and upon Zionism as, at best, the empty dream of a few misguided idealists”.
The United Synagogue, in 1962, elected as its president, the strongly Zionist Isaac Wolfson.
In our day:
At a Board of Deputies dinner in 2007, Gordon Brown reportedly promised “Israel will always have our support …and we will never compromise our friendship for political expediency”.
Is this still true today, a decade later, regarding the now-crucial issue of whether or not to establish a new Arab state a bike-ride away from Tel-Aviv?
Harry Sacher boldly warned anti-Zionist Lucien Wolf of the Board of Deputies, back in 1914, that if the BoD or any other communal organisation opposes Zionism, ‘we shall, however reluctantly, do what within us lies to destroy any authority they may claim in Jewry or beyond to Jewry to speak for the Jewish people’. Will any Jews in Great Britain today, prominent or otherwise, take the BoD to task even minimally for having the audacity and shortsightedness to officially support a Palestinian state on the outskirts of Tel-Aviv, of all things, and so short a time after the Manchester massacre, to boot?
Corrections and comments to Mattot Arim at gmail or to me personally – sddym at bezeqint.net.