Community leaders should think before they wade in

The end of the Obama Administration has produced a great flurry of diplomatic activity on the Middle East, most notably in the shape of western support for the UN Security Council resolution on Israel.

Predictably perhaps, in a period when Israel has been out of the headlines, the train of events has produced an anguished response in the British Jewish community.

American presidents have a habit of showing their true colours in their final days in office, thinking that their last actions will seal their reputation in history.

Frankly, Obama’s attitudes towards Israel, the peace process, Benjamin Netanyahu, Iranian sanctions and Russia have been framed over eight years, not a few normally quiet days between Christmas and the New Year.

Obama with Netanyahu in New York in 2016.
Obama with Netanyahu in New York in 2016.

As difficult all this may be for the UK Jewish community, there are real questions to be asked about the responses of leadership.

Sure, it is deeply troubling to find Israel on the wrong side of a UN Security Council resolution when Moscow is having difficulty finding support for a Syria ceasefire and peace deal at the same body.

Moreover, no one wants to see the US and UK, two of Israel’s most reliable friends, joining the extremist anti-Israel majority at the UN.
So we can all properly hate the idea.

But as I understand it, the position of the leadership of the British Jewish community is that the two-state solution to the core Israel-Palestinian dispute is the preferred outcome.

In that process, continued settlement (except for a minority in Britain who still hang onto the idea of a Greater Israel including Judea and Samaria) is not seen as a desirable response.

In other words, we may not like the process, the UN, the people who supported the resolution or any criticism of Israel, but the underlying principle, in the shape of pausing new settlements, is not something most people really oppose.

This has not stopped some community leaders weighing into the debate.

The United Synagogue (the biggest synagogue organisation that I happened to represent on the Board of Deputies) used its email system to send a message to all of its members expressing disappointment at UN action.

The United Synagogue is a terrific body looking after all of the community interests from cradle to grave. And it does an excellent job. Members are a very broad ‘church’, ranging from secular Jews and infrequent synagogue goers to the strictly Orthodox. But it is not a ‘political’ organisation that needs to convey its thinking directly to members.

The proper channels are for the leaders of the US to use their involvement in other communal bodies, including the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, to do their ‘political’ work rather than directly.

The US is not alone in wanting its voice to be heard. When anything external happens, there is a tendency among all our communal organisations to speak first on political issues without thinking through the full implications.

Do our elected or self-appointed community leaders need to have a public view on everything from Brexit to Trump and the UN in what sometimes seems a race to the finish line? Or would they be better standing back and making more considered comments?

We have no shortage of organisations in the UK that are solely focused on Israel, including BICOM and the Zionist Federation. The response of BICOM to the UN Security Council resolution was measured and analytical, which is really what the community needs.

We want our community leaders to have views on great events and we want our rabbis to refer to them from the pulpit. That is, after all, freedom of speech.

But we can do without the Tower of Babel we have seen in recent days.

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor