Do British Jews Deserve Their Leaders?

At the end of August, just as Hamas had finally agreed to stop its indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, the elected leadership of the UK’s Jewish community decided to do something astonishing.

They picked a widely discredited, somewhat marginalised Muslim group with a shady background and wrote a joint statement. The Leadership of the Board of Deputies of British Jews then issued this joint statement.

They had chosen to work with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). At one time this group was feted by the UK’s government, lavished with funds and seen as a bulwark against obvious, growing extremism within the UK’s Muslim communities. That all changed and today the UK’s government at best ignores the MCB and is probably investigating their links to Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Against this worrying background, the Board of Deputies issued a statement with some astonishing problems. Immediately it was denounced by Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle:

As well as being admirable in many ways, the statement also reveals just how naive – not to say incompetent – some of Anglo Jewry’s leaders really are. Because there is a sentence in the statement that is so downright bizarre that it beggars belief any serious communal leader could ever have imagined it would survive a moment’s scrutiny.

Here’s the passage:

The death of every civilian is a tragedy, and every effort should be taken to minimise such losses. The targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions.”

Had they left it at the first sentence then the sentiments would have been echoed across the two faiths. The death of civilians, Israeli or Palestinian – or indeed of any nationality, anywhere – is certainly a tragedy.

But it’s the next sentence which is so utterly inept – to put it kindly.

So the statement clearly leaves open the charge that the Board of Deputies is condemning the IDF for targeting civilians: a totally ridiculous charge for anyone to make, let alone the representatives of one of the largest communities of diaspora Jews. That’s before I point out that nobody is really clear who the MCB might mean by civilians in Israel: Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood certainly consider all Israelis to be valid military targets.

The Board of Deputies is also promoting the lie that the made up and phoney charge of “Islamophobia” is directly equivalent to Jew hatred. Jew hatred has existed since before Islam emerged from Arabia and conquered by force a large part of the world. Any critic of the Board’s actions will, of course, be called an “Islamophobe”.

One of the more senior deputies, Alex Brummer, who happens to be an influential editor of a major newspaper, made a direct and personal attack on the well known writer and commentator, Melanie Phillips. While trying to answer her justified horror over the statement, he accused her of “scouring the worldwide web in search of adverse material … and her fondness for conspiracy theories”.

He then says, of the reference to targeting civilians, that only the “swivel-eyed” would think it applied to Israel: it is a clear reference to Hamas’ attacks. “To see it as implicit criticism of the IDF’s war effort in simply ignorant and creating division for the sake of it.”

Brummer also wrote that Dr Shafi of the MCB had “clarified his position to make it plain that the targeting of civilians referred to Hamas”. That was known to be untrue when he wrote it. Neither Dr Shafi nor anyone else ever issued any such clarification. In fact they said the opposite.

Somebody did ask the MCB what they believed had been meant by the phrase “targeting civilians” and they said this:

A spokeswoman for the Muslim group said they believed both parties had understood that the line refered to the targeting of civilians by both Israel and Hamas.

She said: “It refers to both sides, Israel and Hamas. It’s civilians that pay the price. On both sides.”

That doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt. It was just part of the evidence of how differently from the Board of Deputies the MCB thought of the joint statement.

Yesterday it was put to a vote at a plenary meeting in central London. The Deputies voted 124 to 40 in favour of a motion backing the decision to work with the Muslim Council of Britain.

In desperately flailing around, looking for some, nay any, Muslims to sign a statement with, the Board of Deputies probably couldn’t have picked a worse group short of sitting down with Hamas or ISIS. The statement itself could barely have been any worse either.

These people represent the UK’s Jews. It is a very sorry state of affairs for right thinking people in the UK who believe in the continued existence of a Jewish Israel.

About the Author
Brian of London made aliyah from the UK to Israel in 2009. For many years he has blogged and broadcast about Israel, technology and other subjects. Most recently he's focused on the experience of driving an electric car every day. Brian has a scientific PhD but today owns a business in Israel.