When producing an article or statement the author will usually have an audience in mind. Following the recent publication of the report from Amnesty International alleging apartheid in Israel there was a concern that the British Jewish communal organisations were condemning the report with caveats so they could still claim to the left wing in the wider community that their progressive credentials remained intact.
Enter then stage right MK Bezalel Smotrich. Mr Smotrich is an MK for The Religious Zionism Party a right-wing party in the Israeli Knesset whose supporters run into the hundreds of thousands. Mr Smotrich came to the UK in early February this year on what had been a lightly publicised trip. Or rather it was, until the Board of Deputies of British Jews got involved, turning the visit into a massive advertisement for Mr Smotrich in an extraordinary display of visceral criticism. In an astonishing move, the Board tweeted in Hebrew their disgust of Mr Smotrich saying they “reject the abominable views and the hate-provoking ideology of Bezalel Smotrich”, and additionally “We call on all members of the British Jewish community to show him the door. Get back on the plane, Bezalel, and be remembered as a disgrace forever.”
Pause for a moment and consider the words used by the Board when confronting Jeremy Corbyn at the height of the Labour anti-Semitism crisis. At no stage as far as I remember did they ever use the phrase ‘…abominable views and the hate-provoking ideology’ even when Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP needed a police escort to protect her at a Labour Party conference such was the extent of Jew-hate in Labour. This venom it appears is reserved only for a Jew.
Back now to the Smotrich tale and enter centre stage Isaac Herzog, the President of the State of Israel. Speaking at a meeting of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Mr. Herzog said that he didn’t agree with Mr Smotrich, but affirmed that he “believed in democracy. President Herzog told the meeting: “I found the Board of Deputies’ recent English and Hebrew tweets concerning MK Smotrich a few weeks ago deeply inappropriate. The Hebrew version was downright insulting and elicited great discomfort”.
This might have been enough to make the President of the Board of Deputies to re-think her strategy, but apparently not. In its response the Board said “Like Israel, Britain is a democracy, which contains many different conflicting views. However, we believe that some views are not acceptable within the Democratic process. Democracy is fragile and needs to protect itself from those who threaten its survival. We firmly believe that Betzalel Smotrich, with his comments about Arab citizens of Israel, Progressive Jews and LGBTQ people, falls into this category.”
In other words the Board considers Israel to be an inferior democracy for allowing Mr Smotrich a platform, let alone be voted into office. The claim made as part of their response that “The Board of Deputies of British Jews firmly supports the State of Israel and has great respect for President Herzog” sounded hollow and insincere.
How has it come to this? Despite the platitudes of supporting Israel from the Zionist Federation and the Board of Deputies, the reality is something quite different. The acting chair of the ZF in 2021 made it clear he would not attend any meeting with the Israeli Ambassador and now the Board of Deputies of British Jews are cheerfully picking a fight with the Israeli President. What is most disappointing is that there was no attempt for dialogue, no request for a meeting or discussion, just a bland ‘we are right and you are wrong’ response.
So, back to the beginning. Who is the audience the Board is playing to and who are they claiming to represent? The first part is easy, the second less so. The audience is again the left wing in general and the Labour Party in particular. Why though is not clear other than the continued campaign to persuade the left that the Jews can be relied upon to criticise the right wing.
The representative part is more difficult. There is no polling data available to confirm or deny the idea that the dispute with the Israeli President has the support of the Jewish Community. It is reasonable though to believe that irrespective of the approach taken by most UK Jews towards Israel, very few of them would advocate the adversarial response undertaken by the Board, apparently on their behalf.
The Board it seems is seriously out of step with those they claim to represent, making it like the Zionist Federation; a national organisation failing to take account of the view of the bulk of those for whom they claim to speak. Jews and Zionists in the UK deserve leaders who speak for them, and at present they are conspicuous by their absence.