The Board must stop treating anti-occupation activists with disdain

Na'amod activists outside the Board of Deputies offices protesting against their response to Israel's impending demolition of Khan al-Ahmar.
Na'amod activists outside the Board of Deputies offices protesting against their response to Israel's impending demolition of Khan al-Ahmar.

Did you hear the joke about the Jewish communal organisation who felt so intimidated by a group of young Jews building a Sukkah they decided to call the police?

Let me explain..

A few weeks ago, a group of Na’amod activists gathered outside the offices of the Board of Deputies to protest the Board’s failure to condemn the Israeli governments’ plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan Al Ahmar.

The village is home to the Jahalin tribe who are originally from the Negev, within the Green Line, but were expelled by the IDF in the 1950s. According to B’Tselem, Khan Al Ahmar is currently home to around 173 people, including 92 children and teenagers. It has a mosque and a school which serves more than 150 children between the ages of six and fifteen. Israel has been threatening to displace this community for years, partly to make room for settlement expansion.

To this end, Israeli authorities have attempted to make the lives of Kahn Al Ahmer residents intolerable by refusing to provide running water, electricity, a proper sewage system, and by prohibiting the construction of homes and other structures. In May 2018 Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the state may demolish the homes in Kahn Al Ahmer and relocate the residents. The forcible displacement of civilians against their will, unless for specific security purposes to protect them, is nothing less than a war crime.

Despite condemnation from the UK Government, the European Parliament, The UN, and the Reform and Liberal Judaism movements in the UK, the Board of Deputies – which claims to represent the largest number of British Jews – has remained shamefully silent. International pressure is one of the only tools the inhabitants of Kahn Al Ahmer have at their disposal which is why it’s so disappointing to see the Board of Deputies abrogating from its moral responsibility.

We hoped to highlight this point by erecting a sukkah, singing Jewish songs, and reciting Jewish prayers and literature, in front of the Board of Deputies offices. Instead of engaging us in a productive dialogue the Board decided to call the cops and then resort to smears.

Writing in the Jewish News, Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl alleges that we failed to notify the police of our intention to protest, as is required by law. This is simply false. As the JC reports, the police had already confirmed that we were well within our rights to protest and thus did not require a permit.

Van der Zyl also complains that our use of Sukkah represents a “subversion of Jewish sacred rites for political ends.” During Sukkot, we celebrate the fragile conditions endured by our ancestors as they left Egypt by spending a week in make-shift huts. As Orly Noy points out in +972 Magazine, the sukkot which Jewish people reside in for the week-long festival bear a striking resemblance to the “dilapidated shacks that house the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, from which the state is trying to expel them”.

Those who believe that making a connection between Sukkot and the importance of protecting vulnerable Palestinian communities from destruction is a ‘subversion’ of Judaism should ask themselves what sort of Judaism they subscribe to.

We know that the Board’s silence is deliberate. They rarely hesitate in defending the occupation, despite it running against all the values we hold as Jews. But sometimes the Board gets it right, as it did in condemning the Nation State Law when it was passed earlier this year.

While it is unfortunate that the Board continues to treat young Jews who oppose Israeli occupation with such disdain, we are optimistic that it can also play a crucial positive role in ending the British Jewish community’s support for the occupation.

So we ask the Board again: Will you condemn the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar before hundreds of Palestinians are displaced?

About the Author
Aron Keller is a member of Na'amod: British Jews Against Occupation
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