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Isi Leibler

Anglo Jewish Leaders and “trembling Israelites”

by Isi Leibler, March 9, 2012

The simmering tensions associated with the “restrained” Anglo Jewish leadership approach to Israel advocacy, exploded at the last plenum meeting of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Senior vice-president Jonathan Arkush launched a bitter attack on the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) a group primarily comprised of wealthy British Jews and their acolytes who, although unaccountable, are allegedly determining communal policy.

To widespread applause from the plenum, Arkush accused the JLC of being "unelected, unaccountable and therefore unacceptable” as spokesmen for Anglo Jewry.

However he was immediately castigated by the president and members of the executive for "an intemperate outburst" and making "unhelpful and incorrect" comments. There were also calls for his resignation.

The JLC head, Mick Davis, blatantly threatened to terminate ongoing financial support to the Board if it could make such "unwarranted and egregious attacks".

Davis, who also heads the United Jewish Israel Appeal, had previously created a storm by urging British Jews to criticize the Jewish State’s handling of the peace process. Employing the terminology of our enemies, he warned that Israel was in danger of becoming an “apartheid” State. In remarks unprecedented for any diaspora Jewish leader, Davis stated "I think the government of Israel has to recognize that their actions directly impact on me as a Jew living in London, UK. When they do good things, it is good for me when they do bad things, it's bad for me. And the impact on me is as significant as it is on Jews living in Israel. I want them to recognize that".

Board of Deputies leaders are themselves frequently criticized for their muted approach. The preceding president boasted that the Board operates on the basis of “whispering" rather than "shouting" and sought to avoid confrontations by concentrating on silent diplomacy.

Current president Vivian Wineman is an urbane, committed and cultured Jew and unquestionably well intentioned. But some critics feel his behavior is rather befitting an academic than a street smart communal leader.

In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post, he adamantly denied that he and his colleagues were "trembling Israelites". He previously conceded that the Board has “good access" but “no influence" over government and mentioned that he had recently met Prime Minister Cameron (as part of a JLC delegation) and found him receptive. However in the same breath he observed that "the important people are the civil servants who brief ministers”. He failed to note that UK Foreign Ministry officials are inclined to be even more hostile to Israel than elected ministers.

But the unaccountable JLC clearly remains in the driver seat.

This was confirmed only a few days later, when Arkush released a letter abjectly apologizing for his critical remarks and praising the JLC, describing his comments as inappropriate and expressing regret for having introduced divisiveness at the Board plenum. It was a humiliating retreat from a man previously admired for his independence who had apparently capitulated under brutal pressure from his colleagues and a group of unaccountable individuals whose control of the purse strings enables them to impose their will on the community. It is relevant to note also that JLC head Davis had previously muzzled feisty Zionist Federation vice-chairman Jonathan Hoffman by threatening to initiate costly legal action after he made similar critical remarks.

These leadership struggles are taking place at a time of great turmoil for the declining Anglo Jewish community. Whereas there are signs of cultural revival and increased ethnic solidarity, the overall situation of British Jewry is profoundly depressing.

Robert Wistrich, the expert on global anti-Semitism, refers to the "evil wind blowing through England's green and pleasant land” in which anti-Israeli rhetoric has infiltrated all levels of the British intelligentsia to the extent that "it may be time to leave".

Yet in this context, Anglo Jewish leadership remains in denial. In his Jerusalem Post interview, Wineman conceded that "there is an awful lot of anti-Israeli feeling which sometimes morphs into anti-Semitism". Yet, when Robin Shepherd, a leading non Jewish academic and friend of Israel, remarked that the dramatic upsurge of anti-Israeli feeling and boycotts suggested "that the darkness is closing in… for the Jews of Britain”, Wineman castigated him for being “misguided and alarmist”.

The truth is that the current Conservative government is at the forefront of the European anti-Israel pack. In classical “Perfidious Albion” style, Prime Minister David Cameron describes himself as a Zionist but then refers to Gaza as "an open air prison camp” and condemns Israel for its "attack” on the Mavi Marmara flotilla. Last year, in order to appease anti-Israeli and Arab groups, he even terminated a century-long tradition of British PMs acting as patrons to the Jewish National Fund – an act which the editor of the Jewish Chronicle described as “equivalent to sticking two fingers up to the Jewish community in Britain".

Campaigns to promote BDS and calls from unions to boycott Israel have reached feverish heights. The vicious anti-Israel Ken Livingstone is again campaigning for election as Lord Mayor of London which has emerged as the European hub of Israeli delegitimization. There are constant demonstrations by the far-left supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. The Anglican Church and other Protestant denominations are fiercely anti-Israel. Jewish academics and activists who loathe Israel spearhead efforts to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state and frequently receive more favorable media coverage than official Jewish spokesmen.

The visceral anti-Israel hostility radiating from the media, especially the BBC, has intensified hatred of Jews and Israel to the extent that many perceive the Jewish community as a pariah group. Yet Jewish leaders underrate the impact of this vitriol and invest more efforts against marginal fascists than the far more dangerous anti-Israel left and the radical Muslims who they persistently seek to appease in futile efforts to prove their bona fides. They also understate the critical role of Muslim anti-Semitism and Jihadism and continuously issue statements warning of the dangers of Islamophobia which is puny compared to the violence and threats leveled against Jews.

The situation at the universities is absolutely horrendous and increasingly more violent. Every day preachers of hate assail Israel and the Jewish people.

Some Jewish students, seeking to avoid social isolation, have distanced themselves from Israel and joined the anti-Israeli chic. A number of Union of Jewish Students leaders, funded and encouraged by the Jewish establishment, sought unsuccessfully to appease Muslim and anti-Israeli activists by condemning students who mounted counter protests. They also sought to persuade Jewish Societies to cancel public addresses by Kasim Hafeez, a brilliant former Muslim extremist turned pro Israel advocate, on the spurious grounds that his presence would make things worse for Jews during Israel Apartheid Week. To placate Moslems, they distr

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