Objectionable Behavior, Questionable Leadership
The Jewish Chronicle of London this week highlighted what it alleged was Tzipi Livni’s endorsement of controversial remarks made last November by Mick Davis, chairman of Anglo Jewry’s United Jewish Israel Appeal and head of its unaccountable Jewish Leadership Council.
The story occupied the entire front page, and was followed by a lengthy article by Davis based on his address at the recent Herzliya conference and crafted to justify his earlier remarks. The Jewish Chronicle also carried an editorial lavishly praising Davis’s right to “become Anglo Jewry’s spokesman for the view that the current Israeli government is on the wrong trajectory,” and hailing Livni’s “admirable words” endorsing “our right” to hold “a big conversation, of which we can all be proud.”
The editorial also condemned as “bizarre” unspecified calls “to demand that our communal leaders adopt a vow of silence on matters of specific Jewish concern.”
Many will regard it as a sad reflection of the state of Anglo-Jewry that at this time, when British media hostility toward the Jewish state has reached an all-time high, its flagship communal newspaper would adopt such a negative approach, endorsing calls encouraging Jews to criticize the Israeli government.
The Jewish Chronicle quoted Livni a saying that Diaspora leaders have a “duty” to speak out when Israel “does something wrong,” and that “as leaders, we in Israel must take into account the concerns of Diaspora Jewry.”
In the course of a subsequent address this week to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, she made similar remarks, calling for dialogue between Israel and world Jewry and “placing everything on the table.”
It is unclear whether Livni was even aware of the earlier Davis remarks. Were she to endorse such criticism from a Diaspora leader, she would undoubtedly infuriate most Israelis, who would not take kindly to a British Jewish mining magnate exploiting his communal role to intrude on matters that could affect the lives of children and grandchildren serving in the IDF.
However, The Jewish Chronicle’s spin on Livni’s remarks was clearly designed to bolster its editorial line, which endorses the critical statements Davis had previously expressed.
NO SERIOUS person has ever denied the right of Diaspora Jews to criticize Israel or condemn moral lapses by Israelis in public life – whether with respect to corruption, religious extremism, discrimination or restrictions on freedom of expression.
Indeed, such criticism has always been an important component of the Israel-Diaspora relationship.
However, there was always the caveat that it would be unconscionable for Jews living in the Diaspora to exert pressure in relation to security policies which could have a lifeand- death impact on Israeli citizens.
In his initial outburst, Davis made the provocative statement that “I think the government of Israel has to recognize that their actions directly affect me as a Jew living in London, UK. When they do good things, it is good for me, when they do bad things, it is 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.”
In relation to the peace process, he also challenged the morality and “courage” of Israeli leaders.
It was not a proud day for Anglo-Jewry when an Israeli ambassador felt obliged to publicly reprimand a Jewish communal leader for behaving in such an “unwarranted” manner, deploring his use of language based on “the narrative of Israel’s enemies.”
Ambassador Ron Prosor complained that remarks by Davis that Israel is “losing its moral compass” or would be “characterized de facto as an apartheid state” came “straight from our opponents’ lexicon.”
Davis even went beyond these comments.
In lieu of calling on Jews to rally in defense of the embattled Jewish state, he encouraged them to join him in publicly criticizing the policies of its democratically elected government. No other Jewish community, including that in the US (and American Jews are considered far more liberal than their British counterparts), would tolerate such behavior from a purportedly mainstream leader. Davis is, after all, head of the UJIA, not a spokesman for J Street.
It is especially problematic, and even offensive to say the least, for the leader of a Jewish community to make such remarks in the toxic atmosphere of the UK, where demonization and delegitimization of Israel as well as outright anti-Semitism have reached record levels. Davis would do well to read the chilling analysis of anti- Semitism and hatred of Israel in the UK contained in a recent Jerusalem Post article by Prof. Robert Wistrich, a former British Jew living here, and recognized as a world expert on anti-Semitism.
In an effort to justify his former remarks, Davis disingenuously suggests he was being criticized for supporting a two-state solution (which the government of Israel supports), when in fact what he actually implied was that it is the government rather than the Palestinians which represents the obstacles to peace.
This approach was replicated in the current editorial of The Jewish Chronicle, which also expressed its “grave reservations about the current government’s genuine commitment to seeking a two-state solution,” despite Binyamin Netanyahu’s unprecedented initiative in freezing settlement activity, which still failed to persuade the Palestinians to even participate in negotiations.
Davis also falsely asserts that “in Israel’s formative years, there was real dialogue with the Diaspora. This is no longer the case.”
In reality, Labor Zionist (Mapai) leaders from David Ben-Gurion through to Yitzhak Rabin reacted far more harshly to criticism from Diaspora Jews than their current counterparts do. In contrast to the restraint employed by Netanyahu, they wouldn’t have hesitated to publicly vent their outrage if a tycoon of the likes of Davis had made such provocative statements.
Although the Anglo-Jewish establishment has failed to condemn the Davis outbursts, there was a substantial grassroots protest, and it is noteworthy that delegates to the Board of Deputies of British Jews took the unusual step of expressing their displeasure by overruling the decision of their executive to send a mission to meet with the PA and Mahmoud Abbas.
British Jews today are in desperate need of leaders who will encourage Jews to stand up and fight instead of remaining on the sidelines or identifying with the anti-Zionist chic.
Davis dismissed my previous criticism of his outburst as coming “from that mad Australian who attacks everyone.”
I was privileged to head a major Jewish Diaspora community which continues to take pride in standing up and defending Israel and a multitude of international Jewish causes. Thus, as the frenzied campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel in the UK gathers force, I would urge Davis to consider the consequences of his intemperate behavior. If he has any sense of responsibility, instead of calling on Jews to criticize Israel, he should concentrate on promoting its case in a country which has displayed little understanding for an embattled democracy surrounded by unstable regimes and Islamic fanatics united in their determination to deny Jewish sovereignty.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post