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January 13, 2013 5:40 pm

Jewish Board’s Participation With Oxfam Angers Members of UK Jewish Community

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Oxfam International logo. Photo: Wikipedia

A battle of sorts is being waged among members of the UK’s Jewish community as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is the main representative body of British Jewry, continues its push to team with Oxfam on an anti-hunger project, Grow Tatzmiach.

The issue being taken with the partnership is Oxfam’s history of anti-Israel action, just a few examples of which include severing ties with actress Kristin Davis – an “ambassador” (supporter and spokesperson) for the NGO – in 2009 due to her work endorsing the Israeli Ahava cosmetics company; and a quote by Oxfam International’s Director Jeremy Hobbs, who said, “The people of Gaza are living in the world’s largest prison but have fewer rights than convicts.”

Ronnie Fraser, Director of the Academic Friends of Israel, and a deputy member of the Board (deputies have little to no say in the decision-making process) has spent the last decade fighting groups that have worked to isolate Israel through sanctions and boycotts. He says that some believe the partnership would send a bad message to Israel’s enemies.

“In a sort of unreal world you can do these sort of things and feel good about helping Israel. But Oxfam has a track record of criticizing Israel–some people would call it anti-Israel–and they have a track record of this going back ten years,” He told the Algemeiner.  “You can’t join up with these organizations, because Oxfam may not want to use this fact to their advantage, but other groups on the fringes, and the BDS  (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign or the Electronic Intifada will jump on it and say look ‘UK’s premier Jewish organization supports Oxfam and we support Oxfam, therefore they’re supporting our policies.'”

Fraser continued: “I’d almost say they’re being naive. They don’t understand what it’s like on the front-lines to defend Israel, to defend Israel’s policies.”

Fraser proposes that other smaller, less mainstream Jewish organizations partner with Oxfam instead.

For its part, the Board has maintained its resolve to see the project through. In a letter posted to the Board of Deputies website Vivian Wineman, President of the Board, defended the decision, saying, “Before deciding to engage in this project its implications were considered in depth and we were given to understand certain fundamental points about Oxfam’s position.” The letter adds:

We will discontinue our involvement if OXFAM GB:

  • Supports a boycott of any type of Israeli goods.
  • Partners with or supports any organization that promotes or condones violence.
  • Partners with or supports any organisation that calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.

He added, “If in the opinion of the monitoring committee the connection is being exploited in any way to the detriment of the State of Israel then the project will be terminated.”

On Thursday the board again confirmed its participation in the project, however, deputies vote on a motion opposing the Board’s involvement with Oxfam at a plenary meeting on January 20, which means the project is still in jeopardy.

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  • Cancelling the Grow Tatzmiach project would benefit nobody: not the young people of our community, who would be denied the superb training and experience it could offer them, nor the disadvantaged of our world, whom the entire project is designed to help.

    Assuming that we actually want to change Oxfam’s policy on Israel, we have to engage in a conversation with them, and any constructive dialogue starts by exploring common ground – which in this case would be our shared opposition to poverty and famine.

    I mentioned to one of my non-Jewish housemates that the Board was considering a proposal to cut off all links with Oxfam. He thought I was joking. For a democratic organisation representing the entire Jewish community of this country, severing all ties with a high-profile and much-loved social justice charity would make us look ridiculous and out of touch with the 21st century.

    I sincerely hope that my colleagues on the Board will reach the right decision on Sunday.

  • Natalie Shaw

    Ronnie Fraser echoes the concerns of many members of the Anglo British Jewry population not just deputies who have contacted the Say No To Grow Tatzmiach Coalition.

    The general view appears to be that the community would like to engage on charitable projects but not with Oxfam which is considered an inappropriate charity given its past attitudes to Israel and her people.