Three weeks ago the Jewish Chronicle published a front page attack on the Pears Foundation for providing funds to Forward Thinking, a charity aiming to build greater understanding ‘between the diverse grassroots Muslim communities and the wider society’ and ‘to promote a more inclusive peace process in the Middle East’. The basis of the attack was that at one of its many meetings, one of the people on the panel had a connection to the 7/7 bombers. No credit was given for the wide ranging work of Forward Thinking in bringing together protagonists – in this country and the Middle East – from different sides, or for the times Israelis have been invited to give their government’s viewpoint.
On 26 May it was the turn of London Citizens to come under attack from the UK’s leading, and longest-established, Jewish periodical. London Citizens is a widely admired community group, which works within London’s different faith communities and has been the main force behind establishing the concept of a Living Wage for the city’s lowest paid workers. The JC‘s criticism was that, during the 2008-9 Gaza conflict, the Deputy Chair of London Citizens, Junaid Ahmed, had spoken in support of the ‘heroes of Palestine’, including figures involved in Hamas.
Both Forward Thinking and London Citizens are respected for the work they do to support some of the most vulnerable communities. The attacks by the JC, if successful, would have the effect of shutting down debate, preventing dialogue between communities and making organisations afraid to work with disaffected Muslims.
We may not like Hamas, either their beliefs or their actions. But the reality is that Hamas are the elected government of Gaza and were seen by many in the Muslim community – in this country and elsewhere – as defending their communities during Operation Cast Lead. Many Israelis (57 per cent according to this poll) see the boycott of Hamas as futile and believe that Israel must talk to Hamas, not because they agree with the organisation but because they recognize you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends.
The JC would not only not talk to Hamas, it would ostracise any organisation which includes any individual who has ever spoken in favour of Hamas. Now some care needs to be taken when considering which organisations to encourage, given that there undoubtedly are extremist elements in the Muslim community. However, the route of the JC, of effectively only approving of talking with those who agree with you, is a path towards isolation for the Jewish community. As Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg put it in a separate piece by Martin Bright in last week’s JC: ‘The Jewish community will be far weaker if we all shelter within a comfort zone labelled “They all hate us out there”.’
It is time for the JC to put aside its witch-hunt and welcome those groups seeking to engage with the Muslim community and with Palestinians, whether or not we agree with their viewpoint.
Visit my blog here.
Follow me on Twitter: @tonylerman