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Letter to the JC (unpublished)

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August 30, 2011 by IJV

Earlier this month Beit Klal Yisrael organised  Study Day on Israel/Palestine: VOICING progressive ALTERNATIVES 2011. The seminar consisted of an afternoon of discussions and creative workshops with representatives of various groups representing alternative visions and reactions to the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine, including Joseph Finlay (Jewdas), Nadia Valman (Independent Jewish Voices), Charlie Pottins (Jewish Socialist Group), Diana Neslen (Jews for Justice for Palestinians), and Joel Schalit (author of Israel v Utopia) with Rabbi Danny Rich (Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism) as keynote speaker.

In a pre-emptive strike, the JC’s Simon Rocker reported on the event a week before it took place in “Rich talk for Israel Critics.” The following letter was sent to the JC after the event.

Dear Editor,

In response to Simon Rocker’s article on 29 July “Rich talk for Israel critics” I would like to emphasise that, having attended that meeting held by Beit Klal Yisrael last week, it was not the Israel-bashing orgy predicted by the JC. Rather, it was a rare opportunity for members of the community to engage openly with issues surrounding Zionism, Israel and indeed Jewish identity today. The discussions covered a range of topics, from the nature of democracy to conflict and diasporic Jewish identity in relation to Israel and Israelis.

You yourself have described recent developments in the Knesset as “Anti-democratic” and “a betrayal of the very essence of Israel” (Leader, July 14). Surely, then, you must concede that this should give Jews all over the world pause for thought, being itself reason enough to re-examine the link between Judaism and Zionism – which is, after all, a political movement. Liberal Judaism, BKY and Rabbi Judith Rosen-Berry should be commended for having the courage and foresight to engage with these issues.

For a growing number of Jews in Britain and Europe, support for the State of Israel as an (increasingly fundamentalist) incarnation of Zionism, can no longer be unconditional or automatic. Indeed, I would argue that this has been the case for too long. Mainstream Jewish thought and leaders cannot afford to brush aside niggling doubts about social justice, human rights and civil liberties in Israel any longer.

The State of Israel (which, need I remind you, acts in the name of all Jews, the world over), is not beyond criticism, as recent events have starkly illustrated. The idea that it is somehow dangerous to publicly voice any opposition to Israel’s actions, or that Jews are harmed by this is precisely the attitude behind the infamous boycott law which has rightly been lambasted by the defenders of freedom and democracy the world over. The hitherto successful attempts by leaders of Anglo-Jewry to make criticism of Israel a taboo and tantamount to anti-semitism or “delegitimisation” is itself anti-democratic, as such self-censorship is ultimately damaging to Jewish communities and their relations with other communities.

Unease and concerns have been bottled up for long enough. As the Knesset proceeds to trample roughshod over the rights fought for in the West and which make up the cornerstone of the founding of Israel, these will continue to come to the fore. Sunday’s seminar was a chance for much-needed introspection and examination of the nature of a Jewish state, of the fear opposing Israelis and Palestinians and whether this can be transformed into empathy in the quest for a lasting and just peace for two peoples with equal rights. I therefore implore the leaders of other denominations of Judaism to follow the Liberal community’s example, in-keeping with the central tenets of the Jewish tradition, and seek not to stifle debate but to encourage it and allow reason and justice to prevail.

Merav Pinchassoff, NW6

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