British Jews break away from 'pro-Israeli' Board of Deputies

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The Independent Online

A new organisation to represent British Jews is to be launched today in response to a perceived pro-Israeli bias in existing Jewish bodies in the UK.

The founders of Independent Jewish Voices, IJV, which will include such luminaries as the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter and the historian Eric Hobsbawm, say that the group is being established as a counter-balance to the uncritical support for Israeli policies offered by established bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

More than 100 high-profile British Jews have already signed the group's founding declaration: "Those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of the occupied people."

Other signatories include the film director Mike Leigh, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman, fashion designer Nicole Farhi and the actors Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker. The initiative was born out of frustration with the assumption by non-Jews that Jewish opinion in the UK is monolithic in its support for Israel's policies.

Professor Hobsbawm told The Independent: "It is important for non-Jews to know that there are Jews ... who do not agree with the apparent consensus within the Jewish community that the only good Jew is one who supports Israel."

Supporters hope to create an opportunity for Jews of different political affiliations to express opinions "without being accused of disloyalty or being dismissed as self-hating", said a spokeswoman. "The idea is to create a platform for critical debate about the situation in the Middle East that until now has not existed."

IJV is not positioning itself as a replacement for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, but its charter includes an implicit rebuke for the Board. "The broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole," it says.

Founded in 1760, the Board of Deputies has long been seen as the established mouthpiece for British Jews. But its unstinting support for Israel has drawn censure from critics of the country's tactics in the occupied territories. The psychologist Susie Orbach, who has also signed the IJV declaration, said: "As a Jew, I feel a particular duty to oppose the injustice that is done to Palestinians ... The Israeli government does not speak for me."

Mr Bindman said: "The easy assumption that all Jews support Israel and its ill-treatment of Palestinians is an insidious form of racism. I, like many Jews in and outside Israel, am appalled and disgusted by the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory and its brutal treatment of Palestinians."

At the height of the bombardments of Lebanon and Gaza last year, the Board of Deputies organised a rally to support Israel.

David Goldberg, the author and emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, said: "When Israel's Jewish supporters abroad don't speak out against disastrous policies, that neither guarantee safety for her citizens nor produce the right climate in which to try and reach a just peace with the Palestinians ... then they are ... acting against Israel's own long-term interests."

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