'Furious row raging in community'

UK: Jewish group says criticism of Israel 'censored'

Claims made by group of British Jews that Jewish community is censoring attempts to criticize Israel stir row

The Jewish community in Britain is "stifling debate" on Israel – that at least is the claim being made by a group of around a hundred British Jews, who have formed Independent Jewish Voices (IJV).


"None of us is suggesting that there is an unofficial censor who prevents individuals from expressing unpopular views about Israel or Zionism. It's what happens after people speak out - how their words are received - that is the point," Brian Klug, a founder of the group, wrote on the IJV's website.


"Moreover, individual dissenting voices get lost or drowned out when weighty bodies (like the Board of Deputies or the Chief Rabbi) appear to speak on behalf of all Jews in Britain. It is the combination of these two factors that closes down a debate that should be open," Klug added.


Last Sunday, the British Observer newspaper claimed a "furious row has been raging in the international Jewish community over the rights and wrongs of criticizing Israel."


The report declared that "one thing's for sure: any appearance of consensus over the Middle East has been shattered."


'Enlightening Jews about the truth'  

So far, the "furious row" has been mostly confined to the opinion sections of the British Guardian newspaper website, known for being a stage for hostile stances towards Israel.


Other than excited reports in sections of the British press not known for their love of Israel, the group has also drawn support from figures such as Azzam Tamimi, spokesman of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), which is the British wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.


In a London rally against Israel last year, Tamimi shouted: "Anyone in the world, with faith or without faith, must come together in order to eradicate this cancer from the body of humanity."


"The Independent Jewish Voices project is excellent news. It will hopefully pave the way for enlightening Jews about the truth of what happened to them," Tamimi wrote in the Guardian website on Saturday, under the title of "Let us co-exist."


Voices from outside the community?  

Members of Britain's Jewish community, attending the Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, dismissed out of hand claims that debate was being stifled. "I think they assert something that isn't true," Anthony Julius, a prominent British Jewish lawyer, and activist within the community, told Ynetnews on Monday. "It's a shame they talk about an oppressive atmosphere," he added.


"I'm struck of by the vacuous nature of their arguments, their lack of answer to so many issues" Julius said, noting that IJV members failed to address the attempts to boycott Israel in Britain. The IJV's claims of "Zionist censorship" were reminiscent of rhetoric from other quarters, Julius added.


Members of IJV should be "welcomed" into the Jewish community, irrespective of their views, Julius said. "Many of them don't have links to the institutions of the Jewish community, such as synagogues… they have not been involved in discussions on the future of the Jewish people. Existing institutions should reach out and involve them," he added.


'No impact on mainstream'

Jeremy Newmark, CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council in Britain, said members of IJV had no ties to the community. "These are people who have no profile in the community or in Jewish life in recent history," he told Ynetnews, adding: "In reality, they have no track record of attempting to engage with the mainstream."


Newmark added that the group has "failed to make an impact in mainstream UK media… most of the media seems to have basically ignored them, after realizing they don't represent the majority of the Jewish community." He added that during one televised BBC debate, an IJV representative "was left speechless" by pro-Israel columnist Melanie Phillips.


US debate  

In the US, a parallel controversy has begun following a paper by an Indiana University professor, Alvin Rosenfeld, who said a number of prominent Jews, including historian Tony Judt, and playwright Tony Kushner, were responsible for encouraging anti-Semitism by exaggerated and extreme criticisms of Israel.


"I am certainly not looking to shut down debate, I'm looking to advance it," Rosenfeld was quoted by the Jewish Week as saying last week. "I'm looking to join the issue in terms that don't, in fact, smear Israel with a Nazi brush or a South African apartheid brush," he added.


Groups such as IJV were nothing new in the history of the Jewish people, Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice-Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told Ynetnews. "If they want to do irresponsible things to justify the existence of their organization, they can," Hoenlein said, adding: "We've had these groups all along. They spring up, and then they disappear."


פרסום ראשון: 02.13.07, 17:18
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