Sol Salbe just sent me a new Guardian article announcing the creation of the group, Independent Jewish Voices. Nearly 200 British Jews have had their fill of a leadership that seems to support Israeli policy and the Occupation unswervingly. That’s why they’re declaring their independence:
Independent Jewish Voices will…call for a freer debate about the Middle East within the Jewish community. Among the more than 130 signatories are Stephen Fry, Harold Pinter, Mike Leigh, Janet Suzman, Gillian Slovo and Nicole Farhi, as well as leading academics such as Eric Hobsbawm and Susie Orbach.
“We come together in the belief that 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,” the letter says. Jewish leaders in Britain, it argues “put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people” in conflict with Jewish principles of justice and compassion.
It lists the founding principles which inform the group’s mission:
1. Human rights are universal and indivisible and should be upheld without exception. This is as applicable in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as it is elsewhere.
2. Palestinians and Israelis alike have the right to peaceful and secure lives.
3. Peace and stability require the willingness of all parties to the conflict to comply with international law.
4. There is no justification for any form of racism, including anti-semitism, anti-Arab racism or Islamophobia, in any circumstance.
5. The battle against anti-semitism is vital and is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as anti-semitic.
Here is a full list of signatories.
Brian Klug, an Oxford philosophy professor, penned a masterful accompanying column which expands upon the rationale for the initiative:
…Today an oppressive and unhealthy atmosphere is leading many Jews to feel uncertain about speaking out on Israel and Zionism. People are anxious about contravening an unwritten law on what you can and cannot discuss, may or may not assert. It is a climate that raises fundamental questions: about freedom of expression, Jewish identity, representation, and the part that concerned Jews in Britain can play in assisting Israelis and Palestinians to find their way to a better future…
The Board of Deputies of British Jews (which calls itself “the voice of British Jewry”) devotes much of the time and resources of its international division to “the defence of Israel”…All of which suggests that British Jewry, speaking with one voice, stands solidly behind the Israeli government and its military operations.Two things are wrong with this suggestion. First, it’s false. Jews were deeply divided over Israel’s campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon last year. Certainly, there were those who shared the sentiment of the chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, who…said: “Israel, you make us proud.” Others felt roughly the opposite emotion.
…We reject any attempt to suppress legitimate public debate and we abhor the culture of vilification.The slur of “traitor” or “self-hating Jew” is especially noxious. For, if we feel compelled to protest against injustice to Palestinians, this is partly because of the lessons of our own history: the Jewish experience of marginalisation and persecution. Furthermore, when the language of human rights is spoken, many of us (secular and religious) hear the voices of those Hebrew prophets, rabbis, writers, activists and other Jewish figures down the centuries for whom Judaism means nothing if it does not mean social justice.
So, when we speak out against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, or the bombing of Lebanon, or discrimination against Palestinians within Israel itself, we are not turning against our Jewish identity; we are turning to it. Some of us, recalling that nearly 40 years have passed since Israel’s occupation began, hear a resonance. This was the length of time the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, near the end of which Moses gave them a directive: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). It is a compass bearing for all humanity, especially when we are trying to find our way – or help others to find theirs – to a better future.
It is refreshing to know that in many Diaspora Jewish communities including here in the U.S. and Britain cracks are appearing in massive, age-old glaciers, which are slowing beginning to fall into the sea. It is our role to ensure that our communities become more open, more flexible and more pragmatic around our relationship to Israel. Our leaders, as the Independent Jewish Voices initiative asserts, have not done Israel or their respective communities a service in marching in lock step with the worst of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and Israel’s other Arab neighbors. We look forward to a future of more broad-minded leadership here at home and one that provides hope for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace.