Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), a Jewish representational body, is facing calls to step down following the release of a joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), a move slammed as “beyond astounding” by commentator Melanie Philips. She also dismissed the BoD as “not fit for purpose”.
The Jewish News reports that the joint statement has been criticised for a number of reasons, foremost amongst them being that it gives equal weight to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia; that it allows the MCB to claim that Israel has been targeting civilians in Gaza; and that it gives the MCB a veneer of respectability, despite that organisation being linked to a number of radical Islamists.
The joint statement calls for “peace, wisdom and hope over [the] conflict in Israel and Palestine”, but includes the line: “The death of every civilian is a tragedy, and every effort should be taken to minimise such losses. The targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions.”
Mr Wineman has said that he understood the sentence to be a clear call on Hamas to stop targeting Israeli civilians. However, the commentator Melanie Philips, writing on Facebook, retorted: “It should have been blindingly obvious that the MCB would do what it has immediately done – claim that the Board had agreed with it that both Israel and Hamas had targeted civilians. The Board has thus now enabled the MCB to claim that the UK’s Jewish community leadership has condemned Israel for targeting civilians.
“It is beyond astounding that the Board of Deputies should have had anything to do with the MCB at all. Its action has also dealt a blow to all who are struggling to deal with Islamic extremism in the UK. For at a stroke the MCB, which in any sane universe should be shunned as a threat not just to Jews but to Britain, has been awarded a kite-mark of respectability and decency by – of all people – the Jews.”
The call to resign comes in the form of a resolution initiated by former vice-president of the Board, Jerry Lewis, and supported by former presidents Lionel Kopelowitz and Eldred Tabachnik. It calls on Wineman to step down “after one of the most disappointing and depressing periods in the Board’s otherwise illustrious history,” and “notes the severe damage to the reputation of the Board this issue has caused whilst also embarrassing the wider Jewish community”.
It also contends that the Board “has lamentably failed to deliver to the Jewish community the leadership required during a period of considerable stress both with regards to events in and around Israel and the subsequent increased levels of anti-Semitism in the UK”.
Mr Lewis has said that there is “no question” that the resolution would attract the 20 signatures required to take it forward to a plenary meeting.
However, Mr Wineman has said that he has “no intention” of resigning. “We’ve been lobbying politicians, speaking to the media, fighting boycotts, we’ve meetings set up with the BBC and we’re seeing the British retailers consortium. We’re better at taking action than telling people about it.”
Speaking to the Jewish News, he added: “If you want to fight anti-Semitism you have to speak to people outside the community, in particular the Muslim community.”
The leaders of the Jewish community, and the BoD in particular, have come under increasing fire as anti-Semitic attacks have increased in numbers.
Speaking at the Rally Against Anti-Semitism held in London last weekend, Douglas Murray called on those present to “Please demand more from your communal leadership. If you’re going to have a communal leadership, expect more of them. Demand more of them. Don’t wait weeks and weeks for people to have to take the initiative for a day like this themselves.”
Commenting on the events, Edgar Davidson, who pens a blog confronting anti-Semitism wrote: “The Jewish Community of the UK has been demanding its ‘leaders’ show forceful support for Israel in the light of the hysterical anti-Israel hatred and bigotry that has engulfed the country.
“Much of that hatred has actually been vigorously promoted by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) who have sponsored all of the major anti-Israel demonstrations that have taken place.
“We expected our ‘leaders’ not only to challenge the false narrative about Israel presented by the media and politicians but also to make clear to the public that the totally unjustified singling out and de-legitimisation of the Jewish State for daring to defend itself from terrorists was, by definition, an act of anti-Semitism that must not be accepted.”