The Board Update

Created on 15/5/2005

The Board of Deputies of British Jews held its plenary session in Bournemouth in May. This was a return to one of my many homes and it was great to be back in so warm and inviting a town.

I am proud to report that every seat was taken and there were over 200 Deputies who had made the journey out of a total in the nation of about 300. Not bad for a bunch of unpaid volunteers.

The Mayor of Bournemouth made a very gracious speech welcoming the Board to her town. The Mayor commented that the Jewish community was a vital and integral part of the town and its heritage and was much valued by all. The weather was miserable on Shabbat and she declared that the council had dismissed the officer responsible and his replacement was clearly doing a better job as the weather was much improved.

Sir John Butterfill, the Bournemouth West MP addressed the Board. He is an impressive but gentle speaker and clearly a good friend both to the Jewish community in this country and Israel. He has long proven to be one of the few voices in the House of Commons unafraid to defend Israel even when it’s been hard to do so against a rising current of hate and vitriol.

Sir John commented on several aspects of the election generally. More specifically he noted there had been more than a whiff of anti-Semitism in the way some members of the Labour party had described both Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin, particularly in their printed material. He went on to discuss the benefits or otherwise of Proportional Representation, a system with which he disagrees. He pointed out that during one trip to Israel he had met with the late President Chaim Herzog who had told him that if he could do one thing before his death for Israel it would have been to switch that country’s system to first past the post as in the UK. He felt it would have enhanced the country’s democracy and stability and provided it with stronger Governments and leaders and it was this condition that provided the best chance of peace.

Sir John added that should we have had PR the BNP’s 200,000 votes would have certainly given them representation in Parliament. Not what we first think about when we think of the positive side of this system of election.

There had been cases of Asylum Seekers in Bournemouth managing to get them onto the Election Register before they were discovered and Sir John is certain that this would prove just the tip of the iceberg. Clearly there was a case, in his opinion, for formal voter registration with a clear and undoubted identification system.

The Parliamentarian closed with an oversight on faith schools, the BBC’s impartiality, or lack of it, the granting of peerages and other awards to such as Orla Guerin and Jenny Tongue, and the recently proposed ban by certain Christian investment groups on Caterpillar. This last proposal he lambasted for being both insensitive and wrong. It relates to the fact that Israel’s Defence Force has used bulldozers sold it to it by that firm to knock down the houses proven to harbour those who have perpetrated terrorist attacks on Israel.

Regarding faith schools the point was made that Islamic schools should employ a more inclusive curriculum, taught in English as Jewish faith schools do. Of course Islamic schools could teach prayers in Arabic just as Jewish schools teach their prayers in Hebrew.

Sir John shares the Board’s commonly accepted perception that there was and remains a lack of impartiality at the BBC where it concerns Israel. Whilst we all recognise that there is some desire among certain areas of the Corporation’s leadership to correct this imbalance there is a long way to travel before our desire for the BBC’s impartial destination is reached.

The Member for Bournemouth West shared the common surprise and distaste for the awarding of such as Orla Guerin and Ms. Tongue with awards more normally given to those who have given outstanding and long term service to the country or at least their own constituency within it.

Sir John was thanked for his excellent contribution by Dr. Jerry Lewis who noted that the MP had never failed to support our community or Israel and expressed the wish that there would be more such Members of Parliament, a view which we all shared.

We then celebrated Israel’s 57th birthday and all those who have fallen to defend her. It is amazing how much our little country has achieved in that short time, and despite all the odds against it. We can all be proud of Israel and her people. They have done remarkably well in almost impossible conditions.

There was a very detailed debate about the recent Association of University Teachers academic ban on any connection with Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities.

Of course this ban is abhorrent to any right thinking person. How can anyone protect the right of the Palestinians by taking away the rights of academic congress with Israel? Even Palestinian academics have argued against this ban and were joined by every British newspaper. Even normally anti Israel papers such as the Independent have been firm in their rejection of this ban,

Ask yourself how this ban would be communicated if Israel were really ostracised. You wouldn’t be able to do so without Israeli technology in your mobile phone, nor would you be able to send an email since the processor in your computer is likely to have been designed in Israel, and a great many other technologies were produced in Israel and so on. Who loses if Israel were ever cut off from this country? Probably this country.

This type of ban and the logic for it has no basis in reality. What it’s really about is anti-Zionism and it borders on anti-Semitism. Does anyone seriously believe the spurious reasoning behind this ban? If they were then why is there no ban on academic centres in countries like China for what they did and still do in Tibet or Tiananmen Square. How about Iran, Syria, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Burma and thirty or forty other countries for their abuses of human rights, torture, arrest without trial etc?

This all means a great deal to me. I work as a Chief Executive of a media company but also, for the last decade in various capacities for universities all over the UK. I deal with insidious anti-Semitism posing as anti-Zionism all the time. I make it my business to fight it wherever it appears. It is awful that I have to report that this situation is worsening all the time. You would be upset and perhaps as horrified as me to witness this in all its abhorrent forms. Suffice it to say students are being victimised and bullied purely because they are Jewish. I have received threats, and I am not alone, for having the temerity to state that there is another point of view.

The worst example of a British university going wrong in this regard has been SOAS. This establishment has a history and a present of terrible pressure and bullying being allowed against its Jewish students. Even its Student Union has joined in this behaviour that has resulted in a wide variety of insulting manners, physical assaults, threats and intimidation. Remember I am not talking about pre-war Berlin, but present day London.

It seems to me that there is a direct correlation between extreme Islamic radical student groups; a hard left union agenda and unreasoning, unceasing and total hatred of anything Israeli. Presently there is some potential for a peace deal in the Middle East. Even some hard line terrorist groups have ceased, albeit begrudgingly and temporarily, attacking Israel; but not the AUT. They choose now to continue their attacks on Israel. What it means is that Israel can never do right in their eyes. There really does appear to be two sets of rules, one for every other country and another for Israel. In addition one feels compelled to ask if the overt racism being experienced by Jewish people in this country today, particularly in our university campuses would be acceptable if visited on any other racial group. Sadly we know the answer. We have to put a stop to this.

The Board of Deputies is our best chance of meeting these challenges. The fact that the Prime Minister attended its annual gala dinner, and the month before the Board met with the leader of the opposition, and next month is meeting Charles Kennedy points the way forward. Our best, our only coherent response to what is happening is to remain organized, and learn to ever better employ our political effort as effectively as possible. On the bright side I can assure you that every issue I have outlined is promptly being dealt with by the Board. They really are your “Jewish” voice in the wider world.

Later there was discussion on next year’s celebration of the anniversary of the Jews being invited back into this country exactly three hundred and fifty years ago after an absence of about four hundred years. The intention is that there will be different form of celebration in all of our communities. No doubt we’ll be coming up with some ideas of our own in due course. I can’t wait to see our Chairman dressed as a Roundhead.

A Scottish Deputy pointed out there needn’t be any such celebration in Scotland since there had never been any such ban of Jews in that country. Another Scottish Deputy helpfully then pointed out that the reason for the lack of a ban on Jews there was very simple, there were no Jews living in Scotland to be expelled in the first place.

Three hundred and fifty years later and we are still fighting.