Who speaks for Jewish people in Britain?

Submitted by martin on 21 February, 2009 - 2:35 Author: Ira Berkovic

While many, perhaps most, Jews globally do feel some sense of identification with the Israeli-Jewish nation (its people, at least, if not the State of Israel itself), and while many Jews are understandably a great deal more sensitive to the threat posed by Hamas’s anti-semitic project than many on the British left, it is by no means the case that world Jewry is united in support for the colonialist adventures of the Israeli government in the Occupied Territories.

The “Israel solidarity rallies” organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (the most significant and influential communalist organisation within the Jewish community in Britain) will have particularly depressed those large numbers of Jews in Britain and around the world who have no desire whatsoever to express solidarity with Israel’s current brutal, colonialist onslaught in Gaza.

While the organisations are not directly analogous, the role of the Board of Deputies within the Jewish community and wider society may be roughly compared to the role played by groups like the Muslim Association of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain within the Muslim community; they exist as bastions of reactionary, bourgeois politics within their own communities and to promote themselves as the official representatives of those communities in wider society.

For socialists, ethno-cultural communities have no “official representatives”; they are deeply divided along a wide variety of axes, most crucially along class lines. Just as we do not unquestioningly accept the right of reactionary, ruling-class bigots like Sir Iqbal Sacranie (of the Muslim Council of Britain) to define what it means to be part of the Muslim community in Britain today, nor should we accept the Board of Deputies’ assertion that being Jewish means supporting the actions of the Israeli state.

Unfortunately, much of the left has been involved in helping to promote an even more reactionary set of “community representatives” for the Jewish community; the ultra-religious Neturei Karta sect (made up of Hassidic Jews who oppose the state of Israel on the basis that Zionism is, historically, a largely secular movement and that only the coming of the Messiah can deliver the Holy Land back to the Jews) is frequently held up by groups such as the SWP as an example of dissident Jewish community opinion.

But the Medievalist bigots of Neturei Karta have even less of a claim to speak for Britain’s Jews than the Board of Deputies do. They are a Jewish community analogue of the Taliban and, for socialists who still remember that we’re supposed to oppose such forces, they should be treated as such.

In the days leading up to the most recent “Israel solidarity rally” (which the Board claims was attended by 15,000 people), the Board's e-list was hacked and a message was sent round purporting to cancel the rally and proclaiming the Board's adoption of a position of opposition to Israel's siege on Gaza based on consistently democratic two-states politics. The radical Jewish community website Jewdas claimed responsibility for the hoax — an encouraging sign for socialists, radicals and dissidents both within the Jewish community and without that the Board's pro-war position is not going unchallenged, and that the obscurantist lunatics of Neturei Karta are not being allowed to present themselves as the sole voice of anti-war Jewish opinion.

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