British Jewish group sparks outrage with Gaza blockade criticism
'Independent Jewish Voices', a coalition of prominent Jewish activists and academics, says Israel breaching international law.
LONDON - A controversial coalition of prominent Jewish activists and academics has reignited controversy in the British Jewish community after taking out an paid advertisement in The Times this week calling for Israel to lift its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip and accusing the state of breaching international law.
"Independent Jewish Voices" was formed a year ago and counts Nobel laureate Harold Pinter and actor Stephen Fry among its prominent signatories.
Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm is also a signatory though neither he nor Fry and Pinter - the groups most recognisable names - signed Wednesday's statement.
The group was formed to provide an alternative to the Board of Deputies of British Jews - a cross communal Jewish organisation dating back to 1760 - who the IJV felt were inauthentically presenting themselves as the exclusive voice of Judaism in Britain. IJV members say that the Board of Deputies refuses to allow criticism of Israel and this presents a unrepresentative picture of Jewish opinion in the U.K.
The statement which appeared on the inside pages of the paper was signed by 250 of the groups members. Entitled "End the siege of Gaza!", the statement condemned Israel's actions in blockading Gaza as a violation of international law, and also called for a halt to Palestinian rocket attacks.
"The collective punishment of the population of Gaza is illegal under international law. We condemn attacks on all civilians including the rocket attacks on the residents of Southern Israel," said the statement.
The statement also called for an end to the blockade and for "both sides to observe a ceasefire."
Feminist academic Jacqueline Rose who describes herself as a "critic of Zionism," is one of the groups principle advocates. She said that the motivation for the statement was in response to the current crisis in Gaza.
"IJV arose partly in response to our sense that bodies in the U.K. who claim to represent British Jewry make statements as though they were speaking for all British Jews. While many of us have a high profile - we are not claiming that we are excluded from the debate - we formed to make it clear that British Jews do not speak with one voice."
The group has views on everything from th right of Norman Finkelstein to speak at the Oxford Union which they support, to the proposed academic and economic boycotts of Israel which members disagree on. Rose says that while the group disagrees over the boycott they "support it being discussed openly, something which regrettably may be illegal in the UK." She argues that "the battle against antisemitism is weakened by its association with criticism of Israel."
Rose says that the network took out the advertisement in The Times rather that what might be seen as its more obvious political home The Guardian to get its message beyond the left wing readership who would generally approve of the group's credo, to a more mainstream audience.
She argues that "Israel must negotiate with the elected Hamas government for there to be any kind of a solution to the rocket fire on the south."
The group caused a media storm following its launch, with a full page advertisement in The Times, a week long discussion on The Guardian's Website and extensive media coverage. However, the group does not take a firm position on the proposed academic and economic boycott of Israel, with some of its members supportive while other are in opposition.
One of its signatories, Tony Greenstein is a trade unionist who has publicly called for a boycott of Israeli goods and is also a member of "Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods."
A critic of the group, lawyer and academic Anthony Julius, disputed the claim that Israel was in breach of international law.
"It is by no means unarguable that Israel is right to treat Gaza as an enemy territory. It is hard to see on what basis Israel's actions can be seen as a violation and only one or two of the signatories could grapple with issues involved."
Julius argues that the group is "fraying at the edges and has lost some of its membership. It is unable to speak with a coherent voice on any issue, such as the academic boycott of Israel."