LONDON - Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's visit to London this week is causing a furor within the local Jewish community. While one of the main pro-Israel organizations in Britain, the local branch of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), will be hosting an open event for community members with Lieberman today, a number of Jewish groups have come out against his invitation.
The protest was launched by members of the Zionist-leftist youth movement Habonim Dror, who published an online petition questioning the JNF's "involvement in activities which jeopardize the possibility of peace and Israel's ability to maintain a strong democracy," specifically evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and the demolition of buildings at the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Negev.
In addition to these questions part of an ongoing campaign by Jewish leftist organizations against some of the activities funded by the venerable Zionist organization the petitioners also criticized the invitation of Lieberman, a "leader of a far-right party, who alongside instigating anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset has also advocated for the transfer of many of Israel's Arab citizens to the West Bank."
Some 300 people have already signed the petition online and a number of high-profile Jewish leaders have also joined the protest, including Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, co-chair of the Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism, who said in a statement that while his movement supports "the presence of Israeli politicians in the UK, educating the Jewish community and raising awareness among the wider British public to Israel's achievements, concerns and needs, we cannot support the invitation given to Avigdor Lieberman by the JNF. The presence of someone who expresses fundamentalist right-wing views, in particular relating to Israeli Arabs who make up 20 percent of Israel's population, will damage Israel advocacy in the UK and further disillusion those who once held the JNF in high esteem. Avigdor Lieberman does not represent the views of the majority of Israelis, nor that of most British Jews. If it is the strategy of JNF to align themselves with his opinions ... then it is difficult to provide the advocacy that Israel sorely needs in the Diaspora."
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner of the Movement for Reform Judaism said that she was "surprised and dismayed to see that Lieberman has been invited to address the Jewish community in London. Israel advocacy is most effective when its case is made rationally and compassionately."
She said that for the JNF "to invite someone with fundamentalist right-wing views from outside the consensus of mainstream Israeli society suggests it is concerned with something other than effective advocacy."
Samuel Hayek, chairman of JNF UK, responded angrily, describing the petition by Habonim Dror members as "libelous comments." According to Hayek, "JNF UK is not involved in any of the disputes with sections of Israel's Bedouin citizens."
He asked whether "those who have signed this petition have spoken to the Bedouin farmers whose livelihoods are under threat from the squatters at Al-Araqib. Or have they spoken to the Bedouin inhabitants of Arad, who benefit from the JNF UK-funded medical center? Habonim Dror and [pro-Israel peace group] Yachad seem to be more than happy to side blindly with the squatters and repeat the lies propagated by those who work to delegitimize Israel. It's a pity for these organizations that truth and fashionable causes appear to be mutually exclusive."
Regarding Lieberman's invitation, Hayek said that "Avigdor Lieberman is a democratically-elected politician and the foreign minister of Israel. We are proud to have him speak exclusively at a JNF UK event, following his meeting with Foreign Secretary William Hague. Our event offers a fascinating opportunity for people to listen and debate the issues that concern our community."
Lieberman's office said in response: "There is no need to respond to marginal elements of the delusional left whose only purpose is to defame the state of Israel."