U.K. Zionist Federation Refuses to Accept Left-wing pro-Israel Movement

The split in the pro-Israel community in Britain has been clear and evident for years now. The question is, why does Yachad need the Zionist Federation's recognition?

A controversy has engulfed the Jewish and Zionist establishment in Britain over the last couple of days over the refusal of the UK's Zionist Federation to accept the left-wing movement, Yachad, as an affiliated organization. What is surprising about it is mainly in the fact that anyone is actually surprised.

The split in the pro-Israel community in Britain has been clear and evident for years now, with on the one side those who are resolutely against any significant criticism of Israel and its government by Jews in Britain, and on the other, members of the community who believe in expressing their support for Israel along with their criticism of certain Israeli policies and emphasizing the urgent necessity of a two-state solution.

While Yachad has not been ostracized, there is a sizable body of opinion which sees it as an anti-Israel group and has contributed to the decision to reject its recognition as an affiliated organization. However, since the rejection was made public, a long list of mainstream Jewish organizations have made it clear that they are opposed to the Zionist Federation's opinion and that Yachad from their perspective is certainly a Zionist movement in its own right.

Yachad was set up two years ago as a pro-Israel and pro-peace organization, focused mainly on providing a forum within the community where British Jews could debate the core issues of Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. The movement has been active among Jewish students and takes British Jews who are on vacation in Israel on one-day tours of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, presenting them the implications of settlement building on a possible diplomatic solution with the Palestinians.

Unlike JStreet in the United States, a movement with similar objectives, Yachad has not engaged in political lobbying but remained almost exclusively focused within the community. This has enabled the movement to maintain a wary relationship with the Israeli embassy in London, including meetings between Ambassador Daniel Taub and Yachad members.

By and large, Jewish community leaders have felt that it makes sense to keep Yachad and its activities within the fold, rather than alienating those Jews, particularly of the younger generation who feel their views have no place inside established British Jewry. Aside from one serious clash with a large Jewish organization, Yachad's campaign against the alleged involvement of the Jewish National Fund in the eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the criticisms of the new movement were largely muted.

Accusations that Yachad is "aiding the enemy" such as appeared on the website of the British Israel Coalition have been relatively rare. However, the vote by the national council of the Zionist Federation earlier this week not to accept Yachad as an affiliated organization proved that its critics were simply biding their time.

Yachad entered a lengthy discussion with the Zionist Federation nearly a year ago to become an affiliated organization and it is unclear which of the member organizations on its national council formed the majority which rejected Yachad's application. In an email to Yachad's founder and director Hannah Weisfeld, Zionist Federation chairman, Paul Charney admitted that "there were no grounds for rejection, it simply went to vote, and the vote went against you." But the outcome hardly surprised those in the community who have long felt that the Zionist Federation has become the preserve of those who will not accept any meaningful debate on Israel's policies.

The question now is why did Yachad at all need the Zionist Federation's recognition? Weisfeld and her supporters are well aware of the kind of opposition they were up against and certainly don't feel they need anyone's stamp of approval on their Zionism. Actually, it was a win-win situation for them. In the unlikely case of their being accepted as an affiliated organization, they would have a greater opportunity to change the focus and emphases of the British Zionist from within, but the summary rejection has now given them an even better chance to articulate their case and promote a real debate over who speaks for Britain's Jews and articulates their true feelings toward Israel.

Yakir Tzur