U.K. Jewish Leader Steps Down Due to Ban on Criticizing Israel

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A passerby carries a Union Flag umbrella past a pro-Palestine protest outside London's Houses of Parliament, Oct. 13, 2014. British lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution recognizing Palestine.Credit: Reuters

The treasurer of the United Kingdom Jewish Board of Deputies, the representative body of British Jewry, has stepped down saying he “could not contemplate another three years of not being able to speak freely,” the Jewish Chronicle reported.

Laurence Brass, an asylum judge, had been tipped to run for board president in the May election after being twice elected as treasurer. But he told a plenary meeting of the executive on Sunday that “I decided that to be true to my principles and beliefs was more important than seeking office.”

Brass said he had been “bursting to criticize the Israeli administration” for six years and took the board to task for preventing honorary officers from expressing personal opinions.

“I felt constrained not to have been able to speak out on subjects that are close to my heart, such as the treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the discrimination still being suffered by Arab citizens of Israel,” Brass said.

“There have been countless occasions over the last six years when I’ve been bursting to criticize the Israeli administration, but I’ve restrained myself.

“I want to be released from the chains of office to contribute to the wider debate on the Middle East, as well as on the critical political issues that I consider to be important here at home.”

Saying that he had encountered “very harsh and often quite abusive personal criticism” when speaking out, Brass called for his replacement to be free to speak out.

Brass received a standing ovation after his speech, the Chronicle reported, but board president Vivian Wineman cautioned other executive members to maintain their silence.

“People aren’t interested in our private opinions; they’re interested in what the Board thinks and what the Jewish community thinks,” Wineman said. “When we express ourselves, we always have to bear that in mind.”

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