Page last updated at 05:40 GMT, Saturday, 17 January 2009

Fault-line between Jews over Gaza

By Robert Pigott
Religious Affairs Correspondent

'Jews for justice for Palestinians' banner
British Jews have held demonstrations in support of Palestinians

As the bloodshed has continued in Gaza, public opinion in Israel has remained firmly supportive of the offensive against Hamas.

But the harrowing pictures of the aftermath of the conflict have raised a clamour of criticism elsewhere in the world and divided Jewish opinion overseas.

On Thursday, the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco declared itself "in solidarity with the innocent victims who are suffering in Gaza".

It described the residents of Gaza as "sitting targets... suffering under the bombs, the widespread destruction, the lack of food and water..." and added: "The pictures of Palestinian children torn from life are unbearable."

The director of the Foundation of Judeo-Moroccan Cultural Heritage, Simon Levy, described the killing in Gaza as unjustified and "more than deplorable".

"It is not like that, that I see Judaism," he said.

'Exploiting guilt'

The idea that the assault in Gaza is tarnishing the image of Judaism internationally has been echoed by Jewish protesters in non-Arab countries.

Last week, a group of eight Canadian-Jewish women occupied the Israeli consulate in Toronto.

One of the organisers Judy Rebick, a lecturer at Ryerson University, said: "There are many Jews across the world who are ashamed and don't want this massacre to take place in our name."

My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza
Sir Gerald Kaufman

The following day there were similar protests by Jewish women in Montreal and Boston.

Some of the strongest language elsewhere has come from British Jews, notably Gerald Kaufman - a leading figure in the Labour Party.

He accused Israel of exploiting the guilt felt by non-Jews in order to continue its offensive in Gaza.

Sir Gerald, who has been a stern critic of Israel in recent years, said: "The present Israeli government ruthless and cynically exploits the continuing guilt from Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians."

In a speech in the House of Commons, Sir Gerald recalled how his grandmother was shot by invading German troops as she lay ill in bed.

In a stinging rebuke, he said: "My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza."


Sir Gerald's remarks have drawn a sharp response from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which insisted that while there was rightly a large spectrum of opinion within the British Jewish community, the "overwhelming majority" agreed that "Israel has been subjected to the most deplorable attacks from Hamas over the last eight years and that a response was necessary".

Mark Frazer, of the board's defence and group relations division, said: "The Holocaust reference is used because of the horrific images and experiences it conjures up for the Jewish community.

A pro-Israel demonstration in Manchester
Protests backing Israel have also been held across the UK

"Jews such as Gerald Kaufman feel that because of their Jewish identity they have the right to berate Israel and her supporters with this comparison without any concern for the truth.

"It is quite simply inexcusable."

However, Sir Gerald is by no means alone in stern criticism of Israel's action.

In a letter to the Guardian last week, a group of 78 people describing themselves as being "of Jewish origin" spoke of "Israeli aggression," likening it to apartheid South Africa and calling for "a programme of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions".

Liberal synagogues

Something of a fault-line exists within the British Jewish population between "cultural" and "religiously observant" Jews.

Cultural Jews differ from others because they tend not to see religious observance, or even belief, as necessary to their status as Jews, or to the preservation of the Jewish community.

Critically, the two groups often disagree about Israel, and, moreover, how far loyalty towards Israel should prevent British Jews from criticising the country.

However, in this case, religious leaders - albeit of liberal synagogues - have joined the outcry.

In a letter to The Spectator magazine, Rabbi Tony Bayfield, head of the Movement for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism - and a group of other prominent Jews - called for an immediate ceasefire and the permanent lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

Sir Gerald Kaufman
Sir Gerald Kaufman has been highly critical of Israel's actions

They expressed their "horror" at the loss of life on both sides, but said their intervention was based specifically on their concern for Israel's welfare.

They said "Israel had a right to respond" to the rocket attacks, but the "continued military offensive could strengthen extremists... exacerbate tensions inside Israel with its one million Arab citizens and... threaten to undermine international support for Israel".

As recent demonstrations in London and elsewhere have shown, what happens in the Middle East raises powerful emotions among ordinary people.

They are clearly matched by the passions aroused among Jews around the world.

Print Sponsor

MP makes Israeli troops Nazi link
16 Jan 09 |  Manchester

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific