BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Analysis: Sacks speaks out over Israel
Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi in the UK
Jonathan Sacks: Highest profile Jewish voice

UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has spoken out over Israeli policy - how will his comments be greeted?
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, comes around very shortly.

So if you were a chief rabbi considering speaking out over Israeli conduct and the need for a meeting of minds with Islam, there couldn't be a better time to encourage your community to reflect.

Professor Jonathan Sacks leads Britain's Orthodox Jews, representing one strand of opinion within a diverse community.


Many people would welcome dialogue with Islamic groups. He is reflecting what the majority of the Jewish community think

Leslie Bunder, jewish.co.uk
As the highest profile voice among British Jews, his words inevitably attract the headlines.

The question is, how many people agree with him - and will his comments further divide the British Jewish community or bring it closer together?

One of the greatest divides is over the relationship that this community should have with Israel.

On one side, there are those who support the Israeli government all the way.

The run-up to May's Israel Solidarity Rally in London was regarded as a three-line whip to Britain's orthodox Jewish community to come out in support.

Dr Sacks was at pains to portray it as a non-political pro-peace gathering.

Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon: Divisions over his policies
But he later made no bones of his disappointment after the crowd cheered Binyamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, who had taken the platform with a typically hawkish speech, denouncing Palestinian leaders and justifying Israeli violence.

In contrast, left-leaning liberal members of the Jewish community say they are constantly frustrated by a media that presents British Jewish opinion as unquestionably supporting Israel.

Since then, some 40 members of this loosely organised caucus have symbolically renounced their right to Israeli citizenship, arguing that a nation cannot offer safety to Jews if it takes on the role of "occupier and oppressor".

What Sacks said

Jonathan Sacks has always been regarded as being more dovish than the generally hawkish Orthodox community, though seemingly reluctant to spell out exactly where he stands.


What Jonathan Sacks has said is what liberal and reform rabbis have been saying for many years

Dr Charles Middleburgh, liberal rabbi
In his comments, Dr Sacks draws on the book of Exodus in the Bible which tells Jews not to "ill treat or oppress" others because "... you were strangers in the land of Egypt".

"You cannot ignore a command that is repeated 36 times in the Mosaic books," said Dr Sacks.

"You were exiled in order to know what it feels like to be an exile. I regard that as one of the core projects of a state that is true to Judaic principle.

"I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic, because it is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long-run with our deepest ideals."

Secondly, he argues that it can only be productive to seek dialogue with radical Islam, revealing that he held talks with a senior Iranian cleric.

As expected, the comments have already drawn ire from some quarters in Israel and in the UK.

Likud-Herut GB said that it denounced Dr Sacks' comments and that he was displaying "moral blindness".

"Some of his comments as reported can only act as an encouragement to our enemies to further intransigence and violence against Israel and Jewish people."

'Courage' saluted

In contrast, Rabbi Charles Middleburgh of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues praised Dr Sacks' decision to speak out - and rejected suggestions that it would make him less relevant in worldwide Jewish opinion.

"I salute him for the courage that he had shown, particularly when you consider the constituency that he represents," Dr Middleburgh told the BBC.

"What Jonathan Sacks has said is what liberal and reform rabbis have been saying for many years.

"I think that he will get a lot of flak from the Orthodox sections of the community. There are many who would want him to go further. But we will, I hope, give him support."

Reflecting opinion

Leslie Bunder, co-founder of the independent portal jewish.co.uk, said part of the problem was how the relationship that British Jews have with Israel is perceived and portrayed.

"Dr Sacks has been the Chief Rabbi since 1991 and there are many people who think that means he speaks for all of the Jewish community, even though he only represents Orthodox Jews, and then not all of them," said Mr Bunder.

"So when he says what he has said today, these are things that many Jews have been saying and doing for a long time.

"Many people would welcome dialogue with Islamic groups. He is reflecting what the majority of the Jewish community think."

Mr Bunder said that while the focus was on what Dr Sacks had said about Israel, his call for meetings with radical Islamists would prove the more controversial in the long-run.

"Given who he represents, it takes a brave man to decide to talk to people who the Jewish community regard as calling for the destruction of Israel.

"But it should not be forgotten that there are many Jewish people within the British community doing these things already."


Your name


Your e-mail address


Your comments


Use this form to send us your comments on this story. They will be read by the author. After pressing submit, you will be directed to the front page.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Robert Pigott
"Some British Jews believe they have a right as well as a duty to criticise Israel"
Ned Temko, editor of The Jewish Chronicle
"This isn't a huge departure from what he's said in the past"
Internet links:


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

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes