As Shabbat came in last Friday there were international moves at the UN that once again singled out Israel.
The outgoing US Administration has been the main focus of attention, refusing to exercise its power of veto and instead abstaining in the Security Council to let the motion through. On Wednesday a speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry was deeply critical of Israel.
However, while the unusual moves by an American administration that has only three weeks to run attracted the main attention, and the almost universal condemnation of American Jewish communal organisations, the role played by the UK Government is also being questioned. Not only did the UK refrain from using its veto on the Security Council resolution, but it voted in favour of the resolution and, according to some reports, was actively involved behind the scenes in its drafting and the moves to ensure it was tabled. From a Government which is, in the main, so understanding of Israel, this is deeply disappointing and we will be seeking answers as to how this could have happened.
I learned of the passing of the resolution at the conclusion of Shabbat. Although it was over a holiday period I was able to discuss the position with my officer and staff colleagues and act. I am therefore writing now to update you generally and in particular on the actions that we have taken, and that we shall be taking further:
1. Early on Sunday I issued the following firm statement. I record appreciation to the Board's dedicated staff who ensured that it was circulated to the media even though it was Christmas Day :
"The UN has once again chosen to demonstrate its hostility to Israel. The Security Council resolution passed on Friday is destructive to peace because it encourages Palestinians to believe that they can maintain their refusal to come to the negotiating table.
“I note that the Security Council has been an utter failure in saving hundreds of thousands of lives in Syria. It clearly thinks of Israel as an easier target.
“I am deeply disappointed that the UK Government failed to take the honourable course of exercising its power to veto a biased and unbalanced resolution."
2. I ensured that a very clear message was conveyed to the government without delay. Immediately after the weekend's public holiday we will be in direct touch with Government to express grave concern that the UK should have voted in favour of such an ill-conceived resolution. I intend to seek an early meeting with Ministers to set out our arguments that these actions, intentionally or otherwise, will harm the prospects for peace and Israel's security, and that it is deeply and dangerously flawed in asking too little of the Palestinian side notwithstanding its adamant refusal to come to the negotiating table.
3. I should emphasise that this is a highly fluid and evolving matter. Even as I was drafting this message I received reports that the UK government has now issued a highly unusual public criticism of US Secretary of State Kerry. Whether this was influenced by the Board's earlier strong message I cannot say, but the government's criticism is virtually unprecedented and does not sit easily with its vote at the Security Council only 6 days earlier.
4. In just 2 weeks' time there is proposed to be a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris, and we are just over three weeks away from a change of administration in the United States - factors which are highly likely to change the dynamics of international relations. We will continue to monitor and respond to developments quickly and robustly and we will keep you updated as we do.
5. I have seen some calls for community members to write to their Members of Parliament. While I am certainly not opposed to this, and I strongly encourage people to write to MPs to express their views on matters of concern, I am not at this stage issuing a call to do so on this matter. Events are still unfolding and my present judgment is to see how matters develop in the next few days. It is also vacation at Parliament so the likelihood is that letters will not be seen or acted upon for some while. However, I shall not hesitate to call on you to write if I feel that step is called for.
In short, the Board has led our community in ensuring that our voice is heard at the highest levels. While I appreciate that there will be range of views across the community on aspects of the Security Council resolution, the consensus is strongly opposed to stigmatising Israel and moves that are harmful to peace. Nor are we alone in feeling strong dismay. Editorials in The Times and the Daily Telegraph over the last 72 hours condemned the UN for much the same reasons that we expressed.
In my final message for 2016 I want to end on a more positive note. I have just returned from another invigorating Limmud Conference, which continues to show the vibrancy and diverse brilliance of the UK Jewish community. The Board of Deputies ran 13 sessions on topics as diverse as antisemitism, Israel, education, interfaith and gender equality - and even teaching about Jewish life in Eastern Europe with the help of some vodka, and explaining the Middle East conflict through hummus (yes seriously !).
As we end what has been a challenging year in 2016, I send you all our best wishes for 2017.
May our community go from strength to strength in the year ahead. With your help and support I am confident that it will.
Board of Deputies of British Jews