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Is an anti-occupation revolt brewing in the British Jewish establishment?

Leader in top communal organization announces he is leaving post to speak out freely against Israeli policies — and gets standing ovation from membership.

For many years I have felt that the only way to end the occupation is through outside pressure because Israel is just scorched earth politically, and will never do it on its own. On that basis, the announcement last week by a prominent figure in the British Jewish establishment, and the reaction to it by his colleagues, was a more hopeful sign than anything that’s happened in the current Israeli campaign or is about to happen on Election Day on March 17.

What happened was that Laurence Brass, treasurer of the leading British Jewish organization, the Board of Deputies, told a meeting of the board’s plenary that he was quitting the leadership ranks after the board’s May election, The Jewish Chronicle reported. The reason, he told the plenary, was:

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.

When he had tried to voice his opinions in the past, he said he faced “very harsh and often quite abusive personal criticism …”

What’s even more encouraging is that Brass, according to The Jewish Chronicle, “received a standing ovation after his speech.”

Is something happening in the British Jewish establishment? It sure seems that way. It sounds like there’s a potential revolt against Israeli policies simmering in the ranks of the most pro-Israel – or supposedly most pro-Israel – citizens in all of Great Britain.

When I look at how far the international movement against the occupation has to go before it will be strong enough to force Israel’s hand, I tend to despair. But then I see how mortally frightened the Israeli and pro-Israeli establishment is of this movement, and I say – maybe something is brewing here.

The attempt to muzzle Brass when he first began speaking out, following his visit to the West Bank last spring, was remarkable for the fear it revealed on the part of Israel’s mouthpieces. A lone individual, the treasurer of the British Board of Deputies, starts criticizing the occupation – and NGO Monitor’s hit man-in-chief Gerald Steinberg, as well as Netanyahu’s former head of hasbara and current head of the blue-chip Institute for Zionist Strategies, Yoaz Hendel, pile on him.

A Ta'ayush activist argues with an Israeli soldier in the South Hebron hills, August 11, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Ta’ayush activist argues with an Israeli soldier in the South Hebron hills, August 11, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Brass, after going on a Passover tour led by Breaking the Silence to see how Palestinians in the south Hebron hills are persecuted by settlers and the army, said:

Shock and dismay beset the communal leadership. Former Board of Deputies vice president Eric Moonman said Brass should apologize for his remarks or resign as treasurer.

But then a line-up of elder statesmen of Israel’s peace movement – ex-Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, ex-New Israel Fund president Naomi Chazan, ex-attorney general Michael Ben-Yair, and ex-ambassadors to South Africa Alon Liel and Ilan Baruch – wrote a letter in support of Brass. Lauding his “willingness to see the grim reality on the ground in the West Bank,” they added, “What a shame that there are not more leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community willing to tackle these troubling issues.”

More shock and dismay. Steinberg, who said Liel, Chazan and the Israeli combat veterans of Breaking the Silence “are not the people to provide ethical grades to diaspora Jewish leaders,” accused Brass of taking a “radical position based on what he is told and sees through the lens of a very narrow Israeli constituency.”

Hendel, however, went further, joining Moonman in saying such talk as Brass’ cannot be tolerated from British Jewish leaders:

If someone comes to Israel and hears the point of view of only one side, and is not aware of the efforts made by the state of Israel and the IDF on behalf of Palestinian citizens in the area, or of the challenges, obstacles and limitations we face but encounters only a point of view that is used to delegitimize Israel, he should ask himself about his continued service as a leader of the Jewish community.

My favorite line of attack here is that Brass expressed his opinions after hearing “only one side.” As a 40-year veteran of the British Board of Deputies, Brass has been swimming his entire adult life in “only one side,” the official Israeli side, he can recite this side backwards and forwards, and for once he dares to hear the real other side, the side Steinberg, Hendel, the British Board of Deputies and pro-Israel forces everywhere have always muzzled, and suddenly he’s being “one-sided.”

Brass, a judge, has been elected twice as Board of Deputies treasurer and was considered a contender for the presidency before he went rogue. He told The Jewish Chronicle:

There have been countless times 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 …

How many Board of Deputies members who gave Brass that standing ovation were thinking the same thing? Here’s what I’m thinking: It’s premature for despair. And thank you, Judge Brass; you’ve struck a nerve.

The Israel lobby at its intimidating worst – in Britain
Labour MPs: Vote yes on Palestinian statehood

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    1. Joel

      Great Britain. A nation with a long history of Jew-obsession and anti-Semitism. Now that drumbeat is even louder now that the British Pakistani community has joined in. No wonder the British Jewish establishment is contemplating throwing Israel under the bus.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        Yes Joel, of course it has nothing to do with support for human rights for Palestinians, and everything to do with anti-Semitism. And now those nasty Pakistanis have joined in and expressed the wrong opinion too.

        Yours has got to be the ultimate example of a lame excuse.

        Reply to Comment
          • Baladi Akka 1948

            Sorry, I didn’t get your point. Are you telling us that Laurence Brass is a Pakistani Jew ? Did he participate in raping those girls or are you trying to take this discussion somewhere else ?

            Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        The parameters Joel and Jello hold to for what constitutes “throwing Israel under the bus” are likely to leave them increasingly frustrated and left behind. The statement “to throw under the bus” suggests sacrificing someone else for selfish gain. Yet what does Laurence Brass have to gain except his own integrity and self respect? He has nothing else to gain and a lot to lose in terms of conventional rewards and comforts.

        Reply to Comment
        • C.C. DeVille

          Brian. Please. He is most llikey a useful idiot narcissistic clueless nudnik like you searching for adulation snd recognition anywhere he can get it in an otherwise unremarkable life.

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Laurence Brass sounds anything but narcissistic. On the contrary he seems capable of genuine empathy and consideration for others even when it is difficult, and he radiates integrity, all of which the narcissistic personality is incapable of. To be honest with you and in all seriousness it is you who over many posts have sounded narcissistic–focused on hierarchies and who is “important” or not, shallow, envious and incapable of genuine empathy. With a kind of brutal interpersonal aggressiveness intent on putting down others down in heartless ways. To solve your own problems. You’re kind of a “textbook case.” Look, the proof is in the pudding. People genuinely admire Laurence Brass. Who admires you?

            Reply to Comment
          • C.C. DeVille

            Brian, you posed a question (potentially rhetorically) and I amswered. Perhaps you did not like the answer, but it seems plausible to me. Based on your reply, it seems that you may not be working with an accurate definition of narcissism. It is much more narrow that the range of qualities you associate with the term.

            As for your part 2, I am not part of the story.

            Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        How scurrilous of Derfner not to report that Brass is a closet Pakistani. Joel you have learned two lessons very well – when reasoned criticism of Israel arises you have to (a) change the subject quickly and start talking off-topic about something completely different, hoping you can hi-jack this thread and make it one about Islamophobia. (b) even when the criticism comes from establishment Jews (not left-wingers, not marginal figures, but leading lights of the Jewish Diaspora community) then change the subject too, and start talking about anti-Semitism.

        One has to ask why are you doing your best to delegitimise Israel with you blatant dishonesty and complete absence of any moral standards? You seem to be doing your utmost to demonstrate the truth of comments made recently in Ha’aretz: “I lived in Israel for over 20 years and I too left Israel because of it’s Barbarian culture. I have been in Berlin for three months now and I feel that I have escaped the biggest garbage can (or smallest) in the world. Israeli’s are bad mannered, ill-tempered, unfriendly, untrustworthy scoundrels, who can do nothing more than argue and litter the streets [and international web-sites] with the garbage of their constant noise. Anyone now living in Germany will tell you the same, it is as if you finally realize that you have escaped a very badly kept Zoo.” (See http://mondoweiss.net/2015/02/racism-is-in-the-air)

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel


          The root cause of the British Jewish communities current ambivalence towards Israel is a fear of social ostracism for their support of Israel.

          Can I dumb that down anymore?

          Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            You can be as dumb as you want to be Joel, but please don’t try to argue that European Jews, with a fine reputation of defending human rights across the planet are not intimidated and terrorized by idiots of the likes of Steinberg and Moonman. Can you offer a plausible explanation as to why Judge Goldstone made a feeble retraction of his findings on Cast Lead apart from the intolerable pressure he came under from the Zionist community which Ha’aretz argued was “applied to him since the publication of the report. He himself, after all, told me less than a year ago about the attempt to ban him from his grandson’s bar mitzvah at a synagogue in Johannesburg.” (See http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/what-exactly-did-goldstone-retract-from-his-report-on-gaza-1.355454)

            Reply to Comment
          • Joel

            Goldstone was rudely treated my many of his fellow Jews. He may also have gotten over his hangover and realized what a tool he’d been played for by the UN and the Pals.

            BTW. Following your reasoning, Brass was pressured into resignation, same as Goldstone was pressured into a retraction.

            Social ostracism IS a powerful weapon.

            Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        No need…

        Israel does a fine job of throwing ITSELF under the bus by gleefully supporting the Fascist Right Wing Brown-Shirts who are destroying it FROM WITHIN…

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Someone asked: “What happened to the 150,000 Palestinians made homeless since 67 by the home demolitions?” Obviously some emigrate (that’s the point), some live with relatives, some try to rebuild, some go to refugee camps, some drive their cars into Israeli pedestrians. But here’s the response I got when I emailed ICAHD:

      It is hard to say exactly where all 150,000. Perhaps St. Yves or Btselem will have accurate figures however in general families have a number of options:

      1. Rebuild -> a. applying for permit, b. not and risking another demolition
      2. Rent -> extortionately expense in Jerusalem
      3. Buy somewhere cheap -> away from community/family/friends
      4. Live with the in-laws/family till one of the above solutions become available

      You can find more information about home demolitions on our website.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Behnam Shahariyari

      I hope Mr Brass is making plans to absorb millions of zionists to the UK, as justice for Palestine demands the evacuation of zionists

      Reply to Comment
      • C.C. DeVille

        You are being farcical, right girlie? I am giving you the benefit of th doubt

        Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        I trust most of you have figured this out by now, but ‘Behnam Shahariyari’ = ‘Viktor Arajs’ = probably Baruch Gottesman or someone similar = right wing troll.

        Reply to Comment
      • RICK

        Justice for Palestine demands equal justice for all, which in turn means the end of Jewish privilege upheld by racist laws. Do I need to ‘dumb that down’?

        Reply to Comment
    4. Anna

      Laurence Brass’s resignation hopefully signals a turning point for British Jewry. Every Jew in Britain should be taught in school,synagogue and home the truth about the Jewish massacre and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, about the looting, theft and destruction of Palestinian property in 1948 and how this has continued to today. All of this is well-documented in Israeli and Palestinian documents, photographs and films. It is undenial. If every Jewish child was aware of this then there would be no support for Israel in the next generation. Israel cannot continue as a Jewish State – it is contrary to every moral precept to base a state on racial discrimination.If there has been a rise in anti-semitism it is related to Jewish support for the rogue state of Israel. If Jews wish to be safe they need to stand up publicly for universal rights not Jewish priveliges at the expense of the human rights of Gentiles.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Shahariyari

      Why not address the substance of my comment instead of muzzling me as a troll? I am an influential Iranian trying to build bridges with anti-zionist Jews

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Oh, yeah. And I’m a top secret undercover MEK agent sent to expose your dastardly plot and overthrow the regime. Who muzzled you? Exposure is not muzzling.
        Time to take your meds, Baruch.

        Reply to Comment
        • Shahariyari

          compare my comment to yours Brian, and see who needs medication

          Reply to Comment
          • C.C. DeVille

            Come on girls! You’re both pretty

            Reply to Comment
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