Three years on the International Division

As this is the end of this Triennial I thought it would be a good moment to reflect on the last three years. I wanted to thank each and every one of you on the International Division including our loyal band of co-opted members and observers, for the way in which the ID has operated. Debate has been civilised, well-informed, healthy and constructive and really assisted me and Edwin Shuker as your chair and vice-chair and staff in carrying out our duties.

You have been a terrific sounding board, great source of advice and expertise, carried out monitoring assignments with great aplomb and made a real difference. I am full of appreciation and admiration.

It would be invidious to mention individual names. But suffice it to say on the great issues of our time including the Middle East, antisemitism in Europe, assassinations in Latin America, the turmoil in the Ukraine and atrocities against Jewish sites in Iraq, the situation of Jews in Morocco and Tunisia and even the fate of Jews in China we have been fully briefed.

All of this helped contribute to the European Jewish Manifesto that with huge input of staff (Phil Rosenberg, Joseph Moses et al) was a great positive achievement for the division.

This group was never going to be able to resolve the issues of our time ranging from Israel’s struggles with Hamas and the two state solution, to Iran and the rise of European antisemitism. But we have been able to monitor events, intervene with officials wherever possible and with governments. A strong relationship has developed with both the EJC and the WJC (both Edwin and I have been part of this), Paul Edlin continued his work with helping to improve governance at the Claims Conference. As a result the Board’s reputation has been greatly augmented in the international arena. There is much to be done on this as well as on antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere.

Sometimes, I know, it may appear frustrating and just a talking shop to be part of the ID. But it has been much more than that. Many of you have intervened and met with overseas communities and brought back important messages. All of this have been taken aboard by me and by staff and acted upon whenever possible.

I have felt enormously better able to carry out my role as a result of the work that has taken place and been able to bring many of the issues concerned to a higher level. The biggest frustration has been around ‘Operation Protective Edge’ and the criticisms of the leadership. But from adversity have come a lot of positive ideas and certainly, if in office, I hope to take them forward into the next triennial. The Israel Working Group has only met intermittently but it too has been important in linking with communities under pressure and has worked and thought carefully about political lobbying, difficult issues such as settlements, post Israeli election issues and dealings with NGOs.

Our job in defending the interests of British Jews is to talk to the community and bring about a better understanding of Israel. We are all agreed that the Jewish state is a wonderful thing, but we are not a branch of the Israeli government and our job is to understand what is going on in Israel and better explain it to our constituents and the politicians.

There is much to be done on this as well as anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world. It has been put to me that we should be considering changing the policy whereby the Board only speaks up and seeks meeting with embassies with the agreement of the local communities. Some believe that this is a dereliction and would be repeat of mistakes made in the 1930s. That is something for this division to discuss in the next triennial.

And a big thanks to staff, particularly David Walsh and Phil Rosenberg, for their fine and thoughtful work.

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