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British Jews Still Have Much to Learn
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British Jews Still Have Much to Learn

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

It was reported in Haaretz  that a planned meeting between the leaders of the British Jewish community with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was cancelled last week as a result of pressure from the Netanyahu Government. While Abbas apparently did meet with a group of British Jewish business leaders as well as with the leadership of Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BI-COM) a pro-Israel lobbying group, the formal meeting with the leaders of Anglo Jewry did not occur.

This episode raises three issues: the weakness of Anglo Jewry, the assertiveness of American Jewry, and the intimidating power of the Israelis. It is hard to fathom that in 2012 British Jews are so tethered to the wishes of the Israeli Government that unlike their American counterparts or even the leaders of an international umbrella Jewish organization like the World Jewish Congress, they are unable to decide independently how to conduct their relations with the leader of the Palestinians; the very same leader some of Israel’s own political leaders are meeting.

Anglo Jews are not going to negotiate peace on behalf of the Israeli Government. They might have broadened the exposure of contacts with the Palestinians and perhaps even helped themselves in their own ability to influence the role of the Cameron Government in the region. (The British Government had urged that the meeting take place.) One might even suspect that had they met, it might have enabled British Jewish leaders to hold a chit for future Israeli needs with the British. The Jews of Britain indeed are barely 300,000, but they have power and they have options today they never had before should they seriously be threatened. There is no cause for them to be intimidated by the Netanyahu Government.

American Jewish leaders, especially the Presidents’ Conference and AIPAC are always sensitive to the wishes and needs of the Israelis. Over the years, sometimes more often than others, they have learned to assert an independent position specifically when it benefits American Jewish interests at home as well as in providing possible future political leverage for American Jews in Washington. There is a huge difference between listening and considering the views from Jerusalem and kow-towing to the leaders.

Israelis have always believed that since they are on the front lines and it is their country that is at risk, they have the right to determine what positions the Jews in the Diaspora ought to take vis-à-vis Israel and the Arab world. Israeli Governments, especially the current one, have often left world Jewry feeling intimidated if they attempt to assert any type of independence. World Jewry does play a critical role in protecting Israel’s interests. It is different than serving in the IDF, but it is important on the world stage.

There was no reason the British leaders should not have met with Abbas. He cannot divide Jewish support for Israel and perhaps Israel could benefit from some insight brought in from the outside.

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