Prominent Jews break away from UK's pro-Zionist lobby


More than 100 prominent Jews in Britain Monday declared their independence from the country's pro-Zionist lobby, saying it puts support to Israel above the human rights of Palestinians.

The founders of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) which includes such luminaries as the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter and the historian Eric Hobsbawm, said they were setting up a new group to counter-balance to the uncritical support for Israel.

In particular, it said that it was breaking away from such established pro-Zionist bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which was founded as the mouthpiece for Israel back in 1760.

Other members include the award-winning film director Mike Leigh, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman, fashion designer Nicole Farhi, the actors Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker and psychologist Susie Orbach.

"We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole," IJV said in an open letter.

The breakaway comes at a time of ferment over attitudes towards Israel, stoked by the war in Lebanon, the continuing bloodshed in the occupied territories and attempts to demonise all dissent as amounting to anti-Semitism.

According to a spokeswoman, supporters are hoping to create an opportunity for Jews of different political affiliations to express opinions "without being accused of disloyalty or being dismissed as self-hating."

"The idea is to create a platform for critical debate about the situation in the Middle East that until now has not existed," the spokeswoman was quoted saying by the Independent newspaper.

"As a Jew, I feel a particular duty to oppose the injustice that is done to Palestinians," said the psychologist Susie Orbach. "The Israeli government does not speak for me," she said.

Lawyer Geoffrey Bindman said the easy assumption is that all Jews support Israel, whose "ill-treatment of Palestinians is an insidious form of racism."

"I, like many Jews in and outside Israel, am appalled and disgusted by the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory and its brutal treatment of Palestinians," Bindman said.