No one has the authority to speak for the Jewish people. Yet during Israel’s war with Lebanon last summer, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, told an American audience: “I believe that this is a war that is fought by all the Jews.” His belief is not based on evidence: it is an article of faith, a corollary of the doctrine that Israel represents Jewry as a whole – in Britain included.
This is a fallacy; and, moreover, a dangerous one, since it tars all Jews with the same brush. Yet this misconception is reinforced here by those who, claiming to speak for British Jews collectively or allowing that impression to go unchallenged, only ever reflect one position on the Middle East. On its own account, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (which calls itself “the voice of British Jewry”) devotes much of the time and resources of its international division to “the defence of Israel”. When a “solidarity rally” was held in London last July in the midst of the conflict with Lebanon, it was the board that organised it.
All of which suggests that British Jewry, speaking with one voice, stands solidly behind the Israeli government and its military operations.
Two things are wrong with this suggestion. First, it’s false. Jews were deeply divided over Israel’s campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon last year. Certainly, there were those who shared the sentiment of the chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, who, addressing the rally, said: “Israel, you make us proud.” Others felt roughly the opposite emotion.