More than once in the past few months I had wondered why the stuffed shirts of the English Zionist Federation had appointed an activist who didn’t mind getting his hands dirty, when Jonathan Hoffman surfaced as its Vice-Chair. I must confess it has been a pleasant surprise. Whenever a demonstration is getting a bit tired and enfeebled we can always rely on Jonathan to get people going.
Traditionally, getting Zionists into a debate and into defending their position was almost impossible. I can remember when I was a student activist that everytime a college invited the Union of Jewish Students to debate with me, UJS ducked out on grounds of my ‘anti-Semitism’. How wonderful it would have been to have had a UJS Jonathan Hoffman, who was capable of repeating, parrot-like, the normal mantras (‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East’, ‘Arabs in Israel are equal’, ‘anti-Semitism equals anti-Zionism’) whilst incapable of responding to any detailed point of criticism.
And now I hear that out of pique, the defeated candidate for Vice-Chair of the ZF, one of the more traditional members of the Zionist Establishment, who also doubles as Vice-Chair of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jerry Lewis, is trying to undermine, silence and even remove what is fast becoming a national treasure.
Now it is true that at the debate over whether Zionism was wrong, at the Iran Press TV debate chaired by Alan Hart, that Jonathan Hoffman was his normal outrageous self – interrrupting everyone, listening to no one and ignoring the Chair, but on reflection one image said more than a thousand sound bites. True I called Jonathan Hoffman ‘autistic’ at one point, and having experience of an autistic child it is quite probable that he probably does suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome (as well as bad politics), but Jonathan Hoffman is nonetheless an asset.
I am therefore forming the ‘Defend Jonathan Hoffman Campaign’ with Deborah Fink of Jews 4 Boycotting Israeli Goods as my deputy. Attacks on Jonathan Hoffman and attempts to remove him are, in my opinion, motivated by nothing less than the deepest anti-Semitism.
After Jonathan’s bravura performance at the picket of Ahava beauty shop in Covent Garden a month ago, when he was almost singlehandedly responsible for driving away any customers that had slipped through our net, as well as attracting attention to our protest and motivating the protestors, we say ‘Leave Jonathan Hoffman alone.’
Board of Deputies vice-president Jerry Lewis has launched a stinging attack on fellow Board member Jonathan Hoffman over his tactics when defending Israel in public.
Mr Hoffman, who is also vice-chair of the Zionist Federation, has been criticised by War on Want and Amnesty for his vociferous attempts to challenge attacks on the Jewish state.
Mr Lewis, who oversees Israel advocacy at the Board, said: “Given his position, Mr Hoffman should be far more cognisant of the necessity to act with common sense and not to act unilaterally in a way which damages both Israel’s case and beyond.
“I’m painfully aware his tactics have been the cause of many complaints to the Board, and his behaviour has been less than helpful.”
Hoffman’s actions damage Israel’s case
It is believed the Board has also expressed its concerns to ZF chairman Andrew Balcombe. But Mr Hoffman said Mr Lewis’ comments represented “the sourest of sour grapes”. He said:
“In 2008 he [Mr Lewis] announced his intention to stand as chairman of the ZF but then withdrew. He stood as vice chairman and I beat him. He has done nothing but badmouth the ZF ever since.
“Why has Jerry Lewis not signed my petition to Gordon Brown about the Goldstone Report, signed by 2,500 in little over a week? Why has the Board — which constitutionally is obliged to advance Israel’s standing — been silent on the report, unlike the ZF?”
Mr Lewis’ attack came after Mr Hoffman’s ongoing row with War on Want took a new twist when the anti-poverty charity’s executive director John Hilary called his complaints “witless” and “laughable”.
Mr Hilary said the Charity Commission should dismiss “vexatious” complaints from Mr Hoffman, who has also come under fire from Amnesty UK, which accused him of “immature and disruptive behaviour” at public events.
Last month the Charity Commission cleared WoW of wrongdoing after the charity hosted an event which accused Israel of human rights abuses and called for a worldwide boycott of the Jewish state.
But the commission’s board is still investigating alleged factual inaccuracies in a separate WoW leaflet which discusses Israel’s creation and claims Palestinian suffering is “an acknowledged product of Israeli occupation”.
At the commission’s annual public meeting last week, Mr Hoffman again questioned how the charity could pass a public benefit test and accused it of “fomenting hatred”.
The repeated questioning sparked Mr Hilary’s outburst and prompted him to ask the Charity Commision whether it had a “vexatious complaints” policy.
Mr Hoffman responded: “The notion that my complaint is vexatious is utter nonsense. The fact the commission has agreed to reopen the case proves it is not ‘vexatious’. This is simply John Hilary’s way of bullying the commission.”
Amnesty UK is hosting an event on October 28, entitled Discriminatory and unsustainable: Water and politics in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, at which the main speaker will be Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide.
He also appeared at the WoW event about which Mr Hoffman complained to the commission. After learning of the Amnesty event, Mr Hoffman wrote to its organiser, Kristyan Benedict, demanding a 15-minute section of the evening to respond to Mr White.
Mr Benedict responded: “Given your immature and disruptive behaviour, at the last event and previous ones I am aware about, I can see no reason to grant you this amazing demand. “If you are willing to invite people from the human rights community to any ZF events and give them 15 minutes to challenge positions which vilify international human rights law, then I may reconsider.”