Shocked by What he Saw on the West Bank
|Laurence Brass (left) next to war criminal Blair, Rabbi Sacks and Israel’s far right ambassador Ron Prossor|
Board of Deputies of British Jews has an appalling record on most issues. In the 1930’s it told Jews to keep their
heads down and stay indoors as Sir Oswald Moseley and his British Union of
Fascists strutted through the East End.
At the Battle of Cable Street, when Moseley and the BUF were prevented
from marching, the Jewish population, in alliance with ordinary trade
unionists, Catholic dockers and the unemployed, ignored them as 100,000 people
defied the Metropolitan Police’s defence of the anti-Semitic BUF. Today the Met opposes ‘anti-Semitism’ as part
of its attacks on Muslims.
of Deputies also has an appalling record when it comes to Israel. It sees, hears and speaks no evil. It defends Israel right or wrong and attacks
all critics as ‘anti-Semites’. It is
therefore doubly surprising that a senior officer of the Board, Laurence Brass,
has spoken out against human rights abuses on the West Bank and settler attacks
and now resigned. According to reports
in Ha’aretz he received a standing ovation.
he has been criticised by people like Gerald Steinberg of the McCarthyist
organisation NGO Monitor, which is dedicated to supporting all attacks on Palestinian
civilians. Steinberg, a fascist Professor,
would have made an excellent PR advisor to a certain Adolf Hitler. Eric Moonman, who was a failed right-wing Labour
MP, was another to criticise Brass for having the temerity to object to settler attacks on Palestinians.
Brass is an asylum judge and certainly no anti-Zionist. He is a supporter of Yachad, which is the
equivalent of J-Street in the US, which describes itself as pro-Israel and
pro-Peace, i.e. a 2 State organisation which sees Israel as losing the
propaganda war. Nonetheless Brass’s resignation
is a significant step, not least in his criticism of the Board of Deputies’s
silencing of all criticism of Israel.
|The Board of Deputies Attitude to Israeli Attacks on Palestinians|
Laurence Brass says he had been ‘bursting to criticize the Israeli
administration’ for six years and took the board to task for preventing
honorary officers from expressing personal opinions.
|BOD Does Its Best to Associate British Jews with Israeli Crimes|
The treasurer of the United Kingdom Jewish Board of Deputies, the
representative body of British Jewry, has stepped down saying he “could not contemplate
another three years of not being able to speak freely,” the Jewish Chronicle
Laurence Brass, an asylum judge, had been tipped to run for board president
in the May election after being twice elected as treasurer. But he told a
plenary meeting of the executive on Sunday that “I decided that to be true to
my principles and beliefs was more important than seeking office.”
Brass said he had been “bursting to criticize the Israeli administration”
for six years and took the board to task for preventing honorary officers from
expressing personal opinions.
“There have been countless occasions over the last six years when I’ve been
bursting to criticize the Israeli administration, but I’ve restrained myself.
“I want to be released from the chains of office to contribute to the wider
debate on the Middle East, as well as on the critical political issues that I
consider to be important here at home.”
Saying that he had encountered “very harsh and often quite abusive personal
criticism” when speaking out, Brass called for his replacement to be free to
Brass received a standing ovation after his speech, the Chronicle reported,
but board president Vivian Wineman cautioned other executive members to
maintain their silence.
“People aren’t interested in our private opinions; they’re interested in
what the Board thinks and what the Jewish community thinks,” Wineman said.
“When we express ourselves, we always have to bear that in mind.”
witnessed during a visit to a West Bank village, describing it as an
Mr Brass, who was spending Pesach in Israel, took part in a private capacity
in a one-day trip organised by Yachad UK and led by a guide from the
anti-occupation Israeli army veterans’ group, Breaking the Silence.
His experience, as one of around a dozen Anglo-Jewish participants taken to
the Palestinian village of Susiya, was shocking, he said.
“The village spokesman told us that he was very worried at the prospect of
local Palestinian children being attacked by settlers on their way to school.
“Just 48 hours after we left, a six-year-old girl from the neighbouring
village of Atuwani was admitted to hospital with head wounds after being stoned
on her way to school, just as we had been warned might occur.
“I was shocked that this type of behaviour goes unchecked by the IDF.”
Mr Brass added that the abiding memory of his visit would be “the sight of
an old rusty car being
dumped down the village well, thus preventing the locals
from having fresh water.”
“I had also not known previously that, on the majority of the road signs in
the area, the Arabic words have been deliberately obliterated. I had also not
previously appreciated the ever increasing number of settler outposts which
have sprung up all over Area C, which, although illegal, no one appears willing
“Area C” represents West Bank zones under the control of Israel.
Mr Brass said: “The miserable existence of the Palestinian villagers we met
will stay with me for a long time. It was difficult to reconcile that we were
celebrating the festival of freedom, while these villagers were surviving in
such squalid surroundings. I returned very depressed.”
Yachad, which campaigns for a two-state solution, ran 17 trips to East
Jerusalem or the West Bank in 2013, for over 400 members of Zionist youth
Leader in top communal organization announces he is leaving post to
speak out freely against Israeli policies — and gets standing ovation from
For many years I have felt that the only way to end the occupation is
through outside pressure because Israel is just scorched earth politically, and
will never do it on its own. On that basis, the announcement last week by a
prominent figure in the British Jewish establishment, and the reaction to it by
his colleagues, was a more hopeful sign than anything that’s happened in the
current Israeli campaign or is about to happen on Election
Day on March 17.
What happened was that Laurence Brass, treasurer of the leading British Jewish
organization, the Board of Deputies, told a meeting of the board’s plenary that
he was quitting the leadership ranks after the board’s May election, The
Jewish Chronicle reported. The reason, he told
the plenary, was:
I felt constrained not to have been able to speak out on subjects that are
close to my heart, such as the treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied
Territories and the discrimination still being suffered by Arab citizens of
When he had tried to voice his opinions in the past, he said he faced “very
harsh and often quite abusive personal criticism …”
What’s even more encouraging is that Brass, according to The Jewish
Chronicle, “received a standing ovation after his speech.”
Is something happening in the British Jewish establishment? It sure seems
that way. It sounds like there’s a potential revolt against Israeli policies
simmering in the ranks of the most pro-Israel – or supposedly most pro-Israel –
citizens in all of Great Britain.
When I look at how far the international
movement against the occupation has to go before it will be strong
enough to force Israel’s hand, I tend to despair. But then I see how mortally
frightened the Israeli and pro-Israeli establishment is of this
movement, and I say – maybe something is brewing here.
The attempt to muzzle Brass when he first began speaking out, following his
visit to the West Bank last spring, was remarkable for the fear
it revealed on the part of Israel’s mouthpieces. A lone
individual, the treasurer of the British Board of Deputies, starts criticizing
the occupation – and NGO Monitor’s hit man-in-chief Gerald
Steinberg, as well as Netanyahu’s former head of hasbara
and current head of the blue-chip Institute
for Zionist Strategies, Yoaz Hendel, pile on him.
|A Ta’ayush activist argues with an Israeli soldier in the South Hebron hills, August 11, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)|
Brass, after going on a Passover tour
led by Breaking the Silence to see how Palestinians in the south
Hebron hills are persecuted by settlers and the army, said:
miserable existence of the Palestinian villagers we met will stay with me for a
Shock and dismay beset the communal leadership. Former Board of Deputies
vice president Eric Moonman said Brass should apologize for his remarks or
resign as treasurer.
But then a line-up of elder statesmen of Israel’s peace movement – ex-Meretz
leader Yossi Sarid, ex-New Israel Fund president Naomi Chazan, ex-attorney
general Michael Ben-Yair, and ex-ambassadors to South Africa Alon Liel and Ilan
Baruch – wrote a letter in support of Brass. Lauding his “willingness to see the
grim reality on the ground in the West Bank,” they added, “What a shame that
there are not more leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community willing to tackle
these troubling issues.”
More shock and dismay. Steinberg, who said Liel, Chazan and the Israeli
combat veterans of Breaking the Silence “are not the people to provide ethical
grades to diaspora Jewish leaders,” accused Brass of taking a “radical position
based on what he is told and sees through the lens of a very narrow Israeli
Hendel, however, went further, joining Moonman in saying such talk as Brass’
cannot be tolerated from British Jewish leaders:
If someone comes to Israel and hears the point of view of only one side, and
is not aware of the efforts made by the state of Israel and the IDF on behalf
of Palestinian citizens in the area, or of the challenges, obstacles and
limitations we face but encounters only a point of view that is used to
delegitimize Israel, he should ask himself about his continued service as a
leader of the Jewish community.
My favorite line of attack here is that Brass expressed his opinions after
hearing “only one side.” As a 40-year veteran of the British Board of Deputies,
Brass has been swimming his entire adult life in “only one side,” the official
Israeli side, he can recite this side backwards and forwards, and for once he
dares to hear the real other side, the side Steinberg, Hendel, the British
Board of Deputies and pro-Israel forces everywhere have always muzzled, and
suddenly he’s being “one-sided.”
Brass, a judge, has been elected twice as Board of Deputies treasurer and
was considered a contender for the presidency before he went rogue. He told The
There have been countless times over the last six years when I’ve been
bursting to criticize the Israeli administration, but I’ve restrained myself. I
want to be released from the chains of office to contribute to the wider debate
on the Middle East …
How many Board of Deputies members who gave Brass that standing ovation were
thinking the same thing? Here’s what I’m thinking: It’s premature for despair.
And thank you, Judge Brass; you’ve struck a nerve.