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Several Prominent British Jews Boycotting Solidarity Conference

March 17, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Some of Britain’s leading Jews are boycotting next week’s “Solidarity With Israel” conference in Jerusalem in an unprecedented snub to an Israeli prime minister.

Of 130 prominent British Jews invited, only about 50 will respond to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s personal plea for “the entire Jewish people to stand at Israel’s side.”

Absentees will include Dr. Stephen Roth, chairman of the Zionist Federation; leading pro-Israel Parliament members Greville Janner and Ivan Lawrence; philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin; Baroness Birk; Lord Goodman; and Dr. John Marks, chairman of the British Medical Association.

“Talking to the present prime minister of Israel is like talking to a stone wall,” Sir Isaiah said. “Stone walls have many uses, but talking to them is not the most productive thing one can do.

“The conference is meant to be an expression of solidarity with the Israeli government, and I don’t have the heart to do that at the moment,” he said. “I think its policies towards the Arabs are mistaken and counterproductive.”

The snub should come as no surprise to Jerusalem.

During his visit to London last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens was warned that Diaspora Jewry was split, and that many British Jews strongly disagreed with Israel’s policies over the intifada, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the peace process.

Rabbi Sidney Silberg of Hendon will represent the chief rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, who had a bypass operation on Wednesday. The president of the Board of Deputies, Dr. Lionel Kopelowitz, is also scheduled to attend but is angry about the handling of invitations.

Organizers were anxiously telephoning invitees last week in a bid to raise the numbers.


Shamir’s critics feared he would try to use their presence at the conference to claim a united Diaspora support for his policies when he meets President Bush next month.

Many British Jews were appalled by Shamir’s performance in a television interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Peter Snow, in which Shamir said Israel would never talk to the PLO.

“Mr. Shamir has contempt for public opinion both Jewish and non-Jewish,” Marks said. “That’s why I’m not going. I do not accept his philosophy. I will not be a rubber stamp for his policies. I’m not going to play that game. I’m unwilling to be used.”

Invitations were sent from Jerusalem with help from the Israeli Embassy in London. Two members of the organizing committee, Cabinet Ministers Mordechai Gur of Labor and Ehud Olmert of Likud, visited Britain several weeks ago and took advice on who should be invited.

Kopelowitz, who was later asked for nominations from the medical world, complained that the selection process was “cloaked in secrecy.”

He was refused a list of invitees and his request that British participants should meet to discuss the conference before leaving London was also turned down.

On Monday, executive and Israel committees of the Board of Deputies issued a statement criticizing the arrangements. They “stated firmly” that Kopelowitz should lead the British delegation, a veiled reference to the prominent role given to publisher Robert Maxwell.

“There was no invitation to the board as such to send representatives. I would have liked to have been involved in the consultative process. I don’t know the basis of some of the invitations,” said Kopelowitz.

“There was a pretty fair cross section of communal leadership invited,” said Trevor Chinn, who is attending.

“At the short notice, 50 out of 130 is a pretty good response,” he added. “It’s not for anyone to judge Mr. Shamir or anyone else in the Israeli government who hasn’t discussed matters with them.”

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