Friday, 11 October 2013

Respond to the Methodist Church consultation on Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions

It's been a while since I last blogged, but the Board of Deputies has just sent round a request for our help and I need your support:

The Methodist Church of Britain has launched a consultation “to gather a range of perspectives” on the topic of "Israel and Palestine" as a result of a resolution passed at its annual conference in June. Sadly, the consultation is entirely framed around the question of Boycotts, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The Board of Deputies has been in constant communication with the Methodist leadership and met with them this week to set out our very strong concerns and disappointment with the entire premise and process behind the consultation, and the report that will be produced for its 2014 conference as a result. On a more positive note, the Methodist Church has agreed to explore, as alternatives to BDS, giving support to projects that build bridges and support peace. It is important that the Methodist conference is given this alternative course of action to BDS and we shall do everything possible to bring this about.

As we have been presented with the opportunity to express our views on BDS it is important to respond to the invitation in a reasoned and well thought out manner. The final report that will be presented to the Methodist conference will not have any recommendations, only a summary of the arguments in favour and against boycotts.

Please participate in the consultation - we need pro-Israel voices to be heard. And  the Board's office will give all the assistance and advice it can in helping you respond to the Methodist consultation.

In practical terms:
  • This is an open consultation, meaning any person – whether a Methodist or not - can contribute towards it.
  • It is open to individuals as well as organisations to respond.
  • The Methodist Church's information on the consultation is here
  • The responses need to be submitted online here
  • All responses must be completed by 8:00 am on Monday 4 November

How should people respond?
You may not want to fill in the entire consultation form - which you may feel is long, loaded and skewed.  However, you can still play your part - for example, by making a statement in response to question 1 and then answering "see above" to the following questions.  An alternative approach is to simply fill in your answer under the ‘any further comments’ section. It is important that the Methodist Church is aware of the number of people who find this discourse unacceptable - so everyone who feels able should please respond in some way.  

Key Arguments to make
  • The fundamental problem with the entire framework of this consultation which is one-sided and skewed.
  • That boycotts are divisive and do not assist with the prospects of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. On the contrary they perpetuate one-sided narratives and encourage intransigence which makes reconciliation even harder.
  • A boycott of Israel harms both Israelis and Palestinians.
  • The true impact on the lives of many, including in the UK, of boycotting Israeli technological and medical advancements.
  • That boycotts ultimately target the people not the government. An academic boycott would discriminate against individuals restricting academic freedom and growth through discussion and the sharing of ideas.   It would discriminate against people because of their nationality, irrespective of their views. 
  • The impact of a boycott on the UK Jewish community. 
  • That the Methodists should instead invest in positive peace-building initiatives that bring Israelis and Palestinians together.

Please do use the opportunity we have been offered to tell the Methodist Church what we feel about BDS. Once again, the Board's office is here to help if you need it.  Please contact

With your strong help we may be able to demonstrate how ill-conceived is the BDS movement and make a real difference.

Thank you

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

March Update

It's all been pretty busy at the Board over the last few months.  After the 'excitement' of the January Plenary when the Board passed the motion to partner with Oxfam on training up 25 jewish volunteers to develop projects that in some way relate to food and poverty, there's been a lot going on.

For example, last week the Board hosted a packed event with the Leader of the Opposition, the Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP. An audience of 300 heard him talk movingly about his family history and also about his vision for the United Kingdom, before putting questions to him on a variety of topics, including Israel and boycotts, Iran, immigration and integration, the NHS and a matter surprisingly close to his heart, baseball. 

He also confirmed that he would protect kosher animal slaughter and Jewish circumcisions, practices that have come under fire elsewhere in Europe. 
On boycotts of Israel, he not only stressed his opposition but said that he was prepared to say the same to trade unionists who have been at the forefront of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign in the UK, but who were also largely responsible for his election as Labour leader. Boycotts “are totally wrong,” Miliband said. “I have no tolerance for boycotts. I will say it to any trade union member who asks me. You don’t create a two-state solution with boycotts.” 

Don't forget, if anyone has anything they want us to raise with the Board, or if you want to know more about what we're doing, please do get in touch with me or with Jerry Lewis, Hampstead's other Deputy.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

20th January 2013 - the first of a new style of Plenary?

Last Sunday, the Board of Deputies met for its first meeting of 2013.  Despite the snow, around 250 people made it into Central London from all around Britain because at this meeting we were due to discuss the controversial Social Action partnership with Oxfam.

I've written in previous blogs and articles about my initial impressions of being a Deputy and earlier this week, I wrote some more about this for the Changing The Board blog.  But the feel of this meeting was different, more contemporary and the 'Oxfam' debate felt really constructive. 

Both Jerry Lewis and I had the opportunity to address the plenary.  We only had two and a half minutes to put over our points of view and I thought that Hampstead Synagogue members might be interested in what I said (slightly adapted as I edited it down on Sunday so as not to repeat others)...

"Oxfam’s income of almost £400m a year puts it in towards the top of UK charity league table.    

One of the reasons that they are so big is that they are very good at what they do. Their aim to save lives by providing aid and protection in disasters, to empower people to work their own way out of poverty, and campaign for lasting change is hard to disagree with. It’s just in relation to Israel that some of us disagree with their stance.  

But they are good at creating an impact and their campaigning is exceptional. The Grow campaign is one example of this. 

Our proposed partnership project Grow Tatzmiach will train 25 Jewish volunteers in how to be ‘food heroes’.  They’ll learn from ‘the masters of the art’ and then go on to establish food justice social action projects in UK communities or internationally.  They could work with local partners or with Jewish charities and they’ll be mentored for six months to make sure that they’re achieving the greatest possible impact.  That’s a great opportunity and the Board of Deputies was invited to partner with Oxfam because of our status in the community.

This project directly supports the Boards’ goal to “Promote a better understanding of the Jewish Community in the UK and develop relations with other groups”.  The social action that results will absolutely promote a better understanding of our community and build relations between Jews and non-Jews.

But I believe, because we’re working with Oxfam on this, we may also have the chance to achieve more. Yesterday at Shul, we were privileged to have Daniel Taub, the Israeli Ambassador address us and answer some of our questions.  In response to a question about engagement with NGOs, he talked abut their rising importance and how even when we don’t agree, there was a need to find some common ground in order to create a platform for further dialogue.  The Grow Tatzmiach project provides such an opportunity.  We can work with Oxfam on an area of common interest, get to know them and hopefully build mutual trust, respect and understanding.  And that has to be a good thing so that when we want to engage on other, more challenging issues, we can build on these foundations.   

In my day job, I work in international development and specifically in promoting and building cross sector partnerships.  Partnerships work if they have three things: respect, trust and mutual benefit.  We can ensure these are part of GROW Tatzmiach.  But if things don’t work out, the safeguards built into the project and articulated in the motion protect us and mean we can discontinue it"...

As many of you will already know, the Board voted to support the project and so our volunteers will be trained in early February. The timing is great.  Just yesterday, a new campaign, supported by over 100 UK charities including  Oxfam, Tzedek and World Jewish Relief launched the IF campaign... working for 'Enough Food for Everyone'.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

And so the Oxfam-BOD Partnership debate continues...

A busy week for the Board of Deputies (BOD) in relation to the proposed partnership between the Board and Oxfam to train up 25 'local heroes' to establish social action projects to tackle world hunger.

A motion has been put to the Deputies calling for the Tatzmiach GROW project to be put on hold and this is due to be discussed at the meeting on 20th January.  The United Synagogue has asked all Synagogue Boards of Management to discuss this so that their Deputies can represent them fully at the meeting - and The Hampstead Board meets on 14th January to do just that.

Now we know that we can't believe everything we read in the press and the Jewish press has had lots of reports, quotes and speculation about the project this week.  Some of the reporting is accurate, and according to the BOD, some of it is not. For example, the printed copy of the Jewish Chronicle was 'completely inaccurate' according to the BOD President Vivian Wineman, while the online version still includes inaccuracies because Oxfam were never asked to sign any document clarifying their assurances and conditions for the partnership.  Indeed, the document that was simply shared with Oxfam as a courtesy confirmed the NGO's assurances and the BOD's 'red lines' for the partnership: that the Board will discontinue involvement if Oxfam GB: 

  1. Supports a boycott of any type of Israeli goods
  2. Partners with or supports any organisation that promotes of condones violence
  3. Partners with or supports any organisation that calls for the destruction of the State of Israel

The Board is proposing that in order to rigorously monitor the project, they will: 

  1. Create an oversight committee to monitor the project
  2. Ask the committee to reassess the project and the relationship with Oxfam GB after four months and at the end of the programme (at six months)
  3. Ask the committee to submit an informal report of its findings to the Executive after four months and a formal report to the entire Board at the end of project.
Jerry Lewis was invited to attend the meeting and was quoted in the London Jewish News to say that leaders were "misguided" in pursuing the joint initiative, which he argued would "in affect give a hechsher to an organisation which will relish a seal of approval from the community. It will give succour to others who are avowedly anti-Israel".  Ask Jerry for more details of the meeting...

On the other hand, Henry Grunwald, ex President of the BOD, ex Honorary Officer at Hampstead Synagogue, and President of World Jewish Relief said "I think it's absolutely right that the Board seeks to engage with Oxfam and other NGOs."

Marcus Dysch has blogged that he believes that the row is completely unnecessary but this in itself has elicited much argument and comment and he has also reported at length about the 'secret' meeting held between the Board and Oxfam.

Want to know more, or tell us what you think?  Please do contact me or Jerry Lewis. Jerry as you know used to Chair the Community Division of the BOD and I'm part of the BODSA (Social Action Group).

Friday, 4 January 2013

To Grow or not to Grow?

Firstly, apologies for the silence on the blog front.  No excuses, just very busy.  And rather than make a new year's resolution I may not keep, I'll just commit to trying to do better about updating you all here on what's going on at the Board of Deputies.

There's been lots of heated email traffic over the holidays between Deputies about a proposed partnership between the Board and Oxfam UK that was first announced in the Jewish Chronicle last November.  Grow Tatzmiach is the Board of Deputies’ proposed new food justice campaign. Jewish volunteers, Deputies and non-Deputies, interested in alleviating food poverty and social justice issues, can learn from experts and mentors, including some from one of the largest and most influential NGOs - Oxfam GB - together with various Rabbis and Jewish charities.  The goal is that members of our community can raise their game and improve their campaigning skills on important matters.

In a letter from the BOD President today to all Deputies, Vivan Wineman comments that Oxfam's project "to end world hunger is of huge significance and is comparable to the programme regarding millennium debt more than a decade ago. Involving the community in this would be feather in the cap of the Board and of the community and a great Kiddush Hashem – sanctification of the Divine Name."

He goes on to say "Ordinarily there would be no question as to the value of such a programme, but because some of the training is coming from Oxfam GB, objections have been raised on the grounds that they are hostile to Israel, and that any engagement with them should be limited to holding them to account for their views on Israel... 

There are some NGOs that are implacably opposed to Israel per se, but there are others that raise objections to certain Israeli policies, seeing it as speaking out for the people they seek to help.  Oxfam GB falls into the latter camp, and in our discussions with them we have stressed the need to clarify their position, so their views cannot be misrepresented by Israel’s enemies.  Consequently and possibly in response to our urging, Oxfam GB have now stated categorically that they support a two state solution, will not work with organisations advocating violence and do not support boycotts of Israeli goods, including settlement goods."

The JC has reported on this further in today's issue.  You can read Laura Mark's opinion on Why 'we' are doing it and Jonathan Hoffman's view on Why we Shouldn't.  

We'll be debating this at the Board of Deputies Plenary on 20th January.  Jerry and I are your representatives on the Board, so please do share your views with us so that we can feed these in to the discussions.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

My International Division Election Manifesto

Amanda Ruback - International Division Manifesto

My professional life has focused on two areas - communications and international development, enabling me to bring value and highly relevant skills to the activities of the International Division.

Over the last 10 years I have specialised in international development, encouraging businesses to engage with communities in emerging economies – providing unique experience that the International Division can use. This includes encouraging entrepreneurship, leading sustainable development programmes, supporting women’s empowerment, and disaster relief.  My work in over 30 countries has given me the opportunity to work extensively with international organisations such as the United Nations and the Clinton Global Initiative.  It has brought me into contact with world leaders in politics, diplomacy, business and academia.

Much of my work involves campaigning and developing partnerships amongst different organisations.  I look forward to bringing these experiences to the benefit of the Board and  my community.

Of specific relevance is my work engaging with the Muslim world.  In projects in Pakistan and Central Asia, I worked very closely with the Aga Khan Development Network.  This experience has equipped me with the skills to deal with cultural sensitivities, recognising there are issues which bridge religious and communal divides for the benefit of the wider community.

And for any Deputies reading this, if you want more reasons to vote for me...

Although I’m a new Deputy, I am confident that as a fast learner, I can add value to the International Division as well as bring a blend of first hand experience of real-life international development from my professional life, together with a vision of how the UK Jewish community - with all its diversity of belief, passion, energy and intrinsic benevolence can make a positive contribution and support and protect Jewish communities around the world.

I believe that as our society becomes more polarised, as different groups become more entrenched with the real danger of retreating into fundamentalism and prejudice, we need to project Jewish values in a positive light - whether secular, spiritual, or Zionist. For me this means practical engagement, such as Israel's work in areas of the world traumatised by natural disaster, for example in Haiti. In my own work, I have succeeded in getting major private and public sector bodies to support international development in many parts of the world and in a wide range of ways - from earthquake relief in Pakistan, providing micro finance in Africa, and promoting sustainability initiatives in Central and Eastern Europe – experience that I’m sure will be valuable to the International Division.

There are many active advocate groups for Israel, but the Board of Deputies can deliver its support in more practical ways than just through hasbara and lobbying. A bigger vision is needed, and I would relish the opportunity of working within the International Division to make this happen, learning from what has already worked and sharing my ideas further.

In addition to international development, I have a background in marketing and communications and so I am sure that I can support the Division in many ways and wherever it focuses its efforts. Women now make up almost a third of all Deputies.  That’s brilliant for the Board for so many reasons – not least that we’re great at making change and doing so with creativity and insight but without confrontation or conflict. I’d really love your support and your vote – as high up your preference list as possible – to help make sure that women also make up their fair share of the International Division too. 

Board of Deputy Divisional Elections - another first for me

This coming Sunday - 15th July - sees my first experience of the Board's Divisional Elections.  Those in the know have encouraged me to get stuck in and stand for one of the Divisions - the choices are between Community Issues, Defence, Finance and Organisation and International.  Given my career is in international development, I felt that it was here that I could make the greatest contribution.

And so to the process.  Each candidate provided a 200 word manifesto which was collated and circulated to all Deputies.  We were all encouraged to reach out by phone and email to other Deputies to solicit their support - but where to start?  As a new Deputy, my network is not yet well developed, so  it didn't take long to get in touch with the people I know and ask for their support.  I joined the Facebook groups and followed and contributed to the conversations and I reached out to a carefully selected group of people who I thought might vote for me.

I may have been too selective and left it too late - but who knows.  The elections work on a STV (single transferrable vote) system.  Pretty complicated stuff, but the Changing the Board group posted a very useful 'unofficial' guide that made it clear that I need to get 21 votes to have a chance of getting in.

I've read all the manifestos; I've pulled together a list of the people that have said they'll support me and who I want to vote for and there's pretty much little else I can do... except of course share my manifesto here.  It's coming soon in my next blog.