Liberal Rabbi Danny Rich and the ZF (JC Blog 12 February 2012)

To mark 14 years of blogging and during the quieter summer break I am republishing some of my blogs which were inadvertently deleted. Liberal Rabbi Danny Rich – the subject of this blog – no longer holds office with Liberal Judaism and is no longer a ZF Patron.

An article on the JC website describes a discussion at the last ZF National Council regarding Liberal Rabbi Danny Rich’s suitability to be a ZF Patron. It is extremely regrettable that someone leaked what was a confidential discussion. Rabbi Rich was interviewed for the article and referred to “Jonathan Hoffman’s petty campaign against me”. Such personal vilification regrettably gives me no alternative but to respond. Far from this being a “petty campaign” there are very important issues here – issues which indeed have raised the eyebrows of many Israel supporters in Danny Rich’s own Liberal Community.

The fundamental expression of Zionism is the Jerusalem Programme. All Officers and Patrons of the ZF must declare adherence to it. The Jerusalem Programme declares says that one of the foundations of Zionism is the bond of the Jewish people to its historic homeland in the State of Israel and the centrality of that State and Jerusalem in the life of the nation. Another foundation is strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state.

Denying that Israel is at heart a Jewish State not only violates the Jerusalem Programme, it is also – by definition – antisemitic. The most widely accepted definition of antisemitism is that drawn up by the European Union Monitoring Committee (now the Fundamental Rights Agency). Among others, this is accepted by the US Department of State and by the UK government. The EUMC Definition says it is antisemitic to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination

“One State” would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. To advocate “One State” is therefore to advocate for something that violates the Jerusalem Programme and for something which is – by definition – antisemitic.

Liberal Rabbi Rich refuses to accept that advocating “One State” is antisemitic.

On March 21 2010 Liberal Rabbi Rich allowed Jeff Halper (of “Israel Committee Against House Demolitions ”) to have a platform at the Montagu Centre (Liberal Judaism’s main building). The meeting was organised by “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” but Rabbi Rich let the hall to them and was at the meeting.

Jeff Halper openly advocates ‘One State’. Rabbi Rich was widely criticised for giving him a platform. I have copies of emails to him from Senior Communal Leader A (‘It is remarkable that you hosted such a person’) and Senior Communal Leader B:

I just cannot imagine why any Jew, particularly a Zionist Jew, would invite Jeff Halper to speak in public to a predominantly Jewish audience in this country. Halper believes in a one state solution – the end of a Jewish State – and believes Israel to be an apartheid regime. He continually criticises and demonises Israel and is a perfect tool for all those who want to delegitimise and destroy our State of Israel. Whereas I truly believe in freedom of speech and democracy, and Israel also believes the same, I find it incredible that you should give a platform to this man who has sufficient opportunities to speak with our enemies and who supports our enemies.

Halper has also used Nazi analogies to describe Israeli policy (also antisemitic under the EUMC Definition)

After the meeting Danny Rich wrote the following on my JC blog: (his post was on 22 March, the blog was dated 20 March): Liberal Judaism rejects the allegation that the advocacy of a one state solution is by definition anti Semitic.

In an email to Jonathan Hoffman (17/3/10) Rabbi Rich wrote ‘advocates of a one state solution are not, in my view, by definition anti-Semitic’

On 22/3/10 Joy Wolfe (ZF co-President) wrote to Liberal Rabbi Rich as follows:

Calling for a single state denies Jews the right to their homeland which comes within the terms of reference of what constitutes antisemitism, and the proposal to virtually dismantle Israel for our people is clearly antisemitism, which you seem unable to recognise.

A Board of Deputies spokesman said:

“At a time when Israel is under assault from those intent on delegitimising her, it is baffling and unacceptable that a meeting of a body with an explicit agenda of boycott, divestment and sanctions would be welcome in the home of a synagogue movement.”

On 23/7/10 Rabbi Rich wrote in an email to me

“I do not accept your definition of anti-Semitism, and will continue to believe and state that ‘calling for a one state solution is not necessarily antisemitic’.

Of course the definition is not MINE – it is the widely accepted EUMC Definition.

Ronnie Fraser (a ZF National Council Member) is going to Court to challenge the rejection by his trade union (the University and College Union) of the EUMC Definition of Antisemitism. The ZF is supporting his case.  It is glaringly inconsistent to – on the one hand – support Fraser’s legal action to defend the EUMC Definition and  – on the other – to have a Patron who openly refuses to accept the EUMC Definition.

At a meeting at Kingston Synagogue in October 2010 Rabbi Rich was on the same platform as me. He made a comment – heard by all in the audience – that the ZF was allied with the EDL. Such a comment from a ZF Patron at a public meeting is completely unacceptable. <b>A Patron is supposed to help the organisation which appoints him, not defame it!

In his JC Column on 13 January 2012, Professor Geoffrey Alderman wrote of Rich:

He is, for example, on record as denying that the so-called “one-state” solution is “by definition” antisemitic, whereas I would have thought it obvious that any denial of the right of Jewish self-determination must, by definition, be so.

Danny Rich is a Patron of J News. J News carried an article attempting to block Israel’s entry into the OECD . 

Most recently Liberal Rabbi Rich has spoken alongside Peter Kosminsky, the Director of “The Promise” . (The ZF issued a Press Notice protesting at the lies and distortions in “The Promise”). He also spoke alongside Deborah Fink, a founder of “Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods”. The meeting was organised by the profoundly anti-Israel group “Friends of Sabeel” as well as “Jews for Justice for Palestinians”.

Liberal Rabbi Rich’s demonstrative rejection of key elements of the Jerusalem Programme and the EUMC Definition of Antisemitism is completely at odds with what should be expected from a Patron of the Zionist Federation. As regards those whose company he keeps, interfaith dialogue is important and valuable, as is engaging in political debate with those who disagree with our position. But it is also important that we retain a boundary. We must recognise that there are some views which are so antithetical to Zionism that those who are prepared to sit down with people who espouse them have no place in the Zionist Federation – let alone as a Patron. Dialogue is only possible where we have the courage to require the respect of red lines of accepting Israel’s right to exist as a State grounded in Judaism.