Reluctant as this blog is to wade into UK Jewish politics, the uproar following the refusal by majority vote of the Zionist Federation to admit Yachad – the so-called British J-Street – as an affiliated member, calls for some comment.
Yachad, a one-woman band led by the 30-something Hannah Weisfeld, claims to be a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organisation. Its stance may be summed up as follows: for Israel’s good – both to maintain Israel as a democratic state, and for the sake of peace, Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and stop ‘judaising’ East Jerusalem.
I happened to share a taxi with Hannah Weisfeld a few weeks ago. There I raised the question: Yachad is supporting Arab property rights: why can it not also support Jewish property rights?Weisfeld has conducted quite a campaign on behalf of ‘Arab occupants ‘unjustly’ evicted from their homes in Silwan, although the Israeli courts have on many occasions ruled in their favour. Yet Yachad has not raised a peep on behalf of the Yemenite Jews who lost their rights to their homes in 1936, when they were advised the British to leave Silwan – as their security could not be guaranteed following Arab attacks. While it is keen to defend the interests of (in the main) Arab squatters, it has utterly ignored the rights of Jews driven out in 1948.
Hannah did not seem to know about the Yemenites of Silwan. Yachad is not prepared to defend the rights of Jews who wish to recover the properties they abandoned in ‘Arab’ East Jerusalem. Here her view concords with the Arab narrative: Jews trying to move into Arab East Jerusalem are part of a deplorable, politically-motivated plan to Judaise the area, while petrodollar-funded, uncontrolled Arab building is unworthy of attention. Broadly speaking, Yachad thinks an equitable exchange of property ownership has already taken place – with Jews moving into Arab homes in West Jerusalem and Arabs into East. Just as Yachad was not going open the West Jerusalem can-of-worms, so did it seek to maintain the status of the East Jerusalem can-of-worms, viewing the division of Jerusalem between Jewish and Arab zones as pretty much set in stone.
But that view ignores the distortions in the wider picture: Arabs who wish to sell their property to Jews are condemned to death, while Jews can make a free choice. The Israeli government has compensated some Arabs for their lost property, while not a single dispossessed Jew now living in Israel can get his claim recognised by an Arab state, let alone obtain compensation.
When I asked Hannah why Yachad does not defend the rights of Jews evicted from Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus, the stock answer came back: what does that have to do with the Palestinians? Everything, I answered. Documents of the time indicate that the Arab states considered the Jews in Arab countries members of the JEWISH MINORITY OF THE STATE OF PALESTINE. If Arab states could make the link, so should Yachad – among others.
Before I could elaborate, our shared taxi ride was over.
I would have liked to have added that it is not for Yachad to prejudge a solution for Jerusalem. It is not for Yachad to de-contextualise the conflict so as to ignore Jewish property rights. It is not for Yachad to presume that only pressure to make concessions need be applied on the Israeli side. The impression is unavoidable, despite its pleas to be pro-Zionist, that Yachad is not acting in the best interests of Israel. And for all those reasons, the Zionist Federation was right not to admit Yachad to its ranks.