Sep 2013 Journal

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Letter from Israel

A white card with black lettering fell out of a book as I took it down from its shelf. It turned out to be an invitation sent in 1963 to members of the Society for Jewish Study and the B’nai B’rith Leo Baeck (London) Lodges to attend a lecture by Dr David Patterson on ‘Conflict and Crisis in Modern Hebrew Literature’.
Immediately, I was taken back to those far-off times when I was still living in London under my parents’ roof and one of my late father’s ‘evening jobs’ was to serve as the secretary of the Society for Jewish Study. From where I’m sitting today, the topic of the lecture sounds fascinating but I’m afraid that at the time I wasn’t particularly interested in those esoteric subjects. I do recollect, though, that my father enjoyed fulfilling his duty of attending those lectures, whereby he managed to broaden his education, which had been curtailed in Nazi Germany. He organised the monthly lectures, booked the hall and had the invitations printed. He even enlisted my sisters, our mother and myself to help him when it came to putting the cards into the envelopes on which he had typed the addresses.
Curiosity led me to turn to the internet to see whether the Society for Jewish Study still existed. To my delight it’s still going strong, with a varied programme of lectures, many of them of quite some relevance to people like myself – British expatriates living in Israel. As its website,, proclaims, ‘The Society for Jewish Study brings before the public the results and insights of academic research into Jewish religion, literature, history and the arts.’
Amidst the learned lectures about such subjects as ‘Musical Instruments in the Bible’, ‘Secret Jews and the Inquisition’ and ‘Academic Study of Jewish Law with Reference to the Agunah Problem’, my curiosity was aroused by the subject of Dr Alan Mendoza’s lecture (given in December 2012) entitled ‘Understanding Delegitimisation: The War Against Israel in Contemporary Britain’.
In the summary of his lecture, Dr Mendoza wrote: ‘Israel is a liberal, democratic and economically productive country, with award-winning high-tech and technological innovation the effects of which are seen around the world. Yet in 2012 Britain, calls for its boycott and international isolation have never been stronger, with Israel’s standing under assault in academic, trade union, political, cultural and media circles. This has not occurred by accident – a long-term campaign has been waged against Israel by political activists, with dangerous consequences for both Britain and Israel.’
I couldn’t have put it better myself!
The summary ended with the lecturer’s promise to explain the context of the delegitimisation movement and how it could be turned back. I wish I could have been there and I hope that large numbers of people turned out to attend. It seems to me that the Jewish community in England would do well to invite Dr Mendoza to repeat that lecture at venues throughout England and even abroad.
The version of Israel that is portrayed by the media in England tends to be skewed, probably because of the British predilection for supporting the ‘underdog’, in this case the Palestinians. Irrespective of whatever solution is eventually reached, the situation is not a straightforward black-and-white one, with the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other, as the over-simplified version that is fed to the British public would seem to suggest.
In view of recent events in the neighbouring countries of the region in which Israel is located, not to mention the history of the Jewish people, I think it advisable that a combination of pragmatic and existential considerations be allowed to be paramount when it comes to formulating and implementing policies. I just wish the British public and media could see it that way.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

previous article:A disputed legacy (review)by Lily E. Hirsch
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