For those who missed the first part of this research into Yachad UK, you can catch up with it here. In the second part of the series, I will look at the core politics and activities of Yachad, and analyse the reason for the frustration and hostility the group generates amongst mainstream British Zionists.
In many ways attacking Yachad is exactly what Yachad want you to do. They thrive every time they are accused of overstepping the mark. Such attacks allow them to play the role of the oppressed ‘peace-seekers’. In turn they paint all criticism as emerging from the camp of warmongering extremists. I can do little but fall into that trap. Despite my politics being ‘left of centre’, Yachad will simply suggest I am a closet Kahanist.
Yachad UK, core politics
Yachad have marketed themselves as a moderate left wing group. ‘Liberal Zionists’. Their core principles, two states built along the 67 lines (with border adjustments), and a negotiated denial of the Palestinian ‘right of return’, are the classic stance of the post Oslo Israeli Left position. Compromising, but Jew centric, and with a heart of Zionism. More Peres than Rabin.
So how can it be, that a movement that appears to push the politics of dovish elements in Israel’s Labour party, seems to raise such anger amidst British Jewry? More to the point how can this occur at the same time as Yachad are claiming that they have ‘majority support’ from mainstream British Jewry?
What Yachad want you to think is that this occurs because radical right wing Zionists control the British Zionist organisations. That Yachad are the only party of ‘peace’. To imply that UK Jewry was being so badly misrepresented, that only the creation of Yachad could redress the balance. So if someone like me, or perhaps a mainstream liberal Zionist group, begins to suggest the politics of Yachad are suspect, it creates a public crisis of identity that can only be averted by supporters of Yachad screaming ‘hard-liner’ in return.
As an example of this high pitched Yachad ‘screech’, in 2013 the Zionist Federation was forced to issue a statement correcting Yachad’s implication that the ZF do not support peace:
“It is important to note that despite claims by Yachad’s statement, the ZF strongly supports peace in the Middle East and the two state solution. To say that we do not is factually incorrect.”
Anyone that has engaged the central Zionist groups in the UK, knows they are, in the majority, left-leaning, accommodating, peace-seeking. Look at the make-up of the JLC, the Board, or some of the output of BICOM. For some, these groups are too left wing, too liberal, and they are often criticised by the more ‘right-wing’ elements within the community. The idea that the ZF’s of this world, wouldn’t fall over themselves in the rush to support a genuine peace deal is as absurd as it is an insult to the intelligence of UK Jewry. All this before we look at the incredible diversity of the grassroots movements.
So in truth this continual smearing by Yachad is nonsense. The two-state option, peace talks, withdrawing from territories, the creation of a Palestinian state, it has all been part and parcel of Israeli politics and global Zionist discourse since the mid 1990’s.
These days’ Israeli politics is split mainly on the lines of ‘who is responsible for the impasse’ and ‘what can be done about it’. Whatever they think of the current government policies, every Israeli Zionist party understands the complexities of the reality. Yet Yachad dance to the single monotonous beat of ‘it’s the occupation stupid’ that you can hear from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other great ‘friends’ of Israel (!!). Yachad have simply decided to behave as if peace is achievable and almost everything is the fault of Israel’s right wing and more specifically, the ‘settlements’.
This automatically distances Yachad from the more reasonable centrist groups, and certainly from ‘Zionist Union’. What this political positioning also does is entirely reject the premise that Yachad UK are speaking for the majority of British Jews. The invention of the ‘silent majority’ is similar to the call of the ‘Corbynistas’. Push a radical agenda whilst pretending to speak for the mainstream. As I pointed out last time, even Yachad’s own survey does not seem to support Yachad’s claims.
Yes, they cite the concerns of UK Jewry, but only those concerns that suit their own agenda. They ignore the inconsistencies, the causes and the complexities. The vast majority of those surveyed do not fit the platform of the Zionist left party ‘Meretz‘. Yachad are taking public ownership of a majority that does not support them. They become a Zionist version of ‘Momentum’.
Yachad UK, on the fringe
Even then, there is no need to reject the core argument. Yes, Yachad represent idealistic ‘student style’ politics. Affluent and entitled. Ignorant idealism may not be intellectually attractive, but it still falls into the realm of legitimate Zionist thought.
Yet Yachad were rejected in the application to join the Zionist Federation. So was that rejection wrong? Are Yachad on the fringe, or beyond it? Are this astroturf group a rebranded ‘Meretz UK’, or something more unstable? Let’s stop looking at how Yachad describe themselves, and start looking at what they are doing.
The recent ‘no-platforming’ of the Zionist movement ‘Im Tirtzu’ seems a good place to start. A public statement by Weisfeld was blatantly hypocritical, having had herself only recently slammed such tactics by other groups.
If this type of aggressive, ‘no-platforming’ of Zionism is familiar to you, this is because it is exactly the same logic that BDS uses to deny a platform to Zionism. Same arguments, same accusations. Yet in 2012, we can note that Yachad UK invited Ben White to their own blog pages. Offering him a platform (H/T UK Media Watch).
Now consider this, Ben White is at the very forefront of an absolute denial of the Zionist voice in the UK. He considers Israel a rogue nation that needs to be removed from the map. Ben White does not mention the name ‘Israel’, without adding the comments, ‘racist’. ‘apartheid’, ‘fascist’ or ‘settler colonialist’. He is an enemy of Israel. Many consider him an antisemite. Yachad UK offer Ben White a platform, but yet call for everyone to reject ‘Im Tirtzu’.
Yachad UK, over the edge
This hypocrisy, anti-Israel attitude and ethical ambiguity run throughout Yachad’s political positions. On boycott’s (H/T Richard Millet) Weisfeld ebbs and flows, contradicting herself as she goes. If, as Weisfeld states, “all forms of boycott are counterproductive”, then how could a ‘settlement only’ boycott possibly “change the nature of the debate”?
Yachad’s Director has already suggested she would feel personally uncomfortable buying produce from beyond the 1967 lines. Drawing no distinction between different types of settlements at all. But as Weisfeld toys with the idea of a partial boycott, she leaves Zionism behind. *NO* Zionist Israeli party supports a boycott. If we wish to place this Yachad contemplation on the political scale, then only communist, anti-Zionist ‘Hadash’ tick this box.
It is the failure to grasp the factual history surrounding the dispute and ignorance of the complexities of the conflict that continually expose Yachad UK, and in particular its central public figure, Hannah Weisfeld. It is almost as if Yachad is operating on a borrowed ideology (from Meretz) that isn’t fully understood by those using it. This creates a dangerous cocktail that frequently sees Yachad tip over the edge of Zionism and into the void beyond.
This on Hebron:
“When Yachad, the British Jewish pro-Israel pro-peace movement began taking tours to Hebron, we were criticized for paying too much attention to the city because it gives the “wrong impression” about the impact of Israeli presence in the West Bank, which is perceived to be less extreme elsewhere. But the system of rule in Hebron is just a condensed version of the system of rule over the entire West Bank”
Which is an absurd statement. Not only is Hebron a ‘one-off’, the implication in the use of the word ‘perceived’ is that Hebron’s condition is actually a condensed version of ‘the norm’. As someone who has travelled extensively and *independently* throughout the 67 lands, I can say categorically, that Ms. Weisfeld is talking absolute poppycock.
Left wing activists *think* they are informed, and yes, they have digested a large amount of information, but it is almost all taken from the ‘science of the occupation’. Names, details, events that are all related to the specifics of their own cause. In discussion, this can play out as appearing ‘knowledgeable’, but in truth it is like memorising the text of a CS Lewis book. Talking for an hour about Susiya or the Beduin in the Negev is little more than an irrelevant party trick. At times, quoting B’tselem is simply repeating the output of a random number generator.
Hannah’s problem, is that like most activists she is caught in this ideological straightjacket. I doubt very much that Ms. Weisfeld has ever let go of the hand that leads her and walked down the unchartered path of ‘West Bank’ travel. Every visit she has made would have been directed. All Yachad can do is feed others with the same distortion that its own leaders have been fed. A cyclical movement of anti-Israel propaganda. Trapped inside a restrictive bubble that is determined to create a balloon of a particular shape.
Shaking the roots of UK Zionists
Hebron is a major part of the Yachad UK tours, but it is not the only red flag. There are many indications that Yachad is not being directed by anybody with a full grasp of the fundamental issues. Yachad are one sided. All hate, no moderation. Daphne Anson (citing a Jonathan Hoffman speech) discusses an account from someone who went on a Yachad trip:
“Our leader subjected us to a litany of accusations against Israel. I have studied the conflict and most of his accusations were new to me and did not ring true. Some of his statements I knew to be false.”
But rather than highlight the bias and damaging aspects of the tour through the eyes of someone who criticises them, I think it more useful to work with comments from one of those who praise the tours. This from a Yachad blog post in 2014:
“I’m anti-occupation and anti-settlement. I can’t find and justification for the theft someone’s land and justifying it by saying that it’s said in the Torah. How would you like to wake up in the morning and find that someone had parked a caravan in your back garden and they refused to leave citing a different religious book that you don’t follow or agree with? I could imagine that if they said, “Well ok, I’ll give you back 97% of your garden but I’m still holding on to the other 3%”, you wouldn’t find that acceptable. And don’t try and say that it’s their fault for not believing in the Torah, the argument of us having the right to say to someone else that our religion is truer that theirs is ridiculous and to apply the laws of it to them is even more so. How to we have the right to say that we’re more right than anyone else? How do we have the right to say that someone else is wrong?”
Now whether Yachad wish to admit it or not, this activist is on the brink of anti-Zionism. That argument is one I hear at every BDS meeting I attend, and *has no borders*. The precise logic works for pre-1967 Israel, and although the writer hasn’t yet internalised the full scope of his argument yet, his roots of Zionism have been sufficiently shaken as to be non-existent. Emotionally he may still have ties to Israel, but intellectually he has already let go. He is one persuasive conversation away from switching sides.
I cannot know what position he is in now, whether perhaps he pulled himself back from the brink. What he needed was factual discussion, real history. Criticism – fine, but in context and with both sides of a very difficult conversation. What he got, was pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist propaganda that blew him away. Those words above are his – not mine. He is evidence that Yachad should not currently receive the support of British Jews. So oblivious are they to the damage they do, they advertise this on their own website with pride.
Social media anti-Zionist promotion
But although taking young British Jews on tour and filling them with the latest and greatest from the anti-Israel propaganda camp is frightening, it is some of Yachad’s social media activity that highlights just how blind this group are to the division between Zionism and anti-Zionism. I admit I had originally turned to their social media activity to push home the point that Yachad are an astroturf group with limited support. A quick glance at their Twitter account and Facebook page highlights that almost nobody is listening. But what actually caught my eye was the activity itself. These are just some of the writers promoted by Yachad on their twitter feed:
Now this small selection all appeared over a matter of a few weeks. And I let some, such as Orly Noy pass without comment. At perhaps 2 tweets a day, it also cannot be argued that Yachad UK are ‘diversifying’ to find content. These are effectively their “read of the day” posts. All of these link the follower back to 972 Mag. Most of the writers who appear on 972 are anti-Zionists. Almost all push the ‘one democratic state’ idea. Almost all those above, support elements of BDS: Shaeffer claims it is “a just outcome that guarantees basic rights for everyone”, Greenstein argues against Chomsky’s BDS aversion, Bahour actively promotes the boycott and Sheizaf says BDS should “not be opposed”
The party of choice for many of these 972 writers is ‘Hadash’, that currently sits within the ‘Joint List‘. This isn’t mainstream Zionism, nor reflective of a Zionist desire for peace at all, Yachad UK is openly promoting people who actively pursue the end of Israel and Zionism. Zonszein recently wrote a piece about leaving Israel. The usual imaginary ‘radical left’ game of pretending the end-game is here and everyone is leaving. ‘Reverse Zionism’ I suppose. Leaving Israel is the same course of action ‘Boycott from Within’ founder Ronnie Barkan took.
In addition, Yachad post almost nothing in support of Israel. Nor do they seem to align themselves with moderate left wing Zionists. On the day of the horrific attack at Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue, Yachad UK chose to post a piece by Noam Sheizaf attacking Netanyahu, suggesting the attack is part of the ‘implementation phase’ of Israel’s right wing. Needless to say, no Zionist party in Israel would have dared to have promoted such poison, as the blood from that terror attack still ran across the synagogue floor.
I met Sheizaf at Exeter University, where he attended Illan Pappe’s ‘Conference on Settler Colonialism in Palestine‘. If you are not sure who the anti-Zionist, pro-BDS, revisionist, Illan Pappe is, you can always read more about him on 972 Mag. Ben White has been published there too. Many of these people are friends. These people all self-reference themselves as the ‘radical left’. This is the politics that Yachad UK are publicly supporting and disseminating. But if Yachad UK claim to be ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ and Zionist, how are they making so many blatant errors of judgement?
A two state what?
The central problem remains the illusionary stance of their oft-stated goals. Yachad regurgitate the ‘Oslo’ mantra as if it still has validity. This from the 2015 annual report:
“Letting our election candidates in the UK know that supporters of Israel want candidates as their MPs who will actively promote the two-state solution”
( At this point it may be useful to recollect that at the outset, Weisfeld stated that: “there would be clear differences from J Street and unlike the American enterprise, Yachad would not be a political lobbying organisation”. Given how much political lobbying Yachad undertake, it seems she ‘forgot’.)
But if Yachad actually paid attention to the thoughts of the ‘ex-general’s’ they continually cite, ‘Oslo’ is at best in a vegetative state. For several reasons (many not within Israel’s control), the establishment of a ‘Palestinian state’ is not feasible for the foreseeable future. And whether you believe that in the end, a two state solution may or may not be preferable, claiming to be a party of peace whilst in the same sentence drawing the diagram of what peace *has to* look like, can become ideological quicksand. What happens if the political landscape around you begins to change? This is what has happened to Yachad. Weisfeld belongs in Beilin’s Labour of 1998 or Sarid’s Meretz of 1995, but neither of these parties exist today.
Whilst the moderate left in Israel began to seek alternative, unilateral options to maintain the ‘democratic Jewish majority’, Weisfeld and ‘non lobbying’ Yachad, petition the UK government to pressure Israel to force Oslo down their throats. So as Yachad UK desperately search for Zionist material that agrees with their outdated political position, they find themselves scrambling further and further left. In the end, Yachad need the ‘anti-Zionists’, the ‘radical left’, because nobody on the Zionist spectrum is speaking the same language. Yachad’s posts – radical left, Yachad’s tours – radical left, Yachad’s statements – Narnia-esque
This, a comment from Weisfeld over Palestinian recognition at the UN:
“To be recognised as a state will require the Palestinian leadership to take on the obligations of behaving like a state.”
Which displays an incredible level of naivety. Has Weisfeld not been paying attention at all for the last two decades? Nobody on this side of sanity believes that anymore.
An argument does not have to be factually based, it can alternatively be grounded in pseudo-science / academic theory. But you cannot sensibly support something that has no academic cover, nor any grounding in fact, because it becomes a dangerous chimera. This is the ‘space’ Yachad UK currently occupies.
Because of this it is on the questions of ‘limits’ and matters of ‘self-defence’ that Yachad seem to become highly exposed. During 2014, David Hirsch commented that Yachad are “strong on peace but quiet on Jewish self-defence”. This highlights that disquiet with the groups ‘foundation’, is also visible within camps that traditionally align with Oslo’s aims. It is foolish to write off criticism of Yachad as being a protection of right wing values.
They bring over Zionists such as Yehuda Bauer, without actually heeding their words. I have seen him twice now (thank you Yachad!). On both occasions, Bauer declared that BDS is antisemitic and anti-Zionism is antisemitism. He also stated that modern antisemitism is not caused by the conflict over the 1967 lands. All this from a man with Mapam in his roots. Despite Bauer’s natural political opposition to the ‘occupation’, the authors at 972 magazine would be at odds with almost every premise that Bauer pushed. These two distinct groups are not political bedfellows, but there seems an apparent difficulty within Yachad to draw distinctions. This is why Yachad’s message is an absolute mess.
As is usually the case with the credible people Yachad hide behind, within the detailed content of their speeches, you will find everything necessary to discredit Yachad’s own position. During yesterday’s discussion, Bauer was asked about ‘self-haters’. He discussed the existence in Israel of Jews who push the enemy line. People for example, who are anti-Zionists (Bauer claims they are antisemites), who push BDS (Bauer claim the boycott is antisemitic) and Bauer suggests these people may have ‘psychological’ issues. Yet these are some of the people Yachad are actively promoting and they include some of those Yachad UK want to take our children to meet on their tours. Don’t Yachad UK even listen to the speakers at their own events?
Yachad gain credibility through these public exercises, having the funds to invite excellent Zionist speakers that push liberal Zionism. Thus displaying the acceptable Zionist face of the peace camp. It gains them access into the synagogue, into the community. Yet there are two distinct Yachad faces. The reasonable face Yachad presents to the doubting crowd, and the anti-Zionist, pro boycott mob they want our children to meet.
If you were to question them, Yachad activists would deny such a dissonance exists. But you cannot continually post writings of anti-Zionists, of BDS supporters, of those who seek to end Zionism, and still claim to be staunchly Zionist. At a certain point your desire to hold on to the Zionist label becomes merely a marketing tool.
Yachad UK, menace without intention
This piece should be read in the spirit in which it was written. This is not an attack on the ‘peace camp’. It is not an attack on those who seek to build bridges, nor those who would prefer a two state solution above all other alternatives.
The problem is one of understanding, context and direction. Left in the wilderness by the shifting sands of a complex situation Yachad do not possess the internal integrity to maintain a clear path. In shorthand, it seems the people who founded Yachad simply did not know enough to have created their own movement. This is why it was based on a borrowed ideology. Under normal circumstances, Yachad would never have left the launchpad because the mainstream Zionist organisations already possessed ‘pro-Oslo’ movements.
Astroturf groups however, can forge a direction even when the public do not ideologically respond, because financially they remain viable without many followers. With enough funding to push a particular vision, Yachad aligned themselves with groups that support the boycott like Machsom Watch, or Ir Amim, and publicly push our youth towards the ideology of 972 magazine. You cannot keep swimming in the waters of those who promote or assist in a boycott and insist you are not, at best, assisting anti-Zionism.
It is radical thought, dressing itself up as mainstream left wing Zionism and then resurfacing inside our Synagogues and universities to open a discussion with Zionist youth. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with a movement which promotes Oslo, even if I think it a ‘mythical zeitgeist’ (H/T Sapan Maini-Thompson). However, I do take issue with a movement that does not seem able to distinguish between the ‘BDS is antisemitic’ comments of Prof. Bauer and the ‘antisemitic BDS’ they seem to want to expose our children to. In my opinion, Yachad are simply not safe.
Yachad seem to be fronted by a handful of entitled, affluent British Jews, with a ‘little knowledge’, who have taken it upon themselves to ‘inform’ Israel that the majority of British Jews agree with Yachad. Having also immersed themselves in the ‘science of the occupation’, they wish to teach this science to Zionist youth. They do so whilst providing a programme that simply does not present a balanced or accurate view of the landscape.
Now it is likely that these people, living in the comfort of North London, are acting with a sincere desire to help achieve an imaginary Israel of which they can be proud. Needless to say however it is not their children sitting in the line of fire. One wonders whether they would have tweeted about the attack on the synagogue in 2014 in quite the same way if there was a personal attatchment to the victims.
In 2010 the then Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks stated:
“For it is the people of Israel who suffer the direct consequences of the forces ranged against them and it is their children who are in the front line of its defence.”
It is worth bearing this in mind when dealing with a group which wants your help to actively petition the UK government or wish to promote the ideology of anti-Israel boycotts to Zionist Jewish youth. A group that clearly does not fully grasp the complexities (OR THE DANGERS) of a Jewish nation trying to find a path to peace in the turbulent and hostile Middle East.
The third and final piece in this series, on the Yachad tours, is being researched. Due to those that contacted me over the research, and a list of people I now have to interview, this will take time. You can get a notification when the third piece is released by subscribing to the blog using the link on the page.
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