Update/analysis: Cameron changes “no comment” stance on JNF departure

Last month Asa Winstanley reported for The Electronic Intifada on how British Prime Minister David Cameron had stepped down as honorary Jewish National Fund patron. Asa, a journalist in London who blogs at winstanleys.org and who can be followed on Twitter, wrote up the following update and analysis after the prime minister’s spokespersons broke the silence on Cameron’s resignation:

When I called the Number 10 press office to get a comment from British Prime Minister David Cameron for my story for The Electronic Intifada on his resignation as honorary Jewish National Fund (JNF) patron last week, the two spokespersons I talked to were polite enough. But it was clear there was a decision not to comment on reasons.

A few days after my story was published, this line changed. The Jewish Chronicle (JC) last Thursday published a new story in which they had managed to coax out new details: “a spokesman confirmed that the reason [for his resignation] was JNF’s links to Israel”

However, Number 10 is also now saying it was about “having an organisation that was specifically focused around work in one specific country. We spoke to JNF to say this had nothing to do with a policy issue.” To make things even more clear: “This has absolutely nothing to do with any anti-Israel campaign … The Prime Minister’s clear views on Israel are on record.”

So what are we to make of this? Was this a victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement or not? Stop the JNF thinks it was, but this seems to be contradicted by the new rationale published in the JC Thursday, 2 June.

In this context, it’s important to clarify two points. Firstly, BDS is about concrete results to challenge Israeli apartheid policies such as those funded by the JNF. It’s not just a list of things to boycott so we can feel good about ourselves. Secondly, it is worth clarifying that The Jewish Chronicle, under its current editor, is staunchly pro-Zionist (remember, this was the paper that recently published a columnist who expressed “pleasure” at the murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian ISM activist based in Gaza).

On the first point: it is clear that, regardless of the reasons for Cameron’s resignation, the move is clearly a big setback for the JNF in UK. The “Israel: right or wrong” crowd are very much gnashing their teeth about it. As well as the rantings of Melanie “Mad Mel” Phillips that I reported on in my original article, in the new JC piece Zionist Federation chairman Harvey Rose said the decision sent a “terrible message” to Israel supporters in the UK. Former JNF President Gail Seal said that it was “very damaging … It undermines the work we are trying to do for Israel. It’s broken a chain since 1901 where we have always had a British prime minister as a patron. It’s very sad and I’m very upset about it.”

On the second point: As far as I can tell, the first place this story emerged was in the JC on 26 May, in a very short piece buried on the website (I have not had a chance to check if it was in the print edition or not): “Cameron leaves the JNF”.

It seems that these few short paragraphs were essentially based on Stop the JNF’s detective work: i.e. keeping an eye on the JNF UK website, and noticing that Cameron’s name had been quietly dropped. It seems that the JC was caught in a dilemma: they clearly did not want to draw attention to Stop the JNF’s claim of victory, but it was obviously too big to altogether ignore. When the story was picked up and reported on by The Electronic Intifada, Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian and others, it seems the JC decided to try and salvage the narrative.

I think it would be naive for Palestine activists to take David Cameron as a political ally. He has not broken from long-standing British policy in support of Israel (even if he does not seem to be an ideological Christian Zionist like Tony Blair). This is also the man who, while in opposition infamously said “If by Zionist you mean that the Jews have the right to a homeland in Israel and the right to a country then I am a Zionist”.

Rationale aside, in my opinion, this is clearly a material advance in the campaign against the JNF and its funding of apartheid and ethnic cleaning throughout historical Palestine.

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Its not a case of anyone seeing Cameron as an political ally, more a case of hoping that at last the JNF is being seen a racist organisation making his association with it problematic.

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Lobby your MP to sign Early Day Motion 1677, tabled by MPs Jeremy Corbyn & Sir Gerald Kaufman (text below); & let the Stop the JNF Campaign know the results of your lobbying – see www.stopthejnf.org:

"That this House welcomes the Stop the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Campaign launched on 30 March 2011 by the Palestinian Boycott National Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and others to inform the public about the JNF - Karen Kayemet L'Yisrael, its ongoing illegal expropriation of Palestinian land, concealing of destroyed Palestinian villages beneath parks and forests, and prevention of refugees from returning to their homes; notes that the JNF's constitution is explicitly discriminatory by stating that land and property will never be rented, leased or sold to non-Jews; further notes that the UN rejected the JNF USA's application for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council on the ground that it violates the principles of the UN Charter on Human Rights; regrets that the Prime Minister is a JNF honorary patron; and believes that there is just cause to consider revocation of the JNF's charitable status in the UK."

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.