Wednesday, 28 August 2002

Hardliners condemn Sacks over Israel stance

Behold the warmongers for they shall destroy the earth, with the blood of innocents on their hands. And they call themselves men and women of God...

Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, was yesterday on the receiving end of fierce criticism from sections of the Jewish community after his strong warning to Israel about its conduct in the Middle East crisis.

A hardline Israeli rabbi said Dr Sacks had become "irrelevant" in the world Jewish community because of his comments. But other Jewish leaders applauded the chief rabbi for speaking out and claimed his words would find sympathy with many Jews.

Professor Sacks launched his unprecedentedly strong warning to Israel in an interview with the Guardian yesterday. "I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic. It is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals," he said.

"There is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture," added Dr Sacks, who during his 11-year tenure as head of the Jewish community in the UK and the Commonwealth has previously steered clear of commenting on Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The fiercest of his critics yesterday was Rabbi Shalom Gold, dean of Jerusalem college for adults, who told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "We who are living here day in and day out, our perspective is the one that really counts. I have a great deal of respect for the chief rabbi and therefore it is extremely sad for me to hear him make comments of such a nature which for all intents and purposes will now make him irrelevant in the world Jewish community."

But Rabbi Charles Middleburgh, executive director of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, applauded the chief rabbi for his courage in speaking out. "It is incredibly important when someone says something controversial at a difficult time for people to think not just about what they have said but why they have said it. This is a man who rarely comes off the fence but this time, to his great credit, he has."

The chief rabbi also received support from Paul Usiskin, chairman of British Friends of Peace Now. "I share, with many Jews and Zionists, the chief rabbi's anguish at Israel's conduct and I welcome his desire to find dialogue to help resolve the Middle East conflict," he said in a letter to the Guardian.

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