RIGHT TO REPLY IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO VOICE OPINIONS IN RESPONSE TO THE THEME OF EACH MONTH'S EDITORIAL.
Jon Benjamin is the Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and has been since 2005. The Board of Deputies represents the Jewish Community in Britain. Its purpose has been to protect, support and defend the interests, religious rights and customs of Jews in the United Kingdom and to promote the development of the Jewish community in Britain.
As a member of the board of deputies, how would you envisage British Jews are responding to the situation in Lebanon?
No one can fail to be moved and saddened by the images of death and injury in Lebanon and in Israel. Everyone will have their own personal view, but I think there would be almost unanimity in the underlying views that Israel has every right to defend itself and that, without losing sight of the human tragedy in Lebanon, we must also show solidarity with the people of Israel.
The state of Israel has come under attack for being too heavy handed in the recent conflict with Lebanon; do you believe their actions are justified?
Hezbollah have adopted a deliberate policy of entrenching their positions in civilian areas to provide them with a human shield, just as they have ensconced themselves politically within the fabric of Lebanese society. The past six years have seen relative peace, albeit a tense one, on the Israeli/Lebanese border until Hezbollah crossed the border, killing six soldiers and kidnapping two more. Since then, thousands of rockets have been fired at civilian targets in Israel, and one million Israelis have either fled the north of the country or are spending their days and nights in bomb shelters.
Even against such an implacable enemy and deadly enemy, Israel should take care to keep civilian casualties to a minimum and indeed has called on Lebanese civilians to evacuate the areas from which Hezbollah are operating. The tragic consequence of Hezbollah’s modus operandi is that Lebanese civilians are put in harm's way and there are suggestions that they are stopping civilians leaving the area to prevent Israel having a freer hand against Hezbollah.
Do you think the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers is justification enough for the killings of over 700 civilians and the destruction of a country?
The kidnapping of the soldiers triggered the current crisis, but since then Hezbollah has been targeting civilian areas in Israel with the most sophisticated modern weaponry, and no country would reasonably be expected to stand by without trying to defend its citizens. Having seen the response to the kidnapping from Gaza of Corporal Shalit, Hezbollah can have been in no doubt as to the nature of Israel's response and that suggests that they both anticipated and indeed welcomed the chance to take Israel on.
Do you believe such actions will have repercussions for the Jewish Diasporan communities?
Diaspora communities share a concern for what is going on and are proud to stand up in support of Israel. What is troubling is the increasing vitriol directed at Jews and so-called Jewish lobbies, without distinguishing between Israeli government policy and Jewish nationals of other countries. All too predictably, the current crisis is being used to target Jewish people indiscriminately.
Being Jewish is often misinterpreted as being a Zionist. Do you believe all Jews should support the state of Israel?
Zionism is simply the belief that the Jewish people, like any other group, have the right to national self-determination and that Israel is the true home of the Jewish people. There is nothing in the Zionist credo that precludes non-Jews from living in a Jewish state, and the absolute proof of that is modern Israel itself, with an Arab population of 20% and equal rights for all.
There are secular Zionists, just as there are religious Jews who feel that only the true harbinger of the state of Israel should be arrival of the Messiah. There is no question, however, as to the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people in our thoughts, our daily prayers and through historical, cultural and family connections. Jews, like anyone, are entitled to form their own views about Israel, but the vast majority are extremely supportive and are unequivocal when it comes to Israel's right to exist and defend itself.
In your opinion is the US government a fair and impartial broker in the Middle East peace process?
Clearly, the United States is seen by all sides as having an important role to play but questions of international diplomacy are best left to others and are not really the remit of an organisation representing the British Jewish community.
Do you think it is possible that a two party state along the pre-1967 borders can quell the conflict with Palestine? Do you think this is a viable and acceptable option to the Jewish people?
Whatever the nature of a two state solution, something that has been accepted by Israel, there are bound to be those who will continue to call for and indeed fight for the destruction of Israel. After all, that aspiration forms a central part of the constitutions of both Hezbollah and Hamas. As recent events have shown, when Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon or Gaza, these areas have been used as a springboard to attack Israel. It can only be hoped that the establishment of a Palestinian state will marginalise the terrorist organisations to an extent that they become ineffectual.
What do you believe can be done to improve Israeli/Arab relations?
Israel has shown repeatedly that it is prepared to work for peace. Relations with the Arab world were much improved after the Oslo accords in 1993, just as relations with Egypt and Jordan improved following peace treaties with those countries. Israel is willing to talk to those who genuinely want peace but cannot talk to those who want the destruction of the state of Israel and it is those groups that are desperate to wreck any chance of peace and reconciliation. If the terrorists were disarmed and disavowed by the Arab world, relations would undoubtedly improve.