Acting responsibly as a trustee is what counts, not your views on Hamas – response to Martin Bright
This piece is cross-posted from the Independent Jewish Voices website where it was published yesterday. Here’s the backkground: Martin Bright, the political editor of the Jewish Chronicle, originally attacked two organizations, Forward Thinking and CitizensUK/London Citizens, which develop dialogue with faith communities, for associating with people who allegedly support Islamist terrorism. I responded on IJV (cross-posting to my blog) arguing that it would be wrong to stop engaging with such people. We may not like their views, but you have to talk to your enemies. Martin responded on his Spectator blog on 11 June accusing IJV of turning a ‘blind eye’ to the danger these people represent. I answered Martin’s arguments in the post below:
Martin Bright’s response to my post on his and the Jewish Chronicle’s witch-hunt of London Citizens is wholly inadequate, fails to engage with the arguments I presented and is frankly rather patronizing. In her post, Miri Weingarten presented a completely unvarnished picture of Hamas and then set out a perfectly realistic proposal, although undoubtedly difficult to achieve, that acknowledges the necessity of upholding Hamas’s legitimacy as a political entity, but outlines ways of helping the people of Gaza move to a position whereby they will choose a government that respects human rights. She’s certainly not advocating making ‘common cause’ with Hamas, nor was such an argument advanced in my original post. To then flippantly write ‘[I] look forward to the first Jewish left-wing woman to serve in a Hamas-led government’ shows he really never took Miri’s argument seriously.
The problem with Martin’s argument is that he seems not to understand that it’s sometimes necessary to dialogue and work with people, some of whose views one rejects or even abhors, in order to achieve peace, justice, the inculcation of international human rights. This is what happened in South Africa, Northern Ireland and other conflict zones. And it’s what some highly respected figures from the political, military and security establishments in Israel advocate in relation to Hamas: Israel must talk to the Islamists, they say. (It’s also what was advocated in an open letter in Der Spiegel from 24 former heads of government, foreign ministers and peace negotiators, including former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami.) That’s not making common cause with Hamas in the sense of helping Hamas achieve an aim that is inimical to human rights principles. And when push comes to shove, I think I’d rather rely on the judgement of Israelis I know who have the best interests of Israel at heart than on the judgement of someone who can’t seem to seem to understand that accepting that a person who expresses support for Hamas can legitimately work for a charity helping London’s citizens does not mean that you sign up to the antisemitic articles in Hamas’s charter.
I used to run a large charitable grant-making foundation and am now a trustee of a relatively small one, so I know all about the responsibilities of trustees and have had a lot of experience working with them. What’s fundamentally important is that trustees fulfil their duties responsibly, doing due diligence, acting fairly and honestly, owning up to conflicts of interest, acting ethically in relation to the charity’s aims. On more than one occasion I realised that a trustee held prejudiced views of a minority group. Much as I abhorred the person’s views, it was clear that they were not influencing the decisions made by the charity so I was ready to live with the situation. This seems to me to be the fundamental test to be applied to someone like Junaid Ahmed. As long as his views of Hamas do not prejudice the decisions he is part of making for London Citizens then he should be allowed to get on with his job.
As for possibly ‘turning a blind eye to the concerns raised by End Child Detention Now about [Citizens UK’s] peculiar partnership with the UK Border Agency’, this is not only a red herring but it insultingly implies that tolerating someone in their role of trustee of a charity who has expressed support for Hamas goes hand in hand with denying the human rights of children. I—and I’m sure other members of the IJV Steering Group would agree with me—deplore utterly the incarceration of the children of asylum-seekers and if Citizens UK is doing anything to aid and abet their unfair detention, I would condemn them. (We’re planning to post on this specific issue in due course.) But Martin’s JC report on the issue is singularly opaque and never explains precisely what Citizens UK is doing wrong. Even assuming that they are denying the human rights of children, this is a responsibility that rests on the shoulders of all the trustees and they all need to be held accountable, and has nothing directly to do with the views of Junaid Ahmed.
Martin tweeted me asking that I not use the term ‘witch-hunt’ because ‘it doesn’t help the debate’. Well, it helped elicit a response from him, so it served a purpose. But more importantly he might ponder rather on the intensely partisan politics that his newspaper now stands for, the rhetoric used in the paper to promote those politics and his own role in using language that contributes to the paper’s ‘shrill’ tone. To me, his use of such accusatory phrases as ‘darlings of the political class’, giving London Citizens ‘a free pass’, ‘make common cause with religious authoritarians’ represents a rhetoric far more worrying than my use of the term ‘witch-hunt’.
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