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20 November 2014

Gwynedd Council, Israel and the Jewish community in Wales

Gwynedd Council, Israel and the Jewish community in Wales

Gwynedd council offices

On 12 October this year, Gwynedd council passed a motion on a trade embargo on Israeli goods. It was the first of Wales' 22 councils to pass such a motion and they hope to lead the way for others to follow. The actual wording of the motion, which was passed 42-3 with six abstentions, was as follows:

"Following the latest attacks by the Israeli State on the territory of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, this Council calls for the suspension of trading with Israel and condemns the over-reaction and savageness used. Furthermore, we confirm and underline this Council's decision not to invest in Israel or that country's establishments. We believe that if Gwynedd leads the way that there is hope that other councils in Wales and beyond will follow our example."

Gwynedd councillor June Marshall was quoted in a news article on the council's motion as being concerned about anti-Semitic attacks as well as condemning terrorism, but neither were mentioned in the motion itself.

Such actions set a worrying precedent. First and foremost, such actions can lead to a rise in anti-Semitism. In the summer, for example, the Tricycle Theatre Company initially refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival in London, which is an apolitical global celebration of Jewish culture. This refusal was hardly going to send shock waves around the international community, but nonetheless gave an indication of how easy it is for people to confuse Israel with Jewishness.

The Jewish community is quite small in Wales, numbering around 2,000, but is nevertheless vibrant and very active in interfaith work, including joint work done with the Muslim community on issues of common concern such as religious burials. At one point Cardiff had the third largest Jewish population in the UK, after London and Manchester, and so has played a significant role in Wales' diverse religious past as well. Nevertheless, despite this presence dating back hundreds of years, Jews are made to feel as if they are no longer welcome in Wales, according to one source.

Examples that have attributed to this feeling of isolation are:

  • an Assembly Member tweeting the phrase "concentration camp" to describe Gaza and "apartheid state" to describe Israel;
  • a Church in Wales Bench of Bishops motion on the Middle East that condemned actions of the Israeli government but made no mention of Hamas. It was clarified afterwards that Hamas was most definitely mentioned in the deliberations but, whether intentionally or not, was omitted from the final motion.

These factors must cause us to reflect, in our commitment to religious freedom, whether the Jewish community in Wales is truly able to practice their faith and live their lives without intimidation. A recent interfaith (Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish) delegation from Wales visited Srebrenica in Bosnia to learn the lessons of the 1995 genocide. The group was united in its conviction that the community cohesion – and religious freedom – that we enjoy in Wales is something worth striving for and preserving.