Lord Sacks resigns from interfaith charity

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has resigned as patron of an interfaith charity after it circulated an anti-Israel campaign to members and encouraged them to lobby against the country.

Lord Sacks said he was unable to continue working with the Wyndham Place Charlemagne Trust after it sent supporters details of an initiative organised by the Quaker Council for European Affairs that attacks European Union trade links with Israel.

The WPCT’s newsletter encouraged the signing of a petition set up by the European Co-ordination of Associations and Committees for Palestine, a non-profit group which works with Palestinian NGOs.

In last Thursday’s message to supporters, WPCT included the suggested wording of a letter for campaigners to send to MEPs.

The thrust of the “action alert” concerns the EU’s proposed adoption of an agreement with Israel on pharmaceutical products.

The Palestinian pharmaceutical industry is “a prisoner of the Israeli system” and West Bank companies suffer from Israeli occupation, the activists claim.

The campaign aims to stop the EU adopting the agreement and bar Israeli companies from benefiting from preferential relations with the EU.

A spokesman for Lord Sacks said: “When the Chief Rabbi became patron of the Trust, its objectives were a commitment to world peace, and its aim to bring together people of diverse backgrounds in order to find common ground.

“Sadly in this instance, the Trust has failed to fulfil these objectives, and it is with regret that the Chief Rabbi can no longer remain a patron.”

Philanthropist and interfaith activist Sir Sigmund Sternberg is also a trustee of the WPCT but has not been actively involved with the organisation for a number of years. He said: “Until it was drawn to my attention, I knew nothing of this deplorable initiative. I was most certainly never consulted.” Sir Sigmund said he would take “further steps” and make the WPCT aware of his objections.

Zaki Cooper, the former head of external relations at the Chief Rabbi’s Office, is listed on the WPCT website as a member of its council. But he confirmed this week that he had stepped down in 2009.

Win Burton, WPCT executive secretary, sent the newsletter to around 70 members. She denied the Trust was taking sides on the Israel-Palestinian issue.

She said: “The newsletter comes with a disclaimer which says we push views from different groups and are there to stimulate debate. We would welcome something from our members which puts a different point of view.

“We are not an organisation that takes a position on anything; that’s not what we aim to do. We are there to stimulate debate and allow all voices to be heard.”

Mrs Burton said that one member had contacted the Trust this week encouraging it to give its backing to the Israel-EU agreement.