Today Yachad was admitted as a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Some people think that this was a critically important step in ensuring all Jewish voices are heard. Others think it was a shameful anti-Israel moment for the Board and all British Jews.
I think it wasn’t especially important.
The Board of Deputies is a representative body for British Jews. Jewish organisations make up the Board. These member organisations are mostly themselves membership organisations of British Jews. Synagogues were the original Board member organisations and still make up the bulk of the Board’s membership. Other members include local representative councils, youth organisations and clubs.
Each organisation is allowed to select ‘deputies‘ once every three years. Organisations with more members get more deputies.
Once the deputies are selected they can do their own thing, attending Board meetings, speaking, voting and generally representing their own views. These deputies in turn elect the Board’s President, Vice Presidents and Treasurer – also every three years – and some might join committees.
A little more than ten years ago, the Board changed its rules and allowed organisations to join even if they don’t have their own individual memberships. This is a special procedure and needs a committee to decide that admitting the organisation is ‘beneficial to the interests of the [Jewish] community‘. The procedure was first used to add some of the major British Jewish charities to the Board.
Recently, there seems to have been a bit of a shift in favour of using this special procedure, and a few smaller organisations were recommended for membership even though they weren’t membership organisations or major central charities. One of these was Yachad.
Yachad is an organisation established, broadly, to promote a left-wing pro-two-state peace vision to British Jews. It runs trips to the West Bank, holds talks and seminars for Jewish audiences, and puts out statements.
Yachad emerged from the same background as J-Street in the USA, and the two are often compared, but they are very different organisations.
J-Street is a lobbying organisation whose primary focus is the US government, especially Congress. It funds candidates, campaigns against other candidates, pushes policy and campaigns for US policy to be more critical of particular Israeli government policies, like settlements, that J-Street believes hurt the peace process and therefore Israel. The name is a DC lobbyist in-joke: there is an I Street and a K Street in the Washington DC grid system, but no street called J street.
Yachad’s primary audience, though, is the Jewish community. Even though Yachad is critical of Israel’s policy, it doesn’t especially believe that the UK Government is too supportive of Israel’s policy. Yachad’s name is a Hebrew word meaning ‘together’, not a political reference.
As it’s not a membership organisation, Yachad sought and received special permission to join the Board. At first, its admission was blocked by a minority on the organisation’s plenary committee, which threw up procedural delays. Today those delays ran out. Yachad itself mounted a large and public campaign for membership of the Board of Deputies, with petitions and open letters. Opponents of Yachad attacked the organisation as anti-Israel and too willing to share platforms with outright anti-Zionists. But despite all the build-up, the debate had largely played itself out. Yachad passed the two-thirds majority needed to admit a new organisation into the Board.
What does this mean?
Well, there are 250+ deputies that make up the Board, chosen by their organisations once a year. From now on, there will be one extra deputy, from Yachad. That deputy will be able to speak at the plenary meetings, join committees and vote for the officers once every three years.
Assuming Yachad’s deputy shares the political views of Yachad, he or she won’t be alone. The deputies are already a politically diverse bunch, and there are already some who are probably more left-wing than Yachad. Debates about Israel already included voices who were extremely critical of Israeli Government policy from both the left and the right. Yachad’s new deputy might be an extra voice, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be saying anything that someone wasn’t already saying.
Yachad gains a little publicity and profile from being admitted, but ironically would have got a lot more headlines if it had been excluded.
Of course, there’s symbolism. Some supporters of Yachad are trying to present this as a watershed moment, a massive cultural shift in British Jewish opinion towards a younger, more critical approach to Israel. Some opponents are claiming that the Board has been captured by far-left anti-Zionist propagandists.
All of this is nonsense, though. Yachad as an organisation will have little to no impact on the Board as a whole. The Board’s too big for that, and Yachad is too small.
It’s probably helpful for the Board to have admitted Yachad rather than face a media backlash for being ‘out of touch’, even if Yachad needed special permission to be allowed to join because it doesn’t have members. It’s probably helpful for defenders of Israel in the UK to avoid a “split community” story and to avoid creating martyrs.
Overall, then, it’s probably a good thing that Yachad joined the Board.
But, like many Jewish political rows, this one is much less important than it seems to be.