When the result of the Board of Deputies’ Presidential election was announced, showing that I had lost to the incumbent by only 56% to 44% with more votes than any unsuccessful presidential candidate in the Board’s history, a lot of deputies and communal leaders were stunned by the narrow margin.
I was not.
Partly, this was because of the dedication of a strong team of canvassers backing my campaign, so much so that we were able to predict our votes to the exact number on the eve of the announcement.
It was also partly due to the attraction of the uniquely positive, issues-based agenda that we were promoting, which stood out in an election otherwise marked by too many ad hominem attacks and misrepresentations in the Jewish media and during hustings, notwithstanding my persistent efforts to steer the conversation back to policy and the challenges facing the Board and our community.
But above all, it was because I know how deep the dissatisfaction with the direction and operations of the Board, and parts of our communal leadership more generally, goes.
On antisemitism, real leadership has fallen to capable grassroots groups, for example Campaign Against Antisemitism, which brought the complaint against the Labour Party to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW), which has fought for years against BDS at local councils. Indeed the day the Board’s election results were revealed, the Government announced in the Queen’s Speech its plan to legislate a ban on BDS at local councils, thanks to the work of JHRW, which I helped to found and in which I have previously been privileged to play a role.
On Israel, the community has long chafed at its leadership’s quietism, despite the obvious double standards applied to the Jewish State by the international community and the direct impact of media and political bias against Israel on our safety as Jews here in the UK. Ordinary Jews do not take kindly to lukewarm defences of Israel when it is under attack, but again it falls to stellar grassroots advocacy and legal coalitions, including the Friends of Israel groups, to lead Israel’s defence in this country and online, which is why they have such large popular followings.
The Board of Deputies in particular also expends far too much energy imprudently criticising the Government – including on issues almost entirely unrelated to the Jewish community – despite the overwhelming electoral mandate bestowed on it by Jewish voters in several successive general and local elections. Of course there will be times when we disagree with Government policy and must make that known, but how can the persistence and imbalance of criticism possibly reflect what the community feels given how it votes time and again? Clearly, its leadership is out of touch.
Finally, and most importantly, there is the question of the future of Anglo-Jewry. With the end of lockdown hopefully in sight, a related and increasing need for mental health services, a post-pandemic economy to navigate, difficulties (and opportunities) for all our synagogues ahead, two academic years of disrupted education and cancelled Israel tours, an aging population with pressing care needs, a rapidly growing Haredi sector and a dozen other challenges, we need to restore long-term strategic thinking at the top of our community, from which it has been absent for too long.
So no, I wasn’t stunned at all by the result of the election.
Those who were should heed the message.