If everyone’s a critic, we must be doing something right

A Board of Deputies plenary, with President Marie van der Zyl (second left), newly-elected earlier this year.
A Board of Deputies plenary, with President Marie van der Zyl (second left), newly-elected earlier this year.

handful of protesters from the ‘Kaddish for Gaza’ franchise recently turned up outside the Board of Deputies’ offices for an impromptu demonstration. The protest involved turning a succah they had brought along in to a vehicle for protest against the Israeli Government and, later, defacing our own succah with posters and slogans.

Despite apparently wanting to influence our views, they had not been in touch with us previously, nor with the police to notify them of their intention to demonstrate, as is required. We were unimpressed with their subversion of Jewish sacred rites for political ends. The police were unimpressed with their unannounced protest on private property and, once they’d made their point, gently ushered them away.

Hours later, two deputies launched an absurd attempt at a vote of no confidence against our senior vice president Sheila Gewolb, a popular and devoted communal volunteer. They alleged she had breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism by making a statement on Israel’s Nation State Law. This was a gift to far-left anti-Jewish elements, who mischievously took it as ‘evidence’ that IHRA could be misused.

So far, the only signatures we have received have been those of the original two deputies.

Meanwhile, another petition has been launched by an individual with the aim of banning the use of the Palestinian flag in any Board of Deputies communication or on our website. This has been prompted by our Invest in Peace campaign, which was overwhelmingly backed in a vote by deputies.

The images of the Israeli and Palestinian flags are used in our literature to promote this venture with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, which has run successful events around the country to improve the quality of Christian-Jewish dialogue on the Middle East conflict.

The whole premise of the petition is questionable, given Israeli leaders including Benjamin Netanyahu have frequently appeared pictured in front of the Palestinian flag when involved in talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, a lone Charedi voice has called for a demonstration outside our annual dinner with Sadiq Khan on 5 November. They are giving very mixed and confused messages as to why, telling the left-wing online publication Skwawkbox that it is because we are ‘too hard on Jeremy Corbyn’, but spreading false rumours in Stamford Hill that we have been lobbying against Charedi schools, despite our longstanding advocacy alongside Charedi groups on this issue. This has prompted a backlash against this person
from many in the Charedi community who are affronted that he claims to speak in their name.

These opposing groups are small in number, their perspectives are marginal and they in no way represent the sensible opinions of the vast majority of our community.

As democratically-elected representatives of the community, we are accountable. We expect to hear from those who think we are too pro-Israel and those who think we are too critical; those who think we’ve been too tough on Corbyn and those who think we’ve been too soft; those who think we’re too liberal and those who think we are too conservative.

While negotiating that spectrum of views can sometimes be challenging, we strive daily to embody the vibrant, democratic debate at the heart of British Jewry. At the very centre of our mission is the obligation to serve our community in all its diversity, and this we are honoured to do.

I’d go further. The vitriol on both sides gives us the strong conviction that our positioning on the major issues is correct. I take heart from the fact people only demonstrate against bodies that are relevant. And I am proud that, in its 258-year history, the Board of Deputies has seldom been more relevant than it is today.

About the Author
Marie van der Zyl is the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
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