Leadership in difficult times

This week has been a relatively traumatic one, with an afternoon spent in lockdown and the time thereafter spent focusing on the important things in life. So I hope I can be indulged by ending the week with something a bit lighter – community politics.

On Tuesday, the President of the Board of Deputies took leave of his senses as he called for Jewish Students to stay clear from one of the world’s finest universities, the London School of Economics.

He did this because a repugnant piece of scum, Richard Falk, was unduly given a platform to spout his repugnant, scummy, nonsense about the Middle East. Worse still, his audience included another repugnant piece of scum, Gilad Atzmon.

Those who suffered the indignity of being ejected for protesting the repugnant scum are entitled to feel aggrieved. Their concerns as Jewish attendees were patently ignored. Not for the first time, LSE has questions to answer in how it has dealt with an event on its premises.

But one would hope that the response of the community’s leadership would be measured and clear in its pursuit of practical remedy. Instead, we were treated to a reaction with all the subtlety and deftness of a Donald Trump tweet. The President’s proclamation that LSE “is not a safe place for Jewish students” is a white flag if ever there was one. As his electorate, we are left with two possible responses.

First, a daft tweet – albeit one that shows a risible lack of belief in the ability of Jewish students to defend their own cause – should be ignored.

Those who study at LSE don’t do so because of a Hechsher from the Board of Deputies’ President. They go there because they are going to a world famous institution, second only to Harvard in the latest global rankings. They go there to fulfil their career ambitions, and they go there for all the benefits a campus life in London has to offer.

The second option is to hold the President to account. He is the first and last to acknowledge the status his election afforded him, not least when meeting some of the most powerful people in the land.

So when the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews tweets from his official account, he is doing so as the elected leader of the Jewish Community’s only democratically elected body™.

That is some office to hold, and with it comes a responsibility that, in this instance, has not been dignified in his chosen use of 140 characters.

Instead, he could have offered full support to the Union of Jewish Students. In a matter of days, they have secured an extremely supportive statement from the LSE Union and a commitment from the University to investigate events.

Jewish students are resilient and fiercely independent. In UJS, they have a unique resource to seek redress in instances they are wronged, and this will be on full display with the annual NUS gathering fast approaching.

I have no doubt that the President agrees as much, so why did he do it?

It seems to be the case that with this President, we are to expect a race-to-comment-first-at-all-costs mentality, with the sensible reflections only arriving later. This may satisfy a particularly loud constituency at Board plenary meetings, but it risks the external reputation of the organisation to the ‘outside world’.

This week has provided pause for thought on a number of issues, with some of immeasurably greater importance than others. However, one thing of which I am certain is that leadership, in whatever context, is defined by a few things:

  1. The delivery of tangible outcomes.
  2. The tone and manner in which actions are delivered.
  3. The confidence in which actions are received.

I fear that on all three counts, this week, our elected President has fallen short.





About the Author
Jay is a National Executive member, Jewish Labour Movement