What is our communal leadership scared of?

A Board of Deputies plenary, with President Marie van der Zyl (second left)
A Board of Deputies plenary, with President Marie van der Zyl (second left)

I was watching one of those interminable Brexit debates in Parliament the other day and up pops the most authentic MP in the House, Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley.

Ignoring Brexit for a moment, what she said about leadership – or lack thereof – resonated with me as it could so easily be applied to the Jewish community.

Here’s what she said…

“I am really sick of the way the Government have gone about this. They are now saying, ‘It is my way or the highway’… They use the cover-all of saying, ‘We care about the national interest because we have got this really bad plan and you are not walking down it.’”

So far, so Brexit.

MPs, she said, had “touched on the will of the people. We in this House are terrified of the people in this country. Why are we so terrified of them?… We have nothing to be scared of because we have a responsibility to inspire people out there and to lead them somewhere… I only wish the Prime Minister had not been frightened of the people sitting behind her. She is certainly terrified of the people in the country.”

And here’s where our leadership is at the moment.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the Prime Minister’s House in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90, via The Times of Israel)

Take, for instance, the total lack of condemnation of Benjamin Netanyahu and his deal with the Jewish supremacists of Otzma Yehudit and his disgraceful statement that Israel is not a state of all its citizens. Which country that claims to be a democracy isn’t a state of all its citizens?

OK, so there was some mealy-mouthed statement on the Nation State Law and an equally wishy-washy “criticism” of Netanyahu’s “state of all its citizens” comment – but they didn’t even mention the perpetrator of the statements, the Israeli Prime Minister himself.

It was, in short, a “criticism” that wasn’t really critical and was embarrassing.

It seems to me that our “leadership”, particularly the Board of Deputies is, to paraphrase Jess Phillips, the Board Honorary Officers are terrified of the people in this community.

However, the Board has nothing to be scared of because it has a responsibility to inspire people out there and to lead them somewhere.

People in the Board, from the HOs to deputies, say that there is evidence that the community expects it to be pro-Israel and defend every government policy/Prime Minister.

Marie van der Zyl, Board president

However, apart from two surveys that show that this is definitely not the case, the people that scare the HOs rely heavily on what can at best be described as anecdotal evidence.

And as we all know, the plural of anecdote is not data.

Look at the demographics, the “we must not comment on Israel” people, the group which calls itself the BOD Carcass (sorry, Caucus) – of whom the leadership is frightened. They are mainly older than the critical and open-minded younger members of the community, a lot of whom have been in the youth movements and have seen Israel, warts and all.

So, if the Board really wants to be a bit more attractive to the next generation of leaders, perhaps it needs also to be a bit more critical and open-minded.

Don’t get me wrong, I supported and campaigned for Marie to become Board president last year. And I was overjoyed when she was elected.

However, I hoped – nay, expected – that there would be a change, at least in nuance when it came to Israel.

But then, the higher the hope, the greater the disappointment.

About the Author
Joe Millis is an author and journalist.