December 10, 2009
The Board of Deputies treasurer Laurence Brass has told BBC Manchester Radio that he is not just the person who looks after the purse but is able to influence and steer the direction of the board.
"I want to steer the board in a particular direction, although you might think the treasurer is the man that just looks after the purse, he does have the opportunity to influence the politicaldirection the board is taking and that is something I feel quite strongly about," Brass said.
Brass was asked in the BBC interview about the recent settlement freeze announced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
"That was good news," Brass said. "I would like to have seen it extended to Jerusalem."
Brass said he wanted to make sure the board is not seen as a wing of the Israeli Embassy, accusing previous incumbents of the board of being so. "I'd be quite keen to underline with my colleagues that we should not be seen as an extension of the Israeli Embassy, which I think previously regimes have been, and I think we would be more appreciated by our community if we are shown to be quite objective in what we stand for in that sense," he said. About time someone had the gumption to say that.
But what's this? The diaspora cavalry is coming over the hill in the shape of he chairman of the far right Likud-Herut UK, Zalmi Unsdorfer, who wrote to the Board of Deputies President Vivian Wineman, accusing Brass of abusing his position.
"Laurence Brass continues to abuse his position and the trust of the Jewish community which the Board claims to represent," he said.
This is an outrage, and totally incompatible with the Board's role and constitution, he said.
"The board was never intended to be a political organization [except, of course, when it sides with Israel] and its officers should not be pontificating in this way when representing the board and presuming to 'deputize' for Jews in this country," he wrote.
Unsdorfer said that Brass should be dismissed if he cannot be prevented from making statements outside his remit as treasurer.
"Your rules expressly state that no board member is authorized to make statements to the media without your approval. Having been so effusive with his opinions in the few short months since his election, Mr.Brass should have rung alarm bells with you and your colleagues before this.
"He must be instructed to desist from making statements outside his remit as treasurer. If he will not undertake to do this, he must be dismissed. Your role and duty is to ensure that does not happen - either in our community's name or the Board's," he said.
Responding to his critics, Brass said, "It's clear to me that there are some deputies who are seeking to encourage the idea of a 'siege mentality' as part of their own right-wing agenda to persuade the Board to be less sympathetic to constructive criticism of some aspects of Israeli policy. This attempt to steer the Board towards a more hawkish approach has to be resisted."
Hang on, now the tanks of the Jewish National Fund [now a wing of British Herut, apparently] have just invaded the Board's lawn. Samuel Hayek, chairman of the Jewish National Fund UK, said that "Laurence Brass is entitled to his views, which clearly do not represent the views of the Jewish community, which stands firm behind Israel. He is not entitled, however, to espouse his views when representing the Board of Deputies
"Mr. Brass should not making public statements that are unrepresentative and are not within the policies of the Board of Deputies."
Responding to the accusations, the board issued a statement that said: "The Board of Deputies of British Jews stands full square behind the State of Israel and in particular in its quest for security [damn right it does]. The Board does not formulate positions on particular aspects of Israeli government policy, including, in this case, on the issue of a settlement freeze [not if it knows which side its bread is buttered, it doesn't]. These are matters for the democratically elected government of Israel, and for the citizens of Israel who elected it.
"As an organization representing the breadth of the British Jewish community, each of our 260 Deputies, themselves elected by their constituencies, will have their own particular views on Israel , and on all manner of other issues. However, unless and until such individual views are discussed and endorsed by the entire Board, they cannot be taken as constituting the policy of the Board."
Quick, everyone to the shelters, here comes the ZF infantry. Andrew Balcombe, chairman of the UK Zionist Federation, said: "The ZF made representations on this matter to the board and is pleased to see the board's statement. The ZF hopes that in future officers of the board will keep their personal opinions private, if they conflict with their constitutional obligation to "advanceIsrael's security, welfare and standing"
Responding to the board's statement Unsdorfer said: "If the freeze needs to be extended anywhere, it is to Mr. Brass's abuse of his position on the board. By the board's meek statement, it seems clear that Mr. Wineman is not in control of his board and that its long-standing principle of supporting the government ofIsrael, in good times and bad, is not safe in his hands."