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When Vivian Wineman, incoming president of the Board of Deputies, was asked along the campaign trail about his plans over the next three years, he replied that he was “afraid it ias going to be dominated by an agenda which is not of our own choosing”.
With the looming threat of a nuclear Iran and King Abdullah of Jordan warning darkly only last week of another Arab-Israeli war in 18 months, no president can predict the impact of events in the Middle East on UK Jews.
At least Mr Wineman will be able to look forward to one thing: celebrations for the Board’s 250th anniversary next year. But for all the improvement in its image over the last six years under Henry Grunwald’s presidency, he will still have to defend the Grand Old Dame of Jewish organisations from regular accusations that it is outmoded and unrepresentative of an increasingly diverse Jewish population.
In his manifesto, he warned that the Board will “come under increasing pressure from other groups who wish to usurp its role” without mentioning names. But he has said that he would like to see the Jewish Leadership Council come “under the aegis” of the Board, although acknowledging that would be “a difficult task”.
The JLC was launched, with Mr Grunwald as its founding chairman, six years ago, to be a forum for the heads of major Jewish organisations plus an assortment of knights, lords, dames and other Jewish VIPs. But many deputies have remained suspicious of what they believe to be a competing rather than complementary organisation.
Even Peter Sheldon, the only one of the Board’s presidential contenders to have sat on the JLC (when he was president of the United Synagogue), stated his belief that the current JLC set-up “creates confusion outside the Board as to where the leadership of this community lies”.
The outgoing treasurer of the Board, Clive Lewisohn, has complained, too, that money has gone to the JLC which should have remained within the Board.
And he regards as “unacceptable” that the JLC has an office in the Board’s headquarters on “a grace and favour basis” — an arrangement that some might liken to a cuckoo in the nest.