JLC's sinister march to power

By Geoffrey Alderman, March 8, 2012

Last month, the Board of Deputies witnessed a blistering attack upon the Jewish Leadership Council by none other than the Board's own senior vice-president, Jonathan Arkush.

The deputies had been considering the circumstances in which a communal initiative to meet the Prime Minister had been hijacked by the JLC, whose spokespersons far outnumbered those of the Board. The JLC claimed to have organised the encounter, with the Board relegated to a back seat.

That being the undoubted case, and echoing the anger felt by many deputies at how the JLC has elbowed its way on to the communal top table, Arkush did not mince his words: "The JLC is unelected," he declared. "It's unaccountable and it is therefore unacceptable to the community for it to hold itself out as exercising political leadership of our community."

The words of this declaration are true and beyond contention. Indeed upon uttering these words Arkush was (I understand) applauded by a great many deputies, which was no less than he deserved. But a few days later he issued a humiliating and grovelling apology. His remarks - he said - were "inappropriate" and he expressed his sorrow for them. This astonishing act of contrition extended not merely to the necessary correction of some factual errors he had made. The contrition covered everything he had said, from start to finish. And in circulating this apology the Board's chief executive, Jon Benjamin, expressed the hope that "a line" could now be drawn over the whole distressing episode.

Well, I'm afraid this line cannot yet be drawn. Because, while Arkush has withdrawn his remarks and apologised, JLC supremo Mick Davis has neither withdrawn his nor issued any concomitant apology.

The words of Arkush's declaration are beyond contention

The remarks I am referring to were made by Davis in response to those made by Arkush. According to the JC, "Mr Davis, responding to the 'unwarranted and egregious attack', said Mr Arkush's position was 'untenable'. He said JLC members 'may feel that they can no longer provide ongoing financial support for the Board while being subjected to this sort of attack by the senior vice-president of the institution'."

No matter which way you look at this statement, and no matter how much allowance you are prepared to make (which even I am prepared to make) for Davis's quite understandable anger that so senior a communal figure as Arkush had told, in public, the truth about the weakness of the JLC's claim to communal legitimacy, these words have a most sinister ring about them.

For what they amounted to was a clear threat. In immediate terms, the threat was - unmistakably - that, unless Arkush retracted, the Board would be subject to financial sanctions by JLC members - which (I may remind you) includes moneyed individuals as well as a range of institutions.

But to appreciate the full significance of Davis's words you have to stand back from the distasteful details of the actual incident that provoked them. In the wider sense, they seem to me to carry a message not just for Arkush but for all future Board office holders: if you dare challenge the supremacy of the JLC, let alone question its legitimacy, financial sanctions may well follow.

This is the stark reality of the New Order that Davis and his associates have brought about, and for which they are completely unapologetic. The shameless ambition of the JLC - to usurp the Deputies - has been realised. And Arkush, who might have posed a serious threat to this ambition, has been trounced into the bargain.

I can only speculate (in private) at the precise circumstances that led Arkush to issue his unctuous apology. He would have been better advised to have confined himself to the correction of factual errors, and then to have put himself at the head of the anti-JLC lobby at the Board, a lobby which is now leaderless.

The titular leader of the Board is Vivian Wineman, who I confidently expect to be re-elected to the presidency later this year. In a statement issued after Arkush's outburst, Wineman is reported to have declared that the Board's position as the representative body of Anglo-Jewry was "not contested". Pull the other one, Vivian. Pull the other one.

Last updated: 11:36am, March 8 2012