Replace the Board and the JLC

By Peter Sheldon, March 9, 2012
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The unedifying communal leadership squabbles of the last couple of weeks should give us all cause for concern. We must not allow the uncomfortable status quo to remain. The creation and subsequent enlargement of the Jewish Leadership Council, complete with a costly secretariat, has created unnecessary but inevitable tensions.

Notwithstanding Jonathan Arkush's statement last week, the JLC remains - unfairly in my view – distrusted by and unpopular with the majority of members of the Board of Deputies.

To everyone else its function is, to say the least, confusing.

Matters are not improved by obfuscation and a lack of full transparency over where leadership truly resides, and exactly how the JLC is funded. The present position creates confusion, results in wasteful expenditure and does the community significantly more harm than good.

Let's consign the term Deputies to a place of rest

Part of the problem is due to the size of the Board. For 300,000 British Jews we have a representative body that is more than double the size of Israel's parliament and almost half the size of ours.

Many deputies are not selected for their talents but on the basis of who is available to take on the role. Inevitably, this results in an unwieldy structure and drawn out and boring plenary sessions, with a consequent outside perception that the Board serves no useful purpose

In fact, most of its work is done in its committees which work very effectively in many areas, often unseen, doing an extremely valuable job for British Jewry.

Given this public image, it is not surprising that a number of communal leaders and philanthropists, who have considerable influence, should feel that they are more qualified to play a role in representing the community.

If they were being totally open, they would reveal their true feelings: that the Board's structure can promote to office people who are not best able to represent the community to the outside world.

Our community is too small to have two bodies vying for leadership and substantial change is needed.

The Board must recognise that if it is to retain its status as the representative body of British Jewry it must alter its structure. It needs to make provision for influential individuals - people of stature - to contribute to communal decision making and representation. Many already have the ear of government or play a major role in communal organisations but, often due to time constraints, are not prepared to stand for office.

The Board also needs radically to reduce its size to a more manageable figure and its member bodies need to ensure that their representatives at the board are capable of making a real contribution.

For its part, the JLC needs to realise that you cannot call a body a "leadership council" whilst asserting that another body really represents the community.

When a meeting with the Prime Minister has only 2 of the 11 people who attend from the Board, it makes nonsense of the assertion and creates confusion within and outside the community.

It is time to bring the Board and the JLC together, in a new, two-tier, structure: a lean, democratically elected Board of Representatives, with a strengthened professional staff and a Community Leadership Council consisting of those who currently make up the JLC, plus the officers of the Board.

Let us also, after 250 years, consign the term "Deputies" to an honoured place of rest and adopt a new name for this new body.

The name itself is irrelevant so long as it indicates what it is. Whilst both the new Board of Representatives and the Community Leadership Council would operate largely as at present, neither would be subservient to the other but both would be served by a single secretariat, with significant cost savings.

Above all, the community would have one body and address through which its external relationships and internal communal services will be served.

The talents and resources of both current organisations are needed if this community is to be served as it deserves.

Peter Sheldon, is a former member of the JLC and a current member of the Board of Deputies.

    Last updated: 11:02am, March 9 2012