Board packs a (puny) punch

Current bickering shows just how poorly our so-called spokesmen speak for us

By Geoffrey Alderman, October 22, 2009

There’s nothing like a good row to clear the air — and I welcome the revelations of recent discord between the Board of Deputies and other communal interests.

To recap for those of you who have not had the time to keep abreast of these raucous goings-on: first, we have a deep, public rift between the Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council. Ostensibly, this is over a letter that the Board’s president Vivian Wineman despatched to Tory leader David Cameron seeking “assurances” about the credentials of the Conservative party’s new right-wing Polish and Latvian friends in the EU. The chair of the JLC’s executive committee is Mick Davis, currently also chair of the UJIA.

Mr Davis heads an international conglomerate producing a range of precious metals and minerals (including ferrochrome and coking coal) so he has every right to have a high opinion of himself. Mr Wineman is a successful solicitor but, quite apart from not being the head of an international conglomerate producing a range of precious metals and minerals (including ferrochrome and coking coal), he is not a QC (unlike his predecessor, Henry Grunwald). What is more, Mr Wineman came into office just five months ago and promised to bring the JLC “under the aegis” of the Board.

Now the idea that a lawyer who is not even a QC could bring under his “aegis” the head of an international conglomerate producing a range of precious metals and minerals always struck me as delusional. I confess that I did not think it would take a mere five months to prove just how delusional such an idea really was. But when I read the entertaining press statement put out last week by Messrs Davis and Wineman, designed to “refute” the suggestion that there had been “any rift” between them, I knew just how right I had been.

Let us put this delicious public row to one side, for a moment, and turn to another, involving the Board and the Zionist Federation or, rather, one of the Board’s vice-presidents, Jerry Lewis, and the ZF’s vice-chair, Jonathan Hoffman.

The Board is learning - again - that it does not truly represent British Jews

Regular readers of this column will know that I have not in the past had a high opinion of the ZF, but I do have to say that under its new management (Andrew Balcombe as chair and Jonathan Hoffman as his deputy) it has taken a refreshingly proactive stance in defending the Jewish state. True, it has not won every battle. But it is surely better to fight a battle and lose than not to fight at all.

Some days ago, Mr Hoffman launched, on the Downing Street website, a petition calling upon the British government to use its influence to ensure the rejection of the Goldstone report (alleging that Israel was guilty of war crimes in Gaza) when a vote is taken on it at the UN Human Rights Council next March. Within a few days, the petition attracted more than 2,500 signatures. But not those of the president of the Board, or any of the Board’s vice-presidents.

Why not? Mr Lewis did not beat about the bush. “Given his position,” he thundered, “Mr Hoffman should be far more cognisant of the necessity to act with common sense and not to act unilaterally in a way which damages both Israel’s case and beyond.”

Where, I wondered, had I previously read if not these exact words then words uncannily similar to them? Well, it was in the JC of February 5 1943. The then president of the Deputies, Selig Brodetsky, explained in a letter published by the JC why the Board had sabotaged an initiative by Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld to get the House of Commons to support the rescue of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

“The intervention of an unauthorised individual,” wrote Professor Brodetsky, “however well intentioned… naturally brings confusion and may have damaging effects.” But Brodetsky’s action did not inhibit Dr Schonfeld, and I’ve little doubt that Mr Hoffman will give Mr Lewis’s intervention the contempt it deserves.

The Board is learning — again — that it does not represent British Jews and has little influence on those who do.

Last updated: 5:24pm, December 10 2009


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