Parliament’s new group to promote Jewish issues could be hijacked by anti-Israel campaigners, MPs and peers have warned.
The fallout from the revelation that the Board of Deputies will form the secretariat to a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews continued this week.
Veteran Labour MP Louise Ellman revealed her anger at not being consulted by the Board about the group’s formation despite being a deputy.
Mrs Ellman admitted she was “amazed” by the plans, which she first learned of when she read about them in last week’s JC.
Furious MPs also claimed the Board’s actions “had not been thought through at all”, were “inept”, “ridiculous” and constituted a “massive cock-up”.
Fears also rose over the prospect of anti-Israel MPs and peers seeking membership. Any Parliamentarian can join the group, gain voting rights and be elected to an officer role.
The Board said it did not believe the group would be "hijacked" and that anyone joining “will have the opportunity of learning about issues affecting British Jews”.
The group has yet to select its officers. It is understood that the secretariat will be led by the Board’s newly-appointed public affairs director Phil Rosenberg, but no names have yet been provided officially.
Board president Vivian Wineman said around 30 Parliamentarians had agreed to sign up to the group by Wednesday and that the list included “government spokespeople, shadow spokespeople and MPs from all three major parties…alongside Lords, cross-benchers and faith leaders”.
He said they could not be named at this stage as the new members cannot officially sign up until Parliament returns from its summer recess on September 2.
Under Parliamentary rules, the new group will also be forced to reveal details of donations of more than £5,000 that the Board receives from companies. It is thought that some donors in the community have been angered by that prospect, but the Board said the requirements would "not cause any difficulty".
Relations between the Board and lay leaders of other communal organisations were said to be at their “lowest ever” level, with claims that emails between officials were laden with “strong language”.
One communal source claimed that the Board’s interim chief of operations, Andrea Kelmanson, had been sidelined by colleagues, with Mr Rosenberg acting as a “de facto chief executive”.
While Mr Wineman robustly defended the methods used to create the group, one Board source admitted that “clearly there is some concern about how it came about”.
The JC understands only around 15 of the 285 elected deputies have contacted the Board to welcome the development.
Mrs Ellman said she was not among the MPs who had agreed to join. She described the Board’s actions as “bizarre” and warned of the potential for the group to be used to attack Israel.
“Because there has not been any consultation I doubt these issues have been considered by the Board,” she said.
“There should have been better consultation. I had previously spoken to Board people about Parliament and matters of Jewish interest, but there was no mention of setting up an APPG.”
Lib Dem peer Lord Palmer has accepted an invitation to join the group. But he said he had traditionally been against a Jewish APPG because he also feared that it could be used “an excuse for those who are anti-Israel to be pro-Jewish and thus burnish their credentials of Jews being ‘my best friends’”.
Mr Wineman said: “The overwhelming consensus is that an APPG for our community will allow for a cross-communal representation on the multitude of issues affecting the Jewish community. It will not deal with Israel or antisemitism, causes which are well-served by existing APPGs.”
Jewish Leadership Council members including Mick Davis, Leo Noe and Gerald Ronson are said to have reacted furiously to the Board’s failure to consult other communal organisations about the APPG’s creation.
The JC understands that one of the JLC representatives told a senior Board figure that he “must never contact” him again following the row.
The Board said it remained committed to developing ways to promote the community’s interests and the possibility of forming a merged organisation with the JLC.