Israel’s controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would be welcome at the Board of Deputies, the four contenders for its presidency agreed this week.
The electoral success of his nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party in February provoked disquiet among UK Jews, with several prominent rabbis condemning his attitude towards Arabs.
But there would be an open door for him at the Board, the four candidates made clear at a hustings sponsored by the JC and the Board at Golders Green Synagogue on Sunday. Flo Kaufmann, one of the Board’s three vice-presidents, said: “He is Israel’s Foreign Minister, after all,” adding: “Sometimes it happens that people who have certain views out of office, when they get into office, sometimes their views are moderated. This may happen with Mr Lieberman.”
Jerry Lewis, a former Board vice-president, who sees Mr Lieberman as “a bit of an enigma”, said: “We have to respect him as an elected person. He has made controversial comments in the past but I wouldn’t use the opportunity on behalf of the Board to criticise…”
Former United Synagogue president Peter Sheldon declared: “When asked about anything to do with Israel, we do not criticise. Let us do it among ourselves by all means. But the moment we go public, we damage Israel’s standing, we risk Israel’s security, and that is not what the Board stands for.”
Vivian Wineman, senior vice-president of the Board, said the Board stood “behind the state of Israel on the principles on which Israel was established, which is equality for all its citizens, and the belief in democracy and non-discrimination between Jews and Arabs”.
He added: “I hope that is something members of the Israeli government recognise, but we would be pleased to welcome them in all circumstances.”
The candidates fielded questions from an audience of 80, mostly deputies, in an election more about personality and experience than policies.
Mr Lewis stressed his media expertise, saying that with elections ahead, “We need to start lobbying. We need to learn the tricks of the trade because the Muslims have learned those tricks… They flex their political muscles as never before. We have lost the art.”
Mr Sheldon reassured Progressive deputies that though he is a former US head, “I will represent every section of our community and I am happy to acknowledge and pay tribute to the work the Progressive community does.”
Mrs Kaufmann said: “I have taken our concerns about antisemitism in Russia right into the Kremlin, to Vladimir Putin himself, incidentally helping pave the way for an improvement in relations between our two countries.”
Mr Wineman emphasised his intellectual credentials, his commitment to religious pluralism and links with Israel. If elected, he said: “I would probably be the first president of the Board who actually speaks fluent Hebrew.”