Anglo-Jewry’s leaders this week mounted a damage limitation exercise in an attempt to quell internal rows over the Board of Deputies’ political competence.
Several members of the Jewish Leadership Council were enraged to discover that the Board’s president, Vivian Wineman, had written to Conservative leader David Cameron in the middle of last week’s Tory conference raising queries over the party’s European allies.
But although Mr Wineman and Mick Davis, chairman of the JLC executive, issued a statement denying a rift and pledging co-operation, behind the scenes senior community figures have continued to criticise the Board.
One said that Mr Wineman’s position as overall chairman of the JLC was now “untenable”, adding that the JLC was composed of people “not afraid to take tough decisions”.
Another commented that Mr Wineman had “any number of superb advisers, all of whom are far more experienced and knowledgeable about such things; he didn’t speak to a single one”.
The controversy erupted over the visit to the Conservative conference of Michal Kaminski, the Polish leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group at the European Parliament — which the British Conservatives have joined — and his Latvian colleague, Roberts Zile.
The two men had been denounced the previous week by Foreign Secretary David Miliband over their allegedly extreme-right associations, which were dismissed by the Conservatives as smears.
This week critics of Mr Wineman maintained that his decision to send a letter to Mr Cameron seeking assurances about the men had sucked the Board into the midst of a party political row, damaging links between the Jewish community and the Conservatives.
“The community is divided on political lines about Kaminski and Wineman has put the Board of Deputies on one side of that line,” claimed one senior community figure.
But while Mr Wineman refused to comment, the Board’s treasurer Laurence Brass said the letter was “a joint decision by all the honorary officers — I was happy with what Vivian did.”
As accusations continued to fly around major Jewish organisations this week, Mr Wineman and Mr Davis issued a short statement on Wednesday saying they were “sorry those looking for a sensational story but there is none. The Board of Deputies together with the JLC refute the suggestion that there has been any rift between us. We are continuing to work together closely for the welfare and benefit of the community.”
The two men met at a JLC sub-committee on Monday where the JC understands that the letter was not discussed.
It has emerged that Mr Wineman had been intending to write to Mr Cameron almost a month ago but had changed his mind after a meeting with Stuart Polak, executive director of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Mr Kaminski attended the CFI lunch at the Conservative conference — and sat next to the JLC’s Mick Davis.
Mr Polak said: “I met the president of the Board privately before Rosh Hashanah, when the issue of sending a letter was raised, and I strongly recommended that wasn’t a sensible way to go about it.”
Andrew Gilbert, one of a number of deputies who believe the letter to Mr Cameron ill-judged, commented: “Nobody in the Jewish or political community did enough research either to say that Michal Kaminski or Roberts Zile have suspect views, which mean we should shun them, or to clear them.
“It seems the Jewish community is being drawn into a party political dispute when it should be working quietly and discreetly on the basis of extensive research and due diligence. Although the Board might have some responsibility, there are a number of other well-resourced organisation is which have failed to do their job.”
He added: “One has to ask why a private letter came out into the public domain.”
Other informed deputies dismissed the idea that the letter had jeopardised future high-level links with the Conservatives, with one describing it as “an invitation to clarity matters [which] provided an opportunity for the Tories to show good faith towards the community, which we believe they are doing.”
But a senior Conservative source denied this week that the party had agreed to hand over a dossier investigating the two men to the Board, saying that they had simply given assurances about them to Mr Wineman last week.