The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Received wisdom has it that, in 2003, Henry Grunwald, the incoming president of the Board of Deputies, agreed to join a meeting of communal leaders in order to address distressing confusions in government circles as to which particular Jewish leader to consult on any given issue of concern to British Jewry.
Thus was born what became — three years later — the Jewish Leadership Council.
But there’s another side to this story. Part of the impetus behind the establishment of the JLC derived from the fear that the Anglo-Jewish moneyed classes, having deserted the Board of Deputies and being quite unwilling (perish the thought!) to put themselves up for election as Deputies, and (in any case) holding the Board in contempt as a useless talking-shop, would simply go their own way in terms of the formation and implementation of communal policy.
The mainly male moneyed machers had — somehow — to be re-engaged with the Board, and the formation of a council — on which they would be represented along with the Board — seemed at the time a practical way of achieving this end.
In a statement issued on February 27, 2004, Mr Grunwald emphasised that the JLC’s purpose was “not to supplant or replace the Board, but rather to support the work of the Board and other organisations within the community”.
But that was not how the mainly male moneyed machers saw it. During Mr Grunwald’s presidency of the Deputies, he also chaired the JLC. But when his presidency came to an end in 2009 the JLC was reorganised.
Mr Grunwald’s successor as Board president, Vivian Wineman, became chair of the JLC’s Council of Membership. But although the JLC’s website describes this Council as its “top body”, that was highly misleading: it was and is the trustees who are legally responsible for the actions of the charity.
Mr Wineman, as president of the Deputies, was indeed named ex-officio as a trustee. But the position of chair of the trustees went to multi-millionaire Mick Davis.
At one level, it’s only fair to say that the JLC has done some useful work. It has, for example, implemented a bulk-purchasing scheme to assist Jewish charities in maximising their purchasing power. It has established a useful, ongoing review focused on Jewish schooling in the UK.
The problem was that all this activity had been conducted within a framework of ambition.
The JLC’s ambition, driven by Sir Mick and his mega-wealthy old boys’ network, was to supersede the Board of Deputies as the major conduit for dialogue between the British state and British Jews.
And so it was that the JLC unceremoniously elbowed its way on to the communal top table. When, last September, Prime Minister Theresa May held the now-customary annual meeting with Jewish communal leaders, it was the JLC that (once again) organised this carefully choreographed encounter and claimed pride of place at the Downing Street discussions.
This overweening, pompous ambition has now come to a juddering halt.
The most important paragraphs in the now-leaked JLC internal audit report do not concern its former chief executive, Jeremy Newmark. The most damning and damaging paragraphs refer to the manner in which the JLC apparently discharged its responsibilities.
“It appears [said the report, dating from 2013] to be standard practice in the JLC to falsify information relating to finances. Member organisations are constantly overcharged…
“The Lead and Partnerships for Jewish Schools… divisions are also unjustifiably forced to absorb significant operational costs without any consultation or sight of the real figures.”
For this alleged “standard practice” the JLC — including its past trustees — will now certainly have to answer to the Charity Commission. And if the reported falsification of information is true, then the matter should surely be investigated by the police as well.
From time to time, there has been talk of merging the Board and the JLC. But “merger” is just a polite word for “takeover”.
It is all very well for the JLC to announce a belated “independent review.” The time is now right for the elected Board of Deputies to take over the unelected Jewish Leadership Council, and then shut it down.