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Letters special: readers respond to the Newmark affair

Sir Harry Solomon, Louise Jacobs, Michael Wegier, Paul Edlin, Laurence Kingsley, Gary Mond, Jeremy Godfrey, Avi Moshe, Alan Rosenzweig, Neville Landau, Harvey Spillman and David Pearl share their views with JC readers

    Jeremy Newmark
    Jeremy Newmark (Photo: PA)

    Huge contribution

    I should like to comment on your coverage last week relating to Jeremy Newmark’s departure from the JLC.

    I am not and never have been a Trustee of the JLC, nor do I know the terms or conditions regarding the departure of Jeremy Newmark from that organisation.  However, as I understand it, Sir Mick Davis, the JLC Chairman acting in full and open consultation with the JLC Trustees took whatever steps they considered proper and sought advice before making their decision. It may be that others would have taken a different course of action, and it may be – I do not know – that the Trustees were mistaken in what they did or did not do.  However, the JLC suffered no financial loss and what I am certain about is that any decisions taken by the Trustees would have been what they considered to be in the best interests of the organisation.

    Obviously you are fully entitled to comment and criticise the Trustees, but neither Sir Mick nor his fellow Trustees deserve to have underhand motives ascribed to difficult decisions made in good faith.  Accusing them of “a cover up” in the way you have done impugns the integrity of devoted and honourable servants of the Community. 

    I also believe you could have presented a fairer and more measured picture if, somewhere in your six pages of reporting,  you had told your readers what these Trustees actually do for the Community.  As you know they are the major supporters of many of our most important institutions.  They give unstintingly and voluntarily of their time and provide substantial funding for the benefit of the wider Community.  Many of them have spent their working lives supporting, protecting, maintaining and enhancing our Jewish way of life.  Without them and their enormous efforts, our Community would be a poorer place. 

    That does not mean, of course, that they should be beyond criticism, but one of my major concerns is the serious challenges we face to recruit new young leaders.  Public condemnation of many of our current leaders is unlikely to encourage others to step into their shoes.

    Sir Harry Solomon

     

    Whatever the merits of the judgment calls made by the trustees of the JLC until 2013, one element of this story cannot go unanswered. The trustees you name, led by Sir Mick Davis, are individuals who have dedicated an extraordinary amount of time and commitment to work voluntarily on behalf of the community.  

    Over many years, these individuals have led the community to ensure that the welfare, security, education, and Israel connection of British Jewry, are funded and managed at a level unparalleled in the diaspora. We would be a far poorer, weaker and more fragmented community were it not for their vision, commitment and leadership — and last week’s coverage ignored their outstanding contributions.

    Louise Jacobs, Chair, UJIA
    Michael Wegier, CEO, UJIA 

     

    Community cover-up?

    At the time, Jeremy Newmark’s resignation as chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) was not credible on the health grounds of diabetes as most people who are diabetic are able to work normally especially in administrative positions. His subsequent appointment as chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) showed the health grounds for his departure from the JLC to be spurious.

    In any case, Mr Newmark has left the JLC. The issue now is the conduct of the trustees of the JLC at that time, most of whom are still trustees of that charity.

    Frankly, regardless of expressed motives of benevolence for Mr Newmark’s family, this cover-up by the trustees is unacceptable. The only acceptable action by the JLC trustees at the time was to call the police in and report the matter to them. They should have understood the immorality and illegality of their actions.

    The JLC has always principally been a group of a few extremely wealthy individuals largely funding the organisation (admittedly doing worthwhile projects) but at the same time giving these individuals political power and access without having to go through the democratic election processes of the Board of Deputies, which has traditionally represented the entire British Jewish community politically. 

    A community organisation that allows its political leaders to be selected largely by their financial wealth without democratic selection is unacceptable in this day and age. In this case it has been demonstrated that the JLC failed to put in place proper financial management processes and one person had allegedly acquired and used the charity’s funds dishonestly.

    Even without this, the JLC is an unnecessary organisation. Most of what it does could be done by other charities, notably the Board of Deputies and they have always intruded in the Board’s “space” politically. If the JLC did not exist now, the community would eliminate an unnecessary expenditure, and its wealthy grandees could financially support other charities to the betterment of the community.

    Meantime, members of the Jewish community should seriously consider where they want their political leadership to lie and where they want their financial support to be in that.

    At the very least, all the trustees who were in office at the time of this cover-up should be honourable and resign their current trustee positions in the JLC to allow it to continue with a measure of credibility while the Charity Commissioner’s enquiry proceeds.

    Paul Edlin (former Board of Deputies vice-president), Glasgow G77

     

    Open letter

    This is an open letter to the members of the JLC. Although I have long respected some of the individuals involved, I have always been sceptical of the motives of what has essentially been an unelected and self-appointed body and I call on them to disband or, at the very least, to resign. What is worse than the alleged defalcations of Jeremy Newmark is the cover-up by the JLC’s trustees. Anyone with knowledge of the Dreyfus Affair should know that injustice and wrongdoing cannot be covered up for long and that the truth will always out.

    Laurence Kingsley, Surrey KT

     

    Travel query

    The coverage omits reference to a very important question: why did the JLC send Mr Newmark to Israel on a regular basis? Isn’t it simply meant to be an umbrella organisation for UK-based Jewish communal organisations?

    One can understand that Israel-focused charities (such as the JNF, of which I am a trustee) might send a representative to Israel for reasons wholly associated with their work. 

    Yet what reason might the JLC have for doing this? Without a good explanation, one can only assume that such trips by Mr Newmark to Israel were politically motivated, and the publicly stated views against the Israeli government of some of the JLC trustees at the time might give us a clue as to the direction of such political motivation. 

    Gary Mond, London NW7


    Too quick to criticize

    While the Jewish Chronicle is to be congratulated on its reporting of the circumstances leading to the termination of Jeremy Newmark’s employment at the Jewish Leadership Council, you are too quick to criticize the JLC trustees and to accuse them of a cover-up.

    Trustees are legally obliged to act in what they consider to be the best interests of the organisation they serve. Unlike the press, it is not their role to expose irregularities to the community at large. Nor, in this case, were there any victims other than the JLC itself to whom the trustees might have owed a duty of care.

    You suggest that the trustees should have dismissed Mr Newmark, publicised the nature of their concerns about his conduct, and complained to the police. This would, at best, have led to a lengthy period where the staff and trustees were significantly distracted from delivery of the JLC’s mission. It could have led to a deterioration of morale and departures of other staff. It could have led to legal action, with the risk of damages if a procedural error was found in the JLC’s investigation and disciplinary process. Any damages could have been substantially in excess of the six months’ salary you report was paid to Mr Newmark.

    Moreover it is unlikely that a police investigation would have led anywhere: it is notoriously difficult to establish dishonest intent beyond reasonable doubt.

    The trustees had to weigh up the possible consequences of different options open to them in the light of their legal obligations. No doubt the decision to reach an agreement with Mr Newmark on the terms of his departure was not clear cut. But there is nothing to suggest that this was an unreasonable course to pursue or that the trustees acted in any way improperly or imprudently.

    Jeremy Godfrey, Dublin

     

    The future of the JLM?

    I sincerely hope the allegations of financial impropriety and lack of personal integrity against Jeremy Newmark will not damage the Jewish Labour Movement. The JLM is staffed by a number of other sterling individuals, and their important work in representing Anglo-Jewry in the Labour Party at a most pressing time must not be undermined by this.

    Avi Moshe, Manchester M25

     

    More than Newmark

    The Jeremy Newmark “scandal” is not really about Mr Newmark.

    It is about the self-proclaimed leadership of our community.  That “leadership” allowed a ticking time bomb to walk straight in to the biggest battle for Anglo-Jewry since the Second World War – the fight against the antisemitic Hard Left, the campaign to protect our schools and students, the right to walk around as proud Jews.

    They represent Chamberlain, whilst we need Churchill. 

    Alan Rosenzweig, London W1H

     

    Over-the-top?

    I am deeply concerned by your over-the-top treatment of the alleged wrong-doing concerning expenses claimed by a high ranking member of our community. Certainly covering-up is wrong and inexcusable but there is a huge chasm between covering up and shouting from the roof-tops.

    The JLC trustees are criticised for keeping quiet about the true reason for the chief executive’s resignation but it is fair to recognize the difficult decision they faced. Seeing the wider picture and recognizing the damage to the reputation of the community that would be incurred, wide publicity would be a matter for very careful consideration.

    Antisemites will make hay on your front page coverage and the further six inside pages, devoted to this matter, are beyond any sense other than a seeming delight in the downfall of a hitherto leading community figure.

    If Israel won the World Cup you would not give it as much coverage as you have for this very sad happening.

    Neville Landau, London SW19

     

    Loshon Hara?

    If Stephen Pack applied the halachah of lashon hara in his involvement of Jeremy Newmark's departure from the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC acted in community's interests, JC 9 February), would the Charity Commission and HM Revenue & Customs have thought that it ought to have been dina d'malchusa dina (the law of the land is the law)?

    Harvey Spillman, Herts EN4

     

    Or not?

    Regarding your main news story last week I was shocked at the prominence you gave it.  It spurs me to ask what is the role of a Jewish newspaper?

    The fact that the donors to the charity were prepared to deal with it quietly with no fuss gives them credit. The fact that your story might  destroy a fellow Jew even if he has done wrong  gives you no credit.  This was lashon hora pure and simple.

    David Pearl, London NW4

     

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