Board of Deputies ‘invisible’ since October 7, says presidential candidate

Sheila Gewolb made the claim at the hustings in Leeds ahead of next month's election


Bidding for glory: Board presidential candidates (from left) Phil Rosenberg, Sheila Gewolb, Michael Ziff, Amanda Bowman

One of the candidates for the presidency of the Board of Deputies has accused the organisation of having had too low a profile over the past six months amid the backlash from conflict in the Middle East.

Sheila Gewolb, a former vice-president of the umbrella body, said in Leeds on Wednesday night, “The Board has been invisible in defending our community since October 7. We have to be so much stronger.”

The Cardiff deputy made a feisty start to the proceedings at Sinai Synagogue, emphasising in particular her record in education in travelling up and down the country to speak to children in non-Jewish schools.

As one of her priorities, she said, “We need to challenge the lies and the biased reporting we see and hear every day on the TV and read in the newspapers. We need to shout louder than our enemies.”

Sitting vice-president Amanda Bowman, adopting a more measured approach, pledged to make the Board “a source of pride and inspiration”.

Underlying her experience as head of the Board’s defence division, she said, “you’ve seen me fight the rising tide of hatred and defend and protect your rights and traditions… I will create a Board that will serve as a beacon of hope and strength for generations to come”.

Board treasurer Michael Ziff, who is originally from Leeds, said, “More of the same is no longer an option… I am a serious leader for serious times.”

When he had taken on the financial office a couple of years ago, the Board had had “quite a large deficit” but now was in a “break-even situation,” he said.

The Maccabi GB president said he had received indications of support from a number of people for a plan to combat antisemitism he intended to put in place, for which “a large amount of money” would be needed.

The youngest candidate, Phil Rosenberg, the Board’s former public affairs director, pledged to reserve £100,000 fund for regional activities and said he was speaking to potential donors about a £1 million proposal to make 200 copies of the Board’s travelling Jewish Living Experience Exhibition.

The PR and campaign professional said, “I want you to ask yourself who is going to represent our community best on Question Time? Who is going to best be able to communicate with the TikTok generation? Who has the strongest connections across politics, media, faith and diplomacy to make our case at the highest levels?”

The four challengers to succeed Marie van der Zyl in the May election had appeared in Manchester the previous evening and are due to take part in a third hustings in Glasgow on Thursday.

Chairing the Leeds event, Simon Myerson KC asked the candidates to state what they believed to be the biggest challenges facing the community in one-word answers.

Externally, Ziff and Rosenberg said antisemitism; Gewolb, understanding; and Bowman, cohesion. Internally, Bowman also answered cohesion; Gewolb, unity; Rosenberg, continuity; and Ziff, young people.

The five candidates for the three vice-presidential posts also took part.

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