JLC plans to remove Board of Deputies’ special status on its trustee body

Board has reportedly asked Chief Rabbi to intervene


President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, shakes hands with His Majesty the King (Credit: Board of Deputies)

The Jewish Leadership Council is proposing to end the special status of the Board of Deputies at the organisation by removing the automatic seat on its trustee body for the Board’s president.

The Board’s leader has been guaranteed a place in the inner circle of the JLC’s decision-makers for many years - but if the planned change goes ahead, future presidents of the Board will have to put themselves up for election to become a JLC trustee.

The current president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, reportedly told deputies at Sunday’s plenary meeting that the Chief Rabbi - one of the Board’s ecclesiastical authorities - has been asked to intervene over the plan.

A JLC spokesperson said the proposal had been approved by its trustees but must now go to the full JLC members’ council for ratification next month. It will be one of a series of constitutional changes that will also include limiting the terms of JLC vice-presidents.

The spokesperson stressed that the proposal “won’t change anything on the ground as far as the two organisations working together”.

But the move entailed “removing the anomaly where only one of our members gets automatic representation on the trustee board. None of our other members gets ex-officio representation.”

The timing was “the neatest and cleanest way of doing it”, the spokesperson explained, since Mrs van der Zyl’s term as Board president was shortly to expire. Her successor is due to be elected by deputies in May.

“It is not about the individual, it is about the position,” the JLC source said.

A Board spokesman said the issue was “currently under discussion between the two organisations. The Board of Deputies is focused on addressing the many existential issues facing the Jewish community such as the war in Israel and the rise in antisemitism here.”

The Board viewed the matter as “an unnecessary distraction at a time when Jewish unity is of great importance. We fully appreciate that members of the Jewish community do not wish to see communal leadership engaging publicly in these types of disputes when far bigger issues should be demanding our energy.”

A former Board officer said, "It is petty by the JLC, but reflects an underlying lack of confidence in the Board's current leadership. Every Board president enters with fine words about communal unity, but seems to leave with relationships worse than ever.”

The constitutional change, if voted through, will formally put more distance between the two organisations.

The JLC’s founding chairman in 2003, Henry Grunwald, was also president of the Board at the time. But the council later moved to greater independence by electing its own chairman of trustees, although recognising the Board’s representative role by reserving a trustee seat for the Board’s president.

In 2013, talks began to unify the two organisations but were shelved two years later.

Four years ago, former Board president Jonathan Arkush revived the idea, suggesting that the JLC would become part of the Board as a “conference” of heads of community organisations - but it failed to gain traction.

The Office of the Chief Rabbi declined comment.

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