Pragmatic leader who heads a diverse team

November 24, 2016 23:28

It may have been a long and hard campaign by the standards of Jewish community politics, but Jonathan Arkush's win will give him considerable personal authority when he becomes the 47th president of the Board of Deputies next month.

Mr Arkush - a lawyer, as were five of the previous seven Board presidents - proved consistently the best of the three candidates on his feet and should be an eloquent spokesman on the community's behalf.

When he says he "has preferred to lead from the front", he should be as good as his word and be able to address the criticism of those who feel the Board should have been more forceful in fighting antisemitism and defending Israel.

Leading from the front will not be his problem, it will be making sure he does not go out on a limb. Three years ago he launched an outspoken attack on the Jewish Leadership Council, which might have been popular with some deputies but went too far and he was forced to backtrack.

He now says he gets on well with JLC chairman Mick Davis and will work towards unification between the two organisations. But he will be no push-over in negotiations. "The leadership of our community must have democratic legitimacy and accountability," he made clear on Sunday. "That for me is a red line."

He will be no pushover in the merger negotiations with the JLC

While he is more to the right of the Zionist spectrum than outgoing president Vivian Wineman, he has pledged support for a two-state solution. His toughest challenge may come if an Israeli government acts in a way that is widely seen as undermining it.

As head of the Board's defence division, he was responsible for interfaith relations and knows the long-term importance of building alliances with other communities. He was one of the officers, after all, who agreed the Board's controversial statement with the Muslim Council for Britain last summer and believes it has helped in the campaign against antisemitism. In that, he has shown he can be pragmatic.

His vice-presidents may be inexperienced, but he will benefit from the freshness and greater diversity they bring: two women VPs for the first time, two from the regions and one under-35.

A new team that includes a vice-president and treasurer from Progressive synagogues will also shore up the Board's claim to be a forum where denominational divisions have no place.

November 24, 2016 23:28

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