Simon Rocker

Is there a democratic deficit at the Board? Just ask its members

Khaled Hassan’s resignation might mean it’s time for a rethink on whether more policy motions should be debated on the floor


Whistleblower Khaled Hassan, speaking to David Rose at The Jewish Chronicle about his time working to monitor content on Youtube. Byline John Nguyen/JNVisuals 28/03/2022

July 20, 2023 11:06

The frustrations that have led Khaled Hassan to resign from the Board of Deputies over what he believes is its democratic deficit will be shared by others, even if they don’t necessarily agree with his proposal to amend it.

On the face of it, asking the President to refrain from commenting on controversial topics until she has first consulted deputies — perhaps via electronic vote — seems impractical.

An elected leader should be trusted to speak out, of course in line with the organisation’s accepted policy.

Still, even if the Board’s leadership felt Hassan’s resolution to be unworkable, it remains unclear why it could not be put to the Board’s members to discuss.

The underlying sentiment behind his suggestion, however, reflects a more common complaint.

For example, when the Board’s president supported moving the UK’s embassy to Jerusalem, one deputy who favoured the idea, James Harris, a representative of a large United Synagogue community, Stanmore and Canons Park, was nonetheless critical of her.

“For the president to make the announcement she made unilaterally, with little or no consultation with deputies… is unwise… and it can’t be in the spirit of democracy,” he said.

When Gary Mond was elected senior vice-president at the last triennial election in spring 2021, he stated in his manifesto that “key Board policies should be approved at Board plenary meetings rather than just by the honorary officers”.

He contended that several major initiatives over the previous three years had been “adopted by the Board simply by the approval of the five honorary officers”, citing the campaign in support of the Chinese Uyghur minority; the setting up of the Board’s Commission for Racial Inclusivity; opposition to the benefit cap on families with more than two children; support for siting the National Holocaust Memorial near Parliament; and calling for a public inquiry into how Nazi war criminals evaded justice in Britain.

Had he not quit the Board less than a year later and set up the National Jewish Assembly, he would almost certainly be running for the presidency when Marie van der Zyl steps down next year.

At the last election, it should be recalled, van der Zyl was the first sitting president to face a challenger.

Her margin of victory, 161 to 125, suggests her dark-horse contender, Jonathan Neumann, attracted some protest votes: his platform had included a pledge to “introduce votes on major initiatives”.

Board leaders will argue that grassroots deputies have the opportunity to challenge what the leadership says at any of the nine or so plenary meetings throughout the year.

And if they feel strongly enough and can muster enough supporters, in the last resort they can bring a vote of no confidence.

But Hassan’s gesture might mean it’s time for a rethink on whether more policy motions should be tabled for debate on the floor of the Board.

July 20, 2023 11:06

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