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Is this a fit legacy for the Board?

November 24, 2016 23:25

In my experience, all holders of high public office like to leave a "legacy" - something (preferably positive) by which they may be fondly remembered. And since Jews are just like other folks, only more so, we should not have been surprised to learn that the current leadership of the Board of Deputies has, in its final weeks of office, announced that it has joined sundry Muslim and Hindu groups in a consortium to bid for a £400,000 government grant to promote something called "social integration".

This funding is being provided by the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) as part of its "Strengthening Faith Institutions" programme, the apparent aim of which is to give "faith institutions a stronger base from which to challenge intolerance and extremism of any kind" (my emphasis).

No doubt other bids will be received, but those of us who have ever taken part in such an exercise know that there are invariably unwritten criteria lurking in the background, especially where a department of government with a political agenda is involved. With this in mind, let me offer the DCLG some unsolicited advice as it mulls over the Deputies' consortium bid.

To begin with, strictly speaking, the Board is not a faith organisation. Although it has some residual responsibilities of a religious nature - primarily in connection with the certification of some (not all) synagogue marriage secretaries - it is in essence a purely secular body. It is true that many UK-based synagogues elect deputies but the remit of these deputies does not extend into the religious sphere, and nothing the Board says or does can bind any synagogal body.

I concede that the panel that evaluates the Board's consortium bid may well overlook this as a bothersome technicality. The same cannot be assumed in relation to the Board's record of challenging "intolerance and extremism of any kind". I say this because of the Board's recent rapprochement with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

I'd question whether the application merits any consideration

Relations between the Board and the MCB have blown hot and cold over the decades. Some years ago, in this column, I drew attention to an angry statement issued by the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council in reaction to news that the then government had decided to restore relations with the MCB, which the statement rightly characterised as having a "deep-seated ideological Islamist bias".

But now, the Board itself has embraced the MCB anew. Only last August, it joined the MCB in publishing, at the height of the most recent Gaza conflict, a communiqué that referred controversially to "the targeting of civilians", which was seen in some quarters as a veiled reference to actions by Israeli forces. The Board argued that in fact this phrase referred to the indiscriminate rocket attacks launched by Hamas, but when this newspaper asked the MCB to confirm that this was the case, no such affirmation was forthcoming. More seriously, as the JC's editor pointed out at the time, "the MCB has as members groups aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and sympathetic to Hamas itself".

I've recently been investigating organisations affiliated to the MCB. An MCB press release dating from October 2010 proudly identified as one of its affiliates something called "The Islamic Community of Milli Gorus". "Milli Gorus" is Turkish for "National Vision," and the movement (from which Turkey's ruling Islamist party, the AKP, emerged) is openly antisemitic. Milli Gorus does not appear on the MCB's current website. But among those affiliates that do appear are "Aalami Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nubuwwat" of London and the "International Khatme-e-Nubuwwat Mission" of Bolton. Khatme Nubuwwat organisations have as their goal a policy of confrontation with the beliefs of Ahmadi Muslims, who are regarded as heretics.

If I were asked to advise the Department for Communities and Local Government on the Board of Deputies' consortium bid, I would question whether, in view of the evident determination of the Board's current leadership to assist in the rehabilitation of the MCB, and in view of the dubious company the MCB has kept and still keeps, the application deserves any serious consideration.

November 24, 2016 23:25

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