We should end the wasteful duplication between the Board of Deputies and the JLC

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl argues for a 'more permanent unity' between the two organisations

March 11, 2020 18:14

One of the most regular questions I get asked in my role as President of the Board of Deputies is about our organisation’s relationship with the Jewish Leadership Council.

Members of the community understand the importance of the Board of Deputies as a democratic and accountable representative body, but cannot always understand the purpose served by the Jewish Leadership Council: an organisation of which we are a member, but whose work sometimes often seems to overlap with our own.

As a trustee of the JLC — the Board of Deputies President is, ex-officio, a JLC trustee — I can proudly tell them of the good that I think the JLC and its agencies do.

It does fine work to share best practice in the Jewish charitable sector; support schools’ development through its educational arm PaJeS; and invest in staff to serve our regional communities.

The JLC supports safeguarding in the Jewish youth sector through its department Reshet and trains emerging communal activists through its agency, Lead, the latter of which I myself was a beneficiary.

In these areas there is limited overlap between the two organisations, and the relationship is harmonious. 
Where there is more difficulty is in the area of public policy and advocacy. There is little — if any — difference in the policies that the two organisations try to promote on behalf of the community. However, this makes for a situation where the JLC is essentially making the same points to the same politicians and officials as the Board of Deputies.

As much as possible, our teams generally do the best they can to cooperate and coordinate, but there is nonetheless a fair amount of unhealthy competition and overlap, which is a waste of precious communal resources: a luxury we cannot afford in a situation where so many of our charities are struggling financially.

Both organisations received deserved praise for the way we combined our strengths on the #EnoughisEnough campaign against antisemitism in the Labour Party, and this clearly provides the basis for the way forward.

In my view, it is high time to pursue a more permanent unity for the two organisations, grounded in the Board of Deputies’ democratic legitimacy and maximising the abundant skill and commitment in the lay leaders and staff at both organisations.

Both my predecessor Jonathan Arkush and myself have proposed a model for this unification to the JLC.

As a more modest starting point, I also proposed an interim step of delineating the work of the Board of Deputies’ education team and the JLC’s education arm PaJeS, which has over the last couple of years increasingly duplicated our public policy work, needlessly taking away resources that could be better used in its schools development work.

Unfortunately, after many months of silence, the JLC rejected these proposals at a meeting a couple of weeks ago. While it agreed to exploratory talks on the subject, it undermined the potential of these from the outset by choosing instead to embark on a new plan, which will further deepen the wasteful duplication between the two organisations.

I am disappointed by this, but remain undeterred. In the coming weeks, I will lay the groundwork for substantive talks by consulting our Deputies on what they think should be the future relationship between the two organisations.

I hope that the JLC will likewise act in the interests of the community and take this opportunity seriously. 
In particular, I have asked that the JLC freezes current plans to further duplicate the public policy work of the Board of Deputies and that it carefully considers whether it should proceed with the appointment of a new CEO and give instead proper consideration to bringing the two organisations together under one professional leadership.

Before and since Jonathan Goldstein became JLC Chair three years ago, he has spoken frequently and convincingly about the need to avoid waste and duplication. As he considers whether to seek another term as JLC Chair, I hope that he will seek to leave a legacy that honours this noble objective. 

Marie van der Zyl is the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

March 11, 2020 18:14

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