Gary Mond

What’s the point of the Board of Deputies in 2024?

It is no longer representative and its major roles have been taken by others


Board of Deputies leadership

March 13, 2024 11:14

Nominations have now closed for the election for the presidency of the Board of Deputies, which takes place on May 12. Over the coming two months there will be much debate on the Board’s future direction. All four candidates are unquestionably good, hard-working and honest people committed to the welfare of the Jewish community. I have worked closely with three of them, and am well-acquainted with the fourth.

I am not concerned here with their respective merits and demerits. Rather, I want to consider the challenges facing the victor, and what role — if any — there is for the Board now in the UK’s Jewish firmament.

The first huge problem is not the fault of the honorary officers. The Board derives its legitimacy from synagogal affiliation. About 90 per cent of its 270 Deputies represent around 135 different synagogues, with the remainder coming from different Jewish organisations. Yet the synagogue is not the key focal point of Jewish life that it once was. According to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s recent publication Jews in the UK today, only 57 per cent of British Jews are synagogue members, and the age split is startling — of those under 30, just 28 per cent are shul members. On top of this, another survey from seven years ago found that there were 454 synagogues in the UK, so a high proportion (including the Charedi) are not represented on the Board. These facts call into question the Board’s much-heralded claim to be a representative body for the Jewish community.

The second problem is that the Board’s major roles have been taken over by others. Some 40 years ago, the role of Jewish community security, previously carried out by the Board, was adopted by the CST. Then, in 2003, the Jewish Leadership Council was created, its role being to represent the Jewish community to government. It derives its legitimacy through its membership, which comprises most leading Jewish charities and other organisations. In 2014, the Campaign Against Antisemitism was formed and, after a substantial rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice that year, has gone from strength to strength, most recently organising a 105,000-strong rally against antisemitism. The Board’s role in this arena has been totally eclipsed and rendered irrelevant.

Furthermore, many other groups have found roles to play which one would think should have been the preserve of the Board, or at least spearheaded by it. These include entities such as UK Lawyers for Israel, Stand With Us UK, numerous regional groups (eg the London Jewish Forum) and the National Jewish Assembly, the latter of which I chair and which provides opportunities for all Jews, not simply synagogal representatives, to participate in debating the issues of today’s Jewish world. Against this background, it can reasonably be argued that the Board is simply no longer needed.

Then there is its track record over the past six years under Marie van der Zyl’s stewardship, which has attracted significant criticism. First, there has been a growing strain of intolerance towards those in our community who have conservative-leaning views, especially those (who at the very least form a substantial minority of British Jews) who have concerns about Islamist Jew-hatred. The Board is no place for us. This intolerance hails not just from the current honorary officers but also, sadly, from the Deputies as a whole, 133 of whom voted to publicly censure 11 trustees of one of the most successful Jewish charities in the country, simply because they in turn would not censure their own chairman for his remarks about immigration.

Additionally, there have been many cases of the Board garnering publicity for all the wrong reasons. These include failure to support the CAA antisemitism march until almost the last moment, Ms van der Zyl’s visit to France to show solidarity with illegal migrants (a matter nothing to do with Jews), a cack-handed attempt to change the constitution to increase honorary officer powers, and a dispute with the European Jewish Congress, the details of which were never made public. There are many other examples.

The challenges facing the Board’s next leader, both of a structural and reputational nature, are huge. I am not optimistic that he or she will have any success or do anything different, since all four of the candidates have been integral to the Board’s recent governance, three of them as honorary officers under Ms van der Zyl and the fourth as a senior employee. I do however wish the winner well.

Gary Mond served on the Board of Deputies for over ten years and was the Senior Vice President for eight months, until his resignation in January 2022.

March 13, 2024 11:14

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