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Why I'd never vote for Yachad

November 24, 2016 23:20

Last Sunday, the Board of Deputies of British Jews voted to admit Yachad into Board membership by 135 votes to 61, the necessary two-thirds majority being achieved by just five votes.

Yachad professes to be a Zionist (or at least a "pro-Israel, pro-peace") body and since its foundation in 2011 has lobbied furiously for the so-called "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Seasoned followers of this column will know that I believe the so-called "two-state solution" to be as dead as the dodo. In this context, the most charitable judgment I can pass on the endeavours of Yachad is that, while one might admire their idealism, one must also condemn their naivety.

Yachad's 2013 application to join the Zionist Federation was quite rightly refused - indeed, I can't believe it was seriously made. Had I been a deputy I would certainly have voted against admitting Yachad. But I would not have done so on the grounds of its politics. My vote would have been cast on the basis of a principled concern with the nature of communal representation.

Put simply, Yachad's membership of the Board compounds the phenomenon of multiple representation that has bedevilled that body for many decades, and which continues to gnaw away at its legitimacy.

So why not let Jews For Jesus sit on the Board of Deputies too?

I joined the Board - in a fit of youthful but sadly misplaced idealism - in the 1980s. At one time, I was represented five times over. I sat as a deputy for the Clapton Federation synagogue (of blessed memory). But the Federation itself returned deputies centrally. So did the Zionist Federation, and at least two other communal organisations of which I was then a paid-up member in good standing. I actually attended the meetings of some of these august bodies, and participated in the election of worthy brethren to represent their interests - and mine - at the Board.

There is certainly a debate to be had as to whether the Board represents individual British Jews or individual and quite separate British-Jewish interests. The British parliament represents individual Britons. The last vestiges of "interest" representation at Westminster were abolished with effect from the general election of 1950, when the antiquated university constituencies were done away with. Until then, it was possible for many university graduates to cast two votes - one in their constituencies of domicile and the other as graduates of particular seats of learning.

The only Jewish minister of religion ever to sit in the Commons - Rabbi Sir Philip Magnus, of the West London Reform Synagogue - was the MP for the University of London from 1906 until 1922. Today, your name can indeed appear on the electoral register of more than one constituency. But, come polling day, you can legally cast only one vote. The nation has had this debate and has come to a conclusion: plural voting is no more. But at the Board of Deputies it is rife.

Some weeks ago, this newspaper carried a leader supporting Yachad's bid to be admitted to the Deputies, arguing "it represents a perfectly acceptable shade of opinion… For deputies who hold a different view of things from Yachad to attempt to block it from membership… goes against the very purpose of the Board. It is an umbrella body that reflects the wide range of opinions and outlooks of British Jews."

If we were to pursue this argument to its logical conclusion, we would surely need to extend Board membership to - for example -– "Jews for Jesus". Whether JfJ would actually want Board representation is irrelevant. After all, this curious body is composed (so it is claimed) of Jews, and has imposing premises right in the heart of Jewish Hendon.

If the Board of Deputies is indeed "an umbrella body that reflects the wide range of opinions and outlooks of British Jews" on what grounds of principle could JfJ possibly be denied membership of it?

I am willing to bet my second-best streimel that many members of Yachad are already in membership of other communal and even synagogal bodies that already have and pay for Board representation.

Now they will be "represented" at least twice over. The present confusion over individual and interest representation at the Board needs to be addressed. So perhaps the Yachad debate will trigger this much-needed and long overdue conversation.

November 24, 2016 23:20

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