'Access - but no influence' says Board


Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman has admitted the Jewish community has "no influence" over government policy and faces a testing time working to establish relationships with coalition ministers.

Mr Wineman said that the community has "good access but no influence" with ministers, and suggested little success had been achieved in convincing the government on issues of importance to British Jews.

The comments, made during Sunday's Board plenary meeting, acknowledged a changed dynamic in Whitehall that was very different from the relationships enjoyed during Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's administrations.

Afterwards, Mr Wineman explained he had not been "expressing frustration" but was being honest with deputies about the effectiveness of representations made by the community.

He said: "We do not have power. What I was also trying to get over is that we do not have folie de grandeur. I don't think the meetings [with ministers] are a waste of time. It's vital that we have them.

"We work hard and hope to have influence. I'm not saying the government ignores us and I was not expressing frustration with them. It's a long and uncertain process. The Foreign Secretary is not going to jump up and say 'you have changed my mind'."

Privately, community representatives admit they expected the new government to have a different approach to the relationship, but they maintain that an impact has been made across a variety of departments in recent months.

Last week Mr Wineman met Foreign Secretary William Hague alongside Jewish Leadership Council trustee board chairman Mick Davis and Bicom chairman Poju Zabludowicz.

The meeting was described as "warm and convivial" by the Foreign Office, but was met with disdain by deputies at the Board meeting. They criticised the government and highlighted David Cameron's withdrawn patronage of JNF as evidence that efforts to sway government thinking had been ineffective.

In the past year deputies have repeatedly voiced frustration over coalition ministers' comments on the Middle East.

One Board source said Mr Wineman's comments displayed "breath-taking naivety" but admitted the remarks were "honest" and would allow the community to better manage its expectations.

One Jewish former special adviser under the last government said the community was doing a "good job" of presenting its case to ministers, but warned of the "paranoia" of Westminster and the difficulties of forging relationships with the new government.

Stuart Polak, Conservative Friends of Israel director, said: "The success or otherwise of a meeting with a senior government minister can not and should not be measured in the immediate aftermath of any one meeting. There are many individuals across the community engaging with politicians and this is important and has brought significant benefits.

"What we understand very clearly at CFI is that the building of relationships is a key element to future success."

Malvyn Benjamin, deputy for Hendon United Synagogue, said: "It took many months to secure that meeting with Mr Hague. It's recognition that the government really doesn't rate us. The Jewish community has fallen behind.

"In 63 years the Jewish community has never changed government policy as far as Israel is concerned. We have very little influence.

"It's time we acknowledge that words are cheap. Ministers will say what we want to hear but whatever policies they have are not in anyway whatsoever dictated by the views we have on the Middle East."

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