Board of Deputies accused of ‘political grandstanding’

Member quits over allegations president Marie van der Zyl's opposition to the government’s illegal migration bill alienated the Home Office


The President of the Board of Deputies has been accused of placing “political grandstanding” ahead of the views of deputies and the needs of the community.

The claims about Marie van der Zyl were made by Board member Khaled Hassan, who resigned last week alleging that her public opposition to the government’s illegal migration bill had alienated the Home Office.

He criticised her high-profile visit to a migrant camp in Dunkirk in April, during which she was photographed handing out food to asylum seekers, as well as a Board statement expressing “significant concerns” over the UK government’s immigration policy. Neither had been approved by a majority of deputies, he said.

In the aftermath, Home Secretary Suella Braverman had warned that “presenting contested political positions as the sentiment of an entire community is a recipe for communal division”.

As a result of the row, Hassan said, the Board’s “relationship with the government is completely broken”, crippling its effectiveness in fighting antisemitism by influencing policy.

Van der Zyl also damaged relations with the Israeli government by being outspoken against its controversial representatives and “basically boycotting” it, the resigning deputy alleged.

But the president’s allies defended her as upholding Jewish values. “This is a hatchet job,” one senior figure said. “She is very hard-working, dedicated and hasn’t put a foot wrong.”

Earlier this year, Hassan submitted a motion to the Board that any statements “on matters of national, or international, political significance” should be put to the membership for a vote.

It was rejected by the executive committee last month. It was “not in the interests of the Board and, in any event, is not workable”, the committee told Hassan by email.

In an emailed response, Hassan resigned, saying: “I believe that this is utterly damaging to our standing as a democratic organisation, and it wouldn’t happen at any organisation that respects its members and representatives. On that note, I am informing you of my immediate resignation.”

A spokesman for the Board said: “Mr Hassan’s proposal was presented to the Board’s democratically elected Executive Committee. However, after careful analysis, the motion was deemed unworkable in practice. As a result, the decision was made not to bring the motion to the July Plenary meeting.”

Hassan, a Jewish convert and leading anti-extremism expert, said the Board had no authority to unilaterally take positions on divisive political issues without securing support from a majority of deputies.

He said: “Imagine the government wanted to push through their immigration scheme to Rwanda and the Prime Minister said there will not be a debate on this, I am pushing this through. You cannot have elected representatives of Jewish communities and completely dismiss our views.”

He added: “I am not against the statement on Rwanda, it’s just a matter of principle.”

The Board’s hostile stance towards the policy, Hassan said, had hampered cooperation with Braverman on important issues relating to the community.

When the Home Secretary chaired the first meeting of the Jewish Community Crime, Policing and Security Taskforce last month, the Board was not represented.

The Board vocally supported the government’s BDS bill, however.

“Let’s have a vote and if the community supports it then it should go ahead,” Hassan said. “We [deputies] have no input whatsoever. We have what we see in the media — ‘Oh, the president of the Board of Deputies is in France visiting refugees’ — we had no idea. The government’s policy on refugees is against my values, but I need to be consulted if the Board is speaking out against it.”

When far-right Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich — now Israel’s finance minister — visited the UK last February, the Board tweeted that he should, “get back on the plane”.

This, Hassan claimed, meant that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not meet the Board on his visit to London in March.

Hassan said: “Is it in the Board’s interest to make a statement that we are basically boycotting the current [UK] government and the government of Israel?”

While many deputies defended van der Zyl, arguing that she was standing up for Jewish values, other Board members backed Hassan’s claims that their views were not being taken into account.

Ruth Abrams, a deputy for Westminster Synagogue, said she “did not understand” why the Board was making statements that did not concern British Jews. “That seems odd to me,” she said.

“The next logical thing is that they should make statements about everything. Why stop at migrants?… Deputies had no idea that statement was coming out, it wasn’t discussed.”

Abrams will be stepping down at the end of her term next year because, she said, it is “very difficult” to get her voice heard.

Laurence Julius, a deputy for the Harif Association of Middle Eastern and North African Jews, said there was “no consistency” as to which motions were accepted and which were rejected.

Vicki Harris, who has represented Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue on the Board for over 20 years, said she felt “disappointed” by van der Zyl’s failure to consult deputies.

“She’s a lawyer, she’s experienced in speaking her own mind,” she said. “She doesn’t really have a grasp of political sensitivities.

“I think there’s a strong risk that she has torpedoed relationships with some ministers,” she said.

Deputies should be involved and engaged more, he added, and more issues should be debated. “You look at the quality of the deputies involved. You have former judges, barristers, lawyers. If they leaned on their deputies they could do much more.”

The Board is made up of 300 deputies elected by shuls and community groups. They elect five honorary officers, including the President. The deputies and officers all serve three-year terms.

Van der Zyl was first elected in 2018.

She and other honorary officers head the Board’s executive committee, which recommends policy strategy.

Hassan, a former YouTube moderator who last year exposed the tech giant’s failure to deal with antisemitism, had been a deputy since 2022.

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