Board president backs ‘unconscious bias training’ for deputies after Black Lives Matter debate

Marie van der Zyl tells Board meeting 'we do need training' in response to comments from Bushey US deputy Ella Rose


The President of the Board of Deputies has backed calls for its elected representatives to undergo “unconscious bias training” during a debate about support in the community for the Black Live Matter movement.

Marie van der Zyl  responded to comments made by Ella Rose, Bushey United Synagogue’s Deputy, who told Sunday’s plenary that she had found the use of the phrase “All Lives Matter” by other deputies “really offensive”.

Ms Rose was critical of Gary Mond, the Jewish National Fund’s deputy, who told the meeting that “no Jewish groups of any type, not least of all this Board of Deputies, should give support, have any connection with or meetings with the Black Lives Matter group”.

She suggested the Board should “potentially look at having unconscious bias training” and pointed to the fact that “we have asked other communities to be careful of their language” around the issue of antisemitism.

Ms Rose added it was  “quite clear that a lot of deputies don’t understand the issues around Black Lives Matter, why language is important, and why people are specifically asking for black lives to be taken seriously in terms of police brutality … and all the other disadvantages people of colour are facing in this country.”

Mrs van der Zyl then responded by saying: “I think that is important – we do need training. It needs to come sooner rather than later.

“The community has got a lot to learn. This is the beginning of it.”

Earlier Mr Mond had pointed to the attacks on Jewish-owned shops and synagogues in Los Angeles amid anti-racism protests last month in reaction to the death of George Floyd, in his critique of the BLM organisation.

He added “Of course, I am absolutely sure that all of us agree that black lives matter, as do Asian lives, African lives, Jewish lives and all lives, but it’s imperative that we take a long hard look at those groups who seek to leverage support from the tragic death of George Floyd for their own twisted goals.”

He was supported by Annabelle Daiches, North Western Reform Synagogue deputy, who said she was “shocked and horrified” by George Floyd’s death in America but also cautioned against supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, claiming the group appears to be “Marxist”. 

She added: “I would be very careful about joining up with it, even though of course black lives matter, as do everyone else’s.”

But Adrian Cohen, the deputy for Highgate Synagogue, told Sunday’s meeting : “The whole point about solidarity with people of colour is that it is addressing the inequalities within our society and the fact that black people are more likely to suffer from violent attacks, police brutality, than white people.

“There is a danger when people say ‘all lives matter’ that they’re really trivialising the experiences of black people and not addressing the inequality.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Laura Marks added that she would ''completely agree'' with Mr Cohen's comments.

Earlier Lord John Mann had addressed the meeting and answered questions from deputies as adviser to the government on antisemitism.

Lord Mann told Deputies: “My role is to highlight problems – and I rely on you to tell me if there are problems.”

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