Board President Marie van der Zyl held secret, private meeting with Labour's Jennie Formby

Exclusive: She met the party's controversial general secretary without the consent or knowledge of the main Jewish communal organisations


The JC can reveal that Marie van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies, has held a secret private meeting with Labour general secretary Jennie Formby – without the consent or knowledge of the main Jewish communal organisations.

Mrs van der Zyl confirmed on Tuesday that she held discussions with Jeremy Corbyn’s close ally “a month ago” after  the Labour chief  “was not given the kovod” - (honour) -  of a meeting with either the Jewish Leadership Council, the Community Security Trust – or an official meeting with Board itself.

Admitting that she held a “short confidential face to face discussion” with Jennie Formby, Mrs van der Zyl said the Labour general secretary “reached out as she has done widely, to Jewish Communal organisations and individuals.”

The secret meeting emerged after Ms Formby told a stormy  meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday evening how even though "at the present time" Jewish communal groups "haven't felt that it's appropriate to engage with us in such a way" she had  nonetheless “spoken with individuals who are in the organisations - and I'm not talking about people who are in fringe groups.”

In a letter sent on Monday afternoon to all Labour MPs ahead of the PLP meeting, Ms Formby had also revealed that she had held confidential meetings: “I have been having confidential discussions with a number of individuals and organisations to progress on this extremely sensitive and important matter, and very much hope we will be able to move forward on it together.”

Following Ms Formby’s remarks, the JC contacted the Board, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust – the three organisations who had met with Mr Corbyn and his senior advisor Seumas Milne last year in an attempt to resolve the stand-off between Labour and the community – to ask if officials from any of their organisations had met with Ms Formby.

The JLC and CST said they had been contacted by Ms Formby but neither agreed to a meeting.

Jonathan Goldstein, chairman of the JLC, said that he was phoned by Ms Formby who asked “to continue discussions. I made it clear that I was not prepared to do that until there was progress from the leader and we had seen none since our meeting on 24 April.

"She did raise the question of education and I told her that I would do nothing other than in coordination with the JLM. That was my only contact.”

CST’s Mark Gardner said there had been a text exchange last September in which Ms Formby asked for “links to articles and publications so as she would better understand antisemitism” and he supplied such links.

Mrs van der Zyl did, however, agree to a meeting with Ms Formby.

Responding to the JC, Mrs van der Zyl said that the Labour general secretary “was not given the Kovod of an open meeting and as she stated the conversation was agreed to be confidential by both parties”.  

The Board President said that during the meeting she had "spelled out some of the actions that the Labour Party had to take to address shortcomings in the disciplinary  process and antisemitism training ( which had to be delivered by JLM )."

In the aftermath of the Enough Is Enough demonstration outside Parliament Square last March, and the subsequent meeting with Mr Corbyn, the JLC, CST and the Board all observed an official position of no engagement with Labour’s leadership until a series of demands were met.

The revelation that Mrs van der Zyl, the community’s most senior representative, has broken the united stand with other communal bodies will anger many of the Jewish Labour MPs and activists who have led the fight against antisemitism in their Party.

One leading communal figure told the JC: “I actually find it upsetting that while the community is meant to be holding a unified position with regard to challenging the on-going antisemitism crisis under Corbyn leadership these sort of secret meetings with individuals are taking place.”

Another said: “Surely now the Board President is going to have to explain her actions to the rest of her Deputies.”

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