Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein has written of his ‘’significant disappointment’’ at being unable to find the “absolute Achdut’’ — unity — with the current Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl that he once enjoyed with her predecessor.
In a tense exchange of letters, sparked by Mrs van der Zyl’s recent calls for a “permanent’’ merger between the two communal groups, Mr Goldstein also suggested the Board president had repeatedly refused to allow him to outline a long-term strategic plan that would see the JLC continue to thrive as an organisation while working in collaboration on projects with the Board.
He also accused Mrs van der Zyl of ignoring his own requests for the pair to commence discussions around a “merger of equals’’ between the JLC and the Board, based around proposals first outlined by former Board president Jonathan Arkush in 2018.
Mr Goldstein also suggested that Mrs van der Zyl gave scarce time for her proposals to be discussed at a JLC Board of Trustees meeting held last month, writing that she “only circulated some slides on this issue at 4.58pm…. two minutes before the formal meeting was about to start… The Trustees had no time to consider its detail in an already packed meeting.’’
In a letter sent to the Board President on March 11, Mr Goldstein wrote that standing “shoulder to shoulder’’ alongside Mr Arkush at the Enough Is Enough Labour antisemitism demonstration in March 2018 was the ‘‘moment I am most proud of… when our organisations stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Parliament Green to face the media, showing absolute Achdut between us’’.
He then added: “It is a significant disappointment to me that we have not been able to repeat the collaboration since you assumed the role of Board president.’’
This is believed to be a reference, among other issues, to Ms van der Zyl breaking a community-wide boycott of talks with the Labour Party and holding a secret meeting with Labour general secretary Jenny Formby last January. The meeting prompted widespread anger within communal groups.
Writing in the JC last week, Mrs van der Zyl called for what she described as ‘‘permanent unity’’ between the Board and the JLC — and suggested a merger model previously proposed by Mr Arkush.
In a letter dated March 4, now seen by the JC, the Board president wrote to Mr Goldstein: “I have had the opportunity to reflect further on the position in which we find ourselves and have discussed the situation with the Board of Deputies’ Executive Committee.
"I am writing to inform you about the results of our deliberations.
“There is concern about the treatment of the unification proposal put forward first by my predecessor Jonathan Arkush directly to you, and more recently by myself.
“These proposals have never been given due consideration by the JLC trustees, to the extent of not even meriting an agenda item in a JLC trustees’ meeting.’’
But responding to the Board President in a letter on March 11, Mr Goldstein cast doubt on Mrs van der Zyl’s own enthusiasm for adopting proposals first outlined by Mr Arkush in January 2018.
He wrote: “I made it clear to Jonathan Arkush at the time that a merger of equals was in the interests of the community, reflecting the mandate of the Deputies and of our vibrant member organisations.’’
Mr Goldstein then added: ‘‘You did not take up my offer in August 2019 to recommence discussions to pursue this approach.’’
He said he had written to the Board president last August and “suggested we re-start merger discussions’’ but that Mrs van der Zyl had “proposed instead we focus on one area — education — for closer working.’’
He added: “Accordingly, the JLC Trustees felt it right to first focus on our own strategy.’’
Mr Goldstein wrote that this began with a strategy review meeting in September 2019, at which Mrs van der Zyl was present, and that the first stage of this review was approved overwhelmingly at a Trustees meeting held on February 26 — with only the Board President abstaining from the vote.
In her own letter, Mrs van der Zyl said there was “widespread concern in the community about the way that the JLC duplicates the work of the Board of Deputies.’’
She added: “The Board of Deputies is a member organisation of the JLC with representation by right on its Board of Trustees.
“It should be a given that the JLC acts in the interests of all its members and more particularly avoids directly competing with them. However, the strategic review unfortunately failed to address the work of the Board of Deputies and how the JLC can enhance and support its work, and to avoid competing with it.”
Mr Goldstein said in his letter that he had “repeatedly” asked Mrs van der Zyl to grant him permission to address a Board plenary session to explain why he believed both communal organisations could coexist and his “heartfelt belief in unity and collaboration".
Mrs van der Zyl and Mr Goldstein have both said they will publish their entire correspondence.