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Board of Deputies election - we question the candidates

Simon Rocker quizzes the candidates in the race to become president of the Board

    What qualifies you for the presidency?

     

    Edwin Shuker: A 38-year track record in serving the Jewish community, which commenced in 1980 with moving to Israel, followed by the setting up of the Sephardic Educational Centre in the Old City of Jerusalem, that served dozens of communities around the world and connected them to Israel.

    Over the years I was involved with a myriad of organisations and institutions: founding member and VP of the World Sephardi Congress; former World President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries; former national Director of the American Sephardi Federation; former vice-chair of Limmud International and currently on its advisory board. A trustee and adviser to numerous UK Jewish charities and organisations. Former vice-president of the European Jewish Congress and currently the special envoy to the president for Interfaith and Refugees.

    Should I be elected as president, I will prioritise this honour at the expense of all else and dedicate whatever time and energy the position requires.

    Edwin Shuker
    Edwin Shuker

    Simon Hochhauser: For six years I represented the community as president of the United Synagogue and president of the Chief Rabbinate Trust. In those roles, I became familiar with the challenges of dealing with government departments, politicians and civil servants.

    As co-chairman of Milah UK, I have made the complex case for brit milah on TV and radio.

    My business career has been spent in the technology sector. I deal constantly with politicians, civil servants and regulators, aiming to represent the position of my companies and many others in the sector.

    I have made many TV and radio appearances as well as conference presentations worldwide and have appeared at parliamentary enquiries into the fast-changing worlds of telecommunications and media.

    These experiences have prepared me for the role of president of the Board, which comes with the vital responsibility of representing the views of the UK Jewish community.

     

    Marie van der Zyl: Our community is at a critical point; antisemitism is on the rise, including shamefully in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. Our fundamental Jewish traditions, from brit milah to shechita, are under an unprecedented attack.

    As the current vice-president who chairs the Defence and Interfaith Relations division, I have led the fight on all of these issues.

    I believe in standing up for our rights. I was the first to call the Chakrabarti report out for what it was, a “whitewash”; I have been at the forefront of the recent burial campaign against the introduction of the so-called “cab rank rule” by the coroner Mary Hassell; and I’ve travelled the UK, reaching out to every corner of our community to fight antisemitism, defend Israel and promote interfaith work.

    I have also established relationships with politicians across the country. My manifesto provides a strategic plan for the next three years for all the work of the Board. This and my track record is why I’m the most qualified candidate.

    Marie van der Zyl
    Marie van der Zyl

    Sheila Gewolb: Successfully resolved issues of antisemitism with Muslim leaders. Extensive engagement in interfaith forums. Represented the Board effectively with dignity and sound judgement. Proven record of successfully driving strategy and achieving results. Three years’ experience of being an honorary officer. Collegiate working with Board staff and other honorary officers. Integrity, total commitment, hard work — 270 community engagements over three years.

     

    What will be your top priorities if elected?

     

    ES: The Community at the centre of the Board. Set in motion the change in culture that will enable deputies and through them communities and organisations, a real voice to help shape the policies and priorities in the community. The president will pledge to follow up from initiation to implementation.

    Broaden our mandate. We will connect with those sectors of the community which are not adequately represented by the Board.

    We will strengthen ties with international Jewish organisations, ensuring that the Board is the hub and centre for worldwide initiatives, especially rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world.

    We will initiate interfaith and intercommunity at the highest national and international level.

    Antisemitism continues to be a repugnant part of our society. As president I will carry on the work of the Board and the JLC to ensure that antisemitism is rooted out and antisemites are brought to account wherever they masquerade. That includes the vile BDS movement which masquerades as anti-Zionist.

    As a community we must make our own destiny and not be defined by those who seek to attack us.

    Sheila Gewolb
    Sheila Gewolb

    SH: Top of my agenda will be my role as the public face of the community and I will pick up on the work of my predecessor on the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

    Secondly, I will implement a detailed plan to enable deputies to be more accountable to their constituents. I was a co-author of The Role of The Deputy, setting out the roles and responsibilities of deputies, unanimously adopted by the Board last June.

    Thirdly, I will work to materially increase much-needed financial resources available to the Board.

     

    MvdZ: To continue to fight antisemitism. To defend Israel’s legitimacy and its centrality to Jewish identity. Strengthen the many interfaith relationships that I have enjoyed building during the last three years.

     

    SG: Tenaciously and robustly defend the community against antisemitism from wherever it comes, not just in the Labour Party. I will establish a programme of education for everyone who is, or might be, antisemitic, whether through mistaken ideology, ignorance or misinformation.

    Support regional communities. I will meet with representative councils and other Jewish communal leaders to address issues of antisemitism, dwindling Jewish school attendance and interfaith activity.

    Encourage women and younger people to become involved with the work of the Board and to stand as deputies in the next triennium. We should create a new role of ‘Senior Deputy’, which would recognise the value of their knowledge and experience and enable them to still take an important part in the work of the Board, whilst mentoring a new deputy.

    Simon Hochhauser
    Simon Hochhauser

    What is the biggest personal obstacle you have overcome?

     

    ES: I see every obstacles as an opportunity to grow. I have been blessed by many. Escaping the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein and rebuilding our lives stands out.

     

    SH: In 1992, I came up with the novel idea of streaming video on demand over BT’s network. I was met with a wall of doubt: technology doesn’t and won’t exist, regulations don’t allow it, Hollywood Studios will never deal with a small UK company, the public won’t buy it. We did it but it took eight years of dogged hard work to build a 650-employee company delivering its first commercial service.

     

    MvdZ: As a young mother, I fought cancer of the thyroid. It left me with a paralysed left vocal chord and I had to learn to speak again. I believe that you have to try to find a positive from every experience in life. I made a full recovery and have been active in a support group at my shul.

     

    SG: I strive to be amiable, pragmatic, approachable. Occasionally, in contentious situations, people misconstrue my approach for hesitancy. This is a mistake. When warranted, I am resolute and unyielding. Leading the Board necessitates balancing openness with determination.

     

    What next for British Jewry and the Labour party?

     

    ES: Antisemitism did not start with the Labour Party, nor will it end there.

    Jonathan Arkush and Jonathan Goldstein have done well holding Jeremy Corbyn to account.

    However, the Board must now address this issue with a multi-faceted and strategic approach which should include establishing a programme of awareness and training across the political spectrum and society at large. We must take the lead in building broad alliances with other communities and faith groups to uproot not only antisemitism but all forms of racism and prejudice.

     

    SH: The Jewish community will expect us to closely monitor the actions of the Labour Party in response to continuing antisemitism.

    We will hold the leadership to account for all failure to stamp out this sickness.

    There have been some initial positive signs after the recent meeting, and we have heard that they intend to deal with all outstanding cases by the end of July. We shall see.

    It is important however that we do not see our relationship with the Labour Party strictly through the prism of antisemitism. We must continue the dialogue on a broad range of topics affecting our community.

    MvdZ: The root of the problem lies with the party leadership. Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are remarkably blind to antisemitism, largely it seems born of his hostility to Israel and Zionism. Little real progress will be made until Mr Corbyn takes personal responsibility for the extraordinary situation in which we find ourselves.

    He must, for instance, show meaningful solidarity with those MPs who have suffered antisemitism or have suffered for calling it out.

    In the short term we need to see whether Ken Livingstone and Jacqueline Walker will be expelled. But we also need to see whether the many hundreds of other outstanding cases are going to be dealt with in a reasonable timeframe. Action speaks louder than words and it is action that we must judge Jeremy Corbyn on.

     

    SG: We must redouble our engagement with Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership. They must understand our stance will never waver and our opprobrium will not cease until they eradicate antisemitism from the party through expulsions and suspension.

    I would institute an engagement and education programme for Labour members and the unconditional acceptance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

    ## BOD Presidents Election 13189
    ## BOD Presidents Election 13189

    Is there any Israeli policy you would openly criticise?

     

    ES: The Board has long adopted the practice of supporting but not representing the State of Israel and is committed to advance its right to security and welfare. The State of Israel is a sovereign country and thus accountable to its own citizens.

     

    SH: The Board must remain robust in its support for Israel and its security. It should not comment on policies if there is no consensus within our community. There will be rare occasions when we criticise Israeli policy, especially where it involves members of our community. For example, the Board recently criticised the politically motivated reneging of the previously agreed procedure for access to the Kotel and I agree with that.

     

    MvdZ: We know that for the overwhelming majority of British Jews, Israel is central to our identity. The role of the Board must therefore be to promote this and a sympathetic understanding of Israel, especially its acute security challenges. As a top priority, we must continue to fight BDS and delegitimisation of the Jewish state.

    As with every issue, there will be differing views amongst the deputies on individual Israeli government policies and a range of opinion is a healthy thing, but the Board as an institution should be circumspect in taking a critical view of Israeli government policy.

     

    SG: There have been times when Israeli policy has been challenged by some deputies. I completely understand their concerns — everyone is entitled to voice their own views and opinions. However, it is not the role of the Board to openly criticise the decisions of another sovereign state. We are the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

    What does concern me is how the decisions made by the Israeli government may adversely affect the British Jewish community. There may be times when we would wish to make representation to the Israeli Embassy at the behest of deputies.

     

    Is there any Jewish group you would not want to join the Board?

     

    ES: I will happily work with any Jewish group whose membership is ratified by the required majority of deputies. I consider accepting and respecting diverse opinions are signs of strength and maturity. We are a diverse community and that diversity should be welcomed and reflected at the Board.

     

    SH: I would not support the entry of any antisemitic group into the Board. I include anti-Zionists who deny Jews, and only Jews, the right to self-determination. I would also not agree to the entry of any group that promotes any religion other than Judaism.

     

    MvdZ: Jewish Voice for Labour. They are a marginal group set up — on their own terms — to deny the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

     

    SG: The Board is a cross-denominational organisation that represents all shades of political views across the spectrum. We respect the right of deputies to speak out on any issue where there are conflicting opinions.

    We should allow and encourage any Jewish group to join the Board. However, we should always be mindful that, whilst all views can be voiced, there are red lines that cannot be crossed.

    These would include any anti-Zionist, inflammatory rhetoric about Israel, and support for any actions such as the BDS movement.

     

    What will you do about the Jewish Leadership Council?

     

    ES: I will build on the excellent relationship recently forged, and work hard on the possibility that the two organisations can work side by side.

    There is every reason to extend the current understanding to tackle together a myriad of equally vital issues facing the community.

     

    SH: I will continue what is already being done. The recent response to antisemitism in the Labour Party has shown close cooperation between the two bodies. The lay leadership and the staff of both have worked well together and have been rightly praised for the demonstration in Parliament Square and the resulting meeting with Corbyn and his team.

    I will continue to build on that relationship which recognises our respective roles and is solely intended to better our community. There is no need at this stage for us to discuss any formal structural change.

     

    MvdZ: I want to continue to work closely with the JLC as appropriate. As we’ve seen with the joint work in relation to the Labour Party, a joined-up strategy can be successful. Now is not the time for the community to be divided.

     

    SG: We have demonstrated over the past few weeks that the Board and the JLC can work effectively together to defend our community. There are other areas where we are also working successfully together, such as running Judaism training sessions for non-Jewish teachers together with the Partnership for Jewish Schools (PaJes), the education branch of the JLC.

    I strongly believe we need to look at ways of working more closely together, but I am not in favour of an equal partnership.

    The Board, the only democratically-elected voice of British Jewry, has a long and proud tradition going back 258 years, and I would not want this to be subsumed by another powerful organisation. As president, I will propose the creation of a joint BoD/JLC working group, to explore areas where we can co-operate more closely and operate more efficiently.

     

    Is there anything the Board is doing that it shouldn’t be?

     

    ES: There are always things to improve and approaches to refine. As president I will build on the work produced by the excellent, professional staff and ensure we focus on what is relevant and effective.

    SH: No. There are areas that I believe are ripe for enhancement and these are the subject of the programme that I have proposed for the three years ahead.

     

    MvdZ: The board must focus on its principal role of representing the community. It has limited resources and must work with other specialist organisations to maximise its effectiveness, for instance on social action.

     

    SG: There have been times when the Board has issued statements that could be considered inflammatory, and which divide its deputies, without consultation with all honorary officers. It should be more collegiate, with less top-down autocracy. The position of trustees and the executive committee should be clarified. Our focus should be on British Jewry.

     

     

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