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Candidates in pledge to make Board more representative

A fortnight ahead of the elections, Daniel Sugarman speaks to the candidates in the race for the Board vice-presidencies

    Six candidates will be on the ballot for the Board of Deputies’ vice-presidential election, with nominations for the position having closed yesterday.

    Three from Amanda Bowman, Robert Festenstein, Sheila Gewolb, Gary Mond, Tal Ofer and Roslyn Pine, will be elected as vice-presidents of the body which represents British Jews.

    A common theme is their desire to change the structure of the Board to give deputies more say in how the charity operates and its policies.

    A postal vote, for both the president and vice-president positions, runs from Monday to May 11.

    The results will be announced at a Board meeting on May 13, with the elected officers taking up their positions on June

    1. Amanda Bowman: Deputy — Hampstead Synagogue

    As a business development and partnerships director for a global business NGO, Ms Bowman (below) has 25 years of experience in building and managing partnerships, something she believes will hold her in good stead for the VP role.

    She points to her “good track record” at the Board: “I’ve been on the executive for the last three years, I’ve led social action work, I’m the gender equality champion. I’m strategic, I’m reflective, I’m pragmatic, I get things done.”

    What she wants to “get done” includes “increasing the voice of deputies in the democratic decision-making, both through Board meetings and between meetings, which will be very important.

    “And then it’s also how the Board engages externally with stakeholders… reaching out to all Jews in society.

    “There are people we claim to represent but who maybe don’t feel represented and others who are looking elsewhere for that kind of voice. I’d like us to be the place where everyone comes together and we’re hearing from everyone.”

    She does not rule out the possibility of “bringing in new and different organisations” to the Board’s structure.

     

    Robert Festenstein Deputy — Prestwich Hebrew Congregation

    Based in Manchester, Mr Festenstein is a solicitor and one of the directors of Jewish Human Rights Watch which combats Israel boycotts.

    Mr Festenstein wants the Board to put together a guide on hate crime.

    “I think that as a community we’re being too supine when it comes to fighting antisemitism,” he says.

    “I want to be robust. I want to carry on with what [current president] Jonny Arkush has been saying — enough is enough.

    “I’m fed up with people having a go at us all the time and I’m fed up with the regulatory authorities not taking notice.

    “The regions are incredibly important when it comes to the future of the community.

    “Two generations ago, every town in the UK had a Jewish community. Now you’ve got only three or four main centres of Jewish communities and only small communities left in places like Cardiff or Exeter.

    “We need to make sure we’re making the best use of the people there to bring the message across to people who otherwise don’t meet Jewish people.”

    He also wants the Board to give deputies a chance to work directly on campaigns.

    “The deputies are a resource and we’re not using them,” he says.

    “I think we need to be doing that more effectively.

    “At the moment we get briefings from the Board which are comprehensive and explain what the Board’s doing — I think that should be expanded so, in addition to getting briefings, we should be saying: ‘These are things that you can do, these are the campaigns that we want to run, and this is how we’re going to do it’.”

    Last summer Mr Festenstein (left) appeared in a video alongside Tommy Robinson, the founder of the far-right English Defence League.

    The lawyer later told the JC Mr Robinson was not his client and said he had “no association” with the former BNP member.

    Sheila Gewolb Deputy — Cardiff United Synagogue

    Dr Gewolb has served as a Board vice-president for the past three years. She is also running to be president but agreed to have her name put forward for the position of vice-president as well.

    She told the JC that although she was also bidding for the presidency, she “wants to serve the Board in whatever capacity I can, because it’s not about just achieving the top job, it’s about carrying on the work I’ve started”.

     

    Tal Ofer Deputy — Chigwell and Hainault 
Synagogue

    Mr Ofer, who is in his 30s, works in e-commerce technology. He ran unsuccessully for vice-president three years ago but says he has learned a lot since then.

    “I’ve been on the defence division for the last three years and the executive committee,” he says.

    “So it gives me first-hand knowledge and experience in the decision making of the Board.”

    Mr Ofer (above, right) wants to introduce “regular debates at plenaries on key communal issues, having binding votes on the Board’s policy, in order to empower deputies in the decision making process, more transparency and more digitisation of the Board’s works, an online forum where deputies will be able to hold the honorary officers to account and be able to interact with them between plenaries, so they don’t have to wait a month or two to ask the president or vice-president a question”.

    He is also proposing “two town hall meetings per year for the communities outside London, which will help us to connect with the regions, to get in touch with constituents”.

    Roslyn Pine Deputy — Finchley Synagogue

    The outspoken deputy for Finchley United Synagogue is in no doubt about what changes she would try to introduce were she to be elected.

    “There are many diverse talents amongst the deputies but these are not being utilised to best effect,” she said.

    “If elected I propose to work to give the rank-and-file deputies more say in decision making and increase their sense of inclusivity.”

    On Israel, Mrs Pine (below) said she would “encourage” the next president to continue Mr Arkush’s stance and “represent the views of mainstream Anglo Jewry, which is very strong in its support of Israel”.

    She adds: “I would aim to be more pro-active on campus to educate students as to Jewish rights in real international law to the land of Israel, including the territories.

    “I would also repeatedly urge the Home Office to address the problem of intimidation and violence on campus against our students, especially when pro Israel events are disrupted and guest speakers are hounded out.

    “This is not a question of free speech by peaceful demonstrators, but rather hate speech. It must be stopped.”

     

    Gary Mond Deputy — JNF

    Currently in the process of selling his financial training business, Gary Mond believes he now has the time to dedicate himself to a senior job at the Board.

    There are a couple of areas he wants to focus on. “It’s vitally important that we maintain and improve the work in the fight against antisemitism,” says Mr Mond (right).

    “We sometimes have to work with other groups, because on our own there’s a limit to what we can do, it’s such a huge issue.”

    He also mentions the need for “greater emphasis on defending the legitimacy of the State of Israel”.

    “The other issue from my own experiences is that the Board needs to do more in terms of arranging — and not being frightened of having — debates on different issues.”

    He cites a 2013 debate on whether to scrap the organisation’s agreement with Oxfam.

    “The Board officers should not feel they have to all vote the same way as if it’s some kind of attack on them.

    “One of the issues at the moment is a huge debate on organ donation. I don’t have a strong opinion on it but I know that other deputies do, in both directions and I think it would help to make the Board much more relevant and of much more interest to the Jewish community if such a debate was held.”

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