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Race to be president: the potential candidates

The president of the Board of Deputies took many members by surprise when he announced he was stepping down last Friday. Who could replace him? Read on...

    Laura Marks
    Laura Marks

    Laura Marks

    Who: Former Board vice-president. The Mitzvah Day founder was engaged in months of a “will she, won’t she” run for president in 2015, before eventually going for it and losing to Jonathan Arkush. Defeat meant she lost her honorary officer role and she has subsequently invested her time on interfaith projects, promoting women in the community and as chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

    Chances: After losing three years ago, she is unlikely to dip her toe in the waters again. She is far more likely to run for one of the honorary officership positions.

    Richard Verber

    Who: Board senior vice-president, international division. His election three years ago came as a shock — he was the youngest person to hold the role for 20 years. He has taken to the position well, is an impressive media performer and his positive and friendly approach means he has made few enemies. With his day job at World Jewish Relief, extra-curricular activities with the Board, Limmud and other organisations, he is seen as a rising star. However, many deputies may be wary of handing such a vital role to someone so young — he is in his mid-30s.

    Chances: Would be expected to do well if he stands, but may wish to wait it out and enjoy another three years as an honorary officer.

     

    Marie van der Zyl

    Marie-van-der-Zyl
    Marie-van-der-Zyl

    Who:Board vice-president, defence and interfaith relations division. Like Richard Verber, Ms Van Der Zyl was a newcomer in 2015 but has used her time well, commenting on high-profile political and social affairs cases. She is also seen as likeable and, unlike some past vice presidents, is not constantly lobbying for the top job. Deputies will see this as a positive. A high-flying City lawyer, she took part in the Jewish Leadership Council’s Gamechangers project to train future communal leaders — grooming her for exactly this position.

    Chances: A popular figure, she is likely to command support from deputies. Would probably benefit from another three years’ experience on the executive.

     

    Simon Hochhauser

    Who: Former United Synagogue president. Mr Hochhauser commands respect as a communal heavyweight thanks to his years leading the US, sitting on the JLC executive and as co-chair of the circumcision defence organisation Milah UK. He was critical of the JLC’s own election for its president last year, saying the field of candidates was too narrow. Would be seen by deputies as a safe pair of hands and is well-connected. Mark Sofer, his brother, is Israel’s ambassador to Australia.

    Chances: Some might have thought his time had passed, but he would be a candidate to take seriously in serious times. Likely to be a favourite if he stands.

    Adrian Cohen

    Who: London Jewish Forum chair, Labour Friends of Israel lay chair, deputy for Highgate Synagogue. Mr Cohen manages to combine numerous communal volunteer roles with a high-pressured day job — he is a partner at the Clifford Chance law firm. A trustee and adviser to countless charities and groups, he goes about his business quietly but effectively, rarely taking the limelight and is not known for briefing or bitching about others.

    Chances: He may feel the demands of being president would be too burdensome on his already stretched time but he is a popular figure who would be more than capable. His influence in Labour circles could be useful, given the state of relations between the party and the community.

    Richard Benson

    Who: Richard Benson’s name has been widely pushed since Mr Arkush’s decision was announced. He would be a surprise candidate but says he is “flattered” to be linked to the role and wants to help the community “in whatever way I can play my part”. Leading CST gave him experience of cross-communal work, government co-operation and interfaith projects. He is smart, likeable, good with the media and is currently a government adviser on hate crimes.

    Chances: A hugely well-respected big beast in communal terms, he would have to be regarded as the favourite if he stands. Background in defence would attract votes.

     


     

    The outsiders

    In such an open race, many deputies with leadership pedigree have been rumoured as possible contenders. Two Labour MPs who sit as deputies — Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger — are among them. Both are surely too tied up in Parliament to want to take on such a time-consuming position.

    Robert Festenstein, a Manchester-based lawyer, is another who may fancy his chances — if not as president then at least as a vice-president.

    Sir Leigh Lewis, the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, has the experience, but will he want to spend his retirement answering to deputies?

    Sheila Gewolb and Stuart MacDonald, Board vice-president and treasurer respectively, may decide to run from their executive positions.

     

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