Senior Conservative MP attacks Board of Deputies's 'left of centre political agenda'

Exclusive: Robert Halfon says Board no longer represents Conservatives - spokesman calls his remarks 'ignorant...disingenuous and outright false'


Senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon has launched an outspoken attack on the current political direction of the Board of Deputies after accusing the communal organisation of becoming a "political broadcasting service" for the Labour Party.
Mr Halfon - Chair of the Education Select Committee and a former Minister without Portfolio under Theresa May - said that in its most recent weekly email update on its activities the Board had failed to reflect any of the Passover messages sent to the community by senior figures within his party, or even to wish Prime Minister Boris Johnson a "good recovery".
The Harlow MP told the JC he believed the Board needed "radical reform" and suggested it no longer represented Conservatives such as himself who worked "day and night for the Jewish community". 
Mr Halfon said he had decided to speak out after receiving the Board's Community Briefing update on engagements undertaken, dated April 23.
The emailed briefing - which is sent to politicians, Deputies and other leading communal figures - led on noting the tribute message recorded by the Prince of Wales for survivors at the Yom Hashoah commemoration.
But the update was dominated by lengthy notification of the Board's meetings with Labour shadow cabinet figures including  Lisa Nandy, Nick Thomas-Symonds, Steve Reed and Wayne David.
Meanwhile a meeting between the Board and the new Conservative Party chair Amanda Milling received just two lines - which focused on allegations of antisemitism and Islamophobia in her party.
Mr Halfon told the JC: "It seems astonishing that the Board of Deputies's briefing for MPs reads like a political broadcasting service for shadow opposition figures.
"It could not even find the opportunity to wish the Prime Minister Boris Johnson a good recovery - or mention the Passover messages by senior Conservative leaders to the Jewish community.
"And there were just two lines on the meeting the Board had with the new chair of the Conservative Party Amanda Milling and they were critical."
Mr Halfon, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party under David Cameron, has been closely associated with the Board for many years - and regularly sponsored the organisation's annual Chanukah reception in Westminster.

But in December 2018 the Labour Party's then shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner - now deputy leader - was controversially invited to address the event, without the knowledge of Mr Halfon.
He added on Friday: "The Board of Deputies clearly needs radical reform because it seems to be intent on pursuing a left of centre political agenda and no longer wants to represent Conservatives in a positive light."
"A lot of people have just had enough with the direction of this organisation which calls itself  the representative body of British Jews. 
"It certainly doesn't represent me or those Conservatives who are very sympathetic and who work day and night for the Jewish community." 

The Board of Deputies responded furiously to Mr Halfon's remarks.

A spokesman said:  “JLC Vice President Robert Halfon has let himself down with these comments, which range from the surprisingly ignorant to disingenuous and outright false.

“The Board of Deputies engages with all mainstream parties without fear or favour. After Boris Johnson appointed his Cabinet last July, we spent the next weeks and months meeting the Conservative frontbench, including the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary.

It should surprise nobody that now that Keir Starmer has appointed his frontbench, we will spend the next weeks and months meeting them too with communal colleagues.

“Of course, after four and a half disastrous years of Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Jewish prejudice in Labour, which the Board of Deputies led from the front to challenge, the Jewish community has an urgent task to work with our allies in Labour to dismantle all vestiges of institutional antisemitism and put the case for the issues that the Jewish community cares about.

“This week, through meetings with the Board of Deputies, attended variously by the Jewish Leadership Council, Labour Friends of Israel and the Community Security Trust, we were able to secure pledges from Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy to be even-handed with Israel, stand up for its security and oppose BDS; confirmation from Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds affirm that Labour’s policy was now to unequivocally support the full proscription of Hizballah; and willing agreement from Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed that he will write to all Labour local government leaders to ask those who have not to adopt the IHRA definition.

“However, we have not been been neglecting the Conservative Party. While much of the Conservative front bench is rightly currently focused on the Coronavirus crisis, this week alone we met Conservative Party Co-Chairman Amanda Milling and Faith Minister Stephen Greenhalgh, secured a video for Yom HaShoah from Robert Jenrick and were in touch with advisers to Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab on various matters.

“Bizarrely, Robert Halfon falsely alleges that we did not wish the Prime Minister well over his recent illness when, in fact, we released two messages of support, which were widely covered in the Jewish Chronicle and other Jewish media.

"Mr Halfon also falsely alleges that we did not share a Passover message from the Conservative Party when we did in fact share the Downing Street message as well as sharing the Prime Minister’s Chanukah video.

“We have tried by various means to contact Mr Halfon to ask him to explain himself, but he has sadly not had the courage or integrity to engage with us directly.

“If Mr Halfon came up with this nonsense by himself, we would expect an apology. If he was put up to this by someone else, we hope he will reveal their identity.

“We will be taking this up with colleagues in the Conservative Party.”

An associate of Mr Halfon told the JC that the Board called the MP on Friday night at 7pm, as he and his wife were preparing their Shabbat meal and that Mr Halfon was surprised that the Board would call as Shabbat was approaching. The Board then called him again late on Saturday night and he did not see the call until this morning.

This story was originally posted without a response from the Board but has been updated to include their comment and the response from Mr Halfon's associate

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive