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Arkush was ready to stay on as president, Board official says

Evidence from the head of the Board's constitution committee sheds new light on who knew what when, in controversy over its election for president

    Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush, who is due to step down at the end of May
    Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush, who is due to step down at the end of May

    Jonathan Arkush was ready to stay on as president of the Board of Deputies after his official term ended in May, according to an official of the Board.

    In a statement prepared for the Board’s executive, Tony Leifer, head of the Board’s constitution committee, said he discussed the idea with Mr Arkush during the Board’s regional meeting in Gibraltar at the weekend.

    Mr Leifer has been embroiled in controversy over the forthcoming elections, ignited by the late bid of former United Synagogue president Simon Hochhauser to become Board president and the suggestion that Mr Arkush remain in office for a few months longer.

    Mr Leifer has been under pressure to explain a text message he intended to send to Dr Hochhauser on Sunday, which referred to a “danger that your candidature will damage the prospects of our succeeding in retaining Johnny”.

    However, he misdirected it to another deputy, prompting suspicion he was involved in a wider plan to keep Mr Arkush in post.

    On Sunday, Dr Hochhauser reversed his earlier decision not to stand for the presidency only four days before the closure for nominations, taking the other three candidates, Sheila Gewolb, Marie van der Zyl and Edwin Shuker, by surprise.

    Mr Leifer said in his statement - a copy of which has been seen  by the JC - he wished to clear the air, having been the “subject of criticism, indeed vilification”.

    The first he had heard of a proposal to extend Mr Arkush’s presidency was when “Simon Hochhauser asked me in Gibraltar last Saturday what the constitutional position would be if Jonathan was willing to remain as president for a period to deal with the Corbyn situation,” he explained.

    On Sunday, he responded to Dr Hochhauser that “the answer to his question is that a change to the constitution would be required.  This would need the approval by a two-thirds majority of deputies voting and was clearly a matter for the deputies to decide.

    “I suggested that were such a proposal to be put forward it should not involve delaying the elections and that it would best provide for a maximum additional period for Jonathan’s presidency, and that any extension should need the approval of the Board.”

    Mr Leifer said he “also spoke to Jonathan on Sunday. He told me it had been put to him that he should continue his presidency for a limited period because of the Corbyn situation and, although this had never been his intention or desire, if it appeared necessary in the interests of the community, he would be prepared to continue.”

    The same day Dr Hochhauser also told Mr Leifer “he was considering standing for the presidency himself on the basis that he would not have to take office for a limited period.

    “In a now widely circulated text which I sent on Sunday night, I said that Simon standing should not interfere with Jonathan’s position should Jonathan be prepared to extend his presidency," Mr Leifer wrote.  

    “Apart from that, I gave Simon no advice whatsoever and nor did I offer any support in relation to his possible candidature.”

    In a notice sent to deputies on Wednesday, Gillian Merron, the Board’s chief executive, said Mr Arkush did “not intend to accept” an extension to his period of office.

    Dr Hochhauser has acknowledged that at one point he considered it might have been helpful to him if Mr Arkush had prolonged his tenure in order to get his business affairs in order. But he has since said he would contest the election on the basis of being ready to take office after Mr Arkush steps down at the end of May.

    However, Mr Leifer has yet to explain why he appeared to changed his mind twice in the past few days over whether deputies could nominate more than one candidate for each position.

    When nominations opened last month, deputies were told they could endorse one person for president, one each for the three vice-presidents and one for treasurer.

    But following Dr Hochhauser’s decision to stand, the head of the constitution committee was asked whether it were possible to endorse more than one candidate.

    Although early on Monday morning, Mr Leifer rejected the idea of multiple nominations as “nonsense”, the Board told deputies later that day that it was, in fact, permissible under the rules. The change was regarded by supporters of other candidates as beneficial to Dr Hochhauser, who was trying to secure the 20 nominations necessary to stand for the presidency.

    But two days later, Ms Merron sent out new advice to deputies, reversing Monday’s position and ruling out nominations for more than one candidate.

    The Board explained it had followed advice from Mr Leifer.

    Adrian Cohen, a prominent supporter of  Mrs van der Zyl, revealed he obtained legal advice from a leading QC that changing procedures  during an election would be invalid.

    Nominations for the May 13 election close at 5.30 today.

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