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Board of Deputies 'in chaos'

Former vice president savages culture and competence of communal leaders

    Board President Vivian Wineman
    Board President Vivian Wineman

    The former vice-president of the Board of Deputies, Jerry Lewis, has launched a scathing attack on its current leaders, saying “Vivian Wineman and his team are presiding over the rapid disintegration” of the organisation.

    Mr Lewis hits out at the “alarming signs of chaos, verging on a disaster” and attacks the role played by the Board’s chief executive for the past eight and half years, Jon Benjamin, who left his post last week.

    Writing in today's JC, Mr Lewis says the Board “is in a complete mess” and “has become increasingly irrelevant”. It is only able to function because the Jewish Leadership Council makes up for its incompetence.

    There has, he says, been “a calamity in...staffing at the Board. Two key departments have no experienced personnel. Four key staff have left over the last month.” He also attacks a “toxic” atmosphere among the Board’s staff.

    He accuses the Board’s President, Vivian Wineman, of ignoring its standing orders and stifling debate.
    Mr Lewis, who failed to win re-election as vice-president last year, says he had kept his counsel but can “keep quiet no more”.

    He says: “Individuals are appointed to posts [and] expenditure is approved without adequate scrutiny”.

    Mr Lewis also writes of the proposed new Code of Conduct for Deputies: [T]he most important section relates to bullying. In my last years as a vice-president, I sensed an uncomfortable climate amongst staff.”

    Mr Benjamin declined to respond to Mr Lewis’s remarks. In a statement released last Friday, he said the time had felt right to leave the Board to pursue the “new and different opportunities that I have beckoning”.

    Mr Wineman rejected suggestions from deputies that the departure was linked to talks between the Board and the JLC for a closer relationship.

    In a Facebook post, one deputy, Jonathan Sacerdoti, commenting on an “exodus” of staff, said: “It seems the JLC has achieved its final goal of essentially emasculating/killing off the 250-year old democratic body.”

    Former vice-president Eric Moonman said; “It would seem very unlikely his departure is unrelated to the growing influence of the JLC.”

    But Mr Wineman declared; “Jon Benjamin chose to leave the Board this week to pursue his career elsewhere. His departure was in no way related to the JLC or to any discussions taking place between the JLC and the Board.

    “These discussions are at a very early stage and can go no further until the deputies, who have the most important say, have been fully consulted.”

    The Board and JLC are understood to be looking at possible unification, with one model being a two-chamber house and an elected leader.

    Meanwhile, the Board’s former interfaith officer Phil Rosenberg is to return as its new public affairs director, it was announced this week.

    Mr Wineman said: “We’ve appointed a new public affairs director aand are about to make at least one, possibly two, appointments in addition in the public affairs office.

    “We’re close to appointing a successor to Jon.

    “So we are creating a new young professional team.

    “There have never been so many new projects at the Board — the community partnership project to deal with small communities, the Closer to Israel programeme, our interfaith initiatives with the Methodists and Church of Scotland.

    “We’ve made changes to our plenary sessions to make them more open and accessible to deputies and give more deputies a chance to participate.

    “Naturally, any change is distasteful to some of those who are living in the past and some who did not get elected to office but those changes have been approved democratically.”

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