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Board of Deputies president answers critics over support for Trump on Jerusalem

Jonathan Arkush is accused of being 'wildly out of step' - but is also praised - as he explains to deputies the reasons he spoke in favour of the Trump statement on Jerusalem

    Jonathan Arkush
    Jonathan Arkush

    Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush has defended his support for Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move its embassy there in the wake of criticism at Sunday's Board meeting.

    One delegate accused Mr Arkush of being "wildly out of step" and not having properly consulted relevant organisations. Another said the stance had tarnished his achievements. But other deputies congratulated the Board president, urging him to go further by pressing Britain to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem.

    Critics included Gerald Fox of Bedfordshire Progressive Synagogue, who said that although Jerusalem was "undeniably" Israel's capital, to move the US Embassy there prior to a peace agreement was neither constructive nor diplomatic.

    Mr Arkush had committed an error "by taking your personal views and presenting them as a consensus".

    Yachad delegate Amos Schonfeld said: "This is not the first time Jonathan that you have been wildly out of step with our community with regards to President Trump." Yachad had not been consulted and the statement represented just one opinion among many.

    In contrast, Natalie Shaw (Barnet Synagogue), wanted to be first in the room to congratulate Mr Arkush. "We believe in my constituency - and I have consulted my constituency - that you are 100 per cent right," she said.

    He was also backed by Western Marble Arch Synagogue delegate Mary Regnier-Leigh. Saying that the Trump statement on Jerusalem was "the only thing he's ever done of any use", she went on: "What we should be doing is reminding everybody in the world of the Eternal City and what it means to us - and the people of Israel, many of them survivors from the Holocaust and their children and grandchildren."

    In his presidential statement, Mr Arkush had written that he appreciated why some had found the timing and fashion of the Trump announcement "far from ideal. But it has to be kept in mind that the United States Congress back in 1995 passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act mandating for this to happen and that the delay in its implementation has not in itself been conducive to any negotiations on the future status of Jerusalem.

    "I do not think that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in any way precludes a two state solution – the reality is that at least West Jerusalem has been Israel’s de facto capital since the foundation of the state."

    He went on: "By our democratic nature, we have to form our positions according to consensus and majority views. This is not always easy, and there will always be people who disagree with various aspects of policy, but such is the nature of democracy. It is worth noting that international Jewish organisations have similarly welcomed the recognition, and we have all tried to temper it with a call for peace."

    Following what Mr Arkush praised as the "restrained" comments from deputies, he told the meeting it was hardly an issue the Board could have remained silent on.

    "I think it's really important to separate the substance of this subject from the personalities. I have been pretty unsparing in the past in my criticism of the manner in which the President of the United States has said and done things - and I daresay that will continue."

    Mr Arkush had made a judgement call that he believed to be right. If he spoke only on non-controversial matters, it would signal a return to the days when the Board was considered irrelevant.

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