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Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush under fire after message congratulating Trump

Backlash to friendly message on Board's website is immediate and passionate

    Jonathan Arkush [Evening Standard]
    Jonathan Arkush [Evening Standard]

    British Jews have responded angrily after Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies, publicly congratulated Donald Trump on his election win.

    In a statement published on the Board’s website this morning, Mr Arkush said: “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory.

    “After a divisive campaign, I hope that Mr Trump will move to build bridges and ensure that America’s standing as a beacon of progress, tolerance and free-thinking remains strong.”

    Mr Arkush’s statement sparked a wave of negative responses on social media. Aaron Simons was one of the first to respond to the announcement, and his reaction set the tone for much that followed:

    Dr Ruvi Ziegler, law lecturer at the University of Reading, tweeted: “What does an organisation representing British Jewry congratulate this vile man endorsed by the KKK? #NotInMyName”

    Rachel Wenstone, a former National Union of Students vice-president, responded: “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?! Why did you think this was at all necessary? You do know that you're congratulating the KKK-backed candidate?”

    Ivor Caplin, a former British Defence Minister and ex-MP for Hove, was personally critical of Mr Arkush, saying:“Arkush should have kept quiet but he seeks publicity instead of reflecting concerns of Jews.”

    Mr Arkush did not escape criticism from fellow Board members.

    “I don't think it's @BoardofDeputies job to congratulate Donald Trump on his election, and I'm sure the Jewish community will agree with me”, said Tal Ofer, who is on the Board’s executive committee and defence division.

    Other members echoed that sentiment:

    Despite Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, converting to Judaism, the Trump campaign was marred by accusations of antisemitism, as well as racism towards other minority groups.

    The Republican’s final campaign advert before yesterday’s poll was widely criticised by Jewish groups for its alleged antisemitic overtones.

    It contained phrases including “the Establishment has trillions of dollars at stake in this election”, and “those who control the levers of power in Washington”.

    At the same time, it showed footage of two prominent American Jews: George Soros, a prominent billionaire backer of liberal causes, and Janet Yellen, chair of the US Federal Reserve.

    Jay Stoll - who is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement executive, said:

    "The Board has misjudged the anxieties that many have over the election of a racist demagogue to the highest office in the world. I not only question the necessity of the statement, but believe it is actively harmful to our relations with other faith groups who are deeply fearful of the election's outcome.

    "The Board should not be congratulating a candidate endorsed by a range of white supremacists, including the KKK, and it is mind-blowing that this even needs pointing out."

    Responding to the criticism, the Board issued a second statement this lunchtime.

    A spokesman said: “Just as the Prime Minister, world leaders, and our counterparts at the American Jewish Committee have done, we have congratulated Donald Trump, the democratic choice of the American people.

    "We understand why people feel strongly about this. We have been clear throughout the election regarding our concerns about some of Donald Trump's comments.

    "Those concerns remain, particularly over those comments which are considered to be racist and sexist. Indeed, our statement spoke of a divisive campaign and ensuring that America remains a beacon of progress, tolerance and free-thinking.

    "Ultimately, we do not elect the US President. That is down to the American people. All we can do is respond to their choice. And that response has to respect the democratic choice of the American people.”

    Later this afternoon, more than 90 young British Jews had put their names to a letter addressed to Mr Arkush, expressing their concern at the Board’s decision to congratulate Mr Trump.

    The letter was signed by members of the Board of Deputies including Amos Schonfeld, Liron Velleman and Ben Lewis, as well as members of the Jewish Labour Movement and workers from Jewish youth groups including Habonim-Dror, RSY-Netzer and Noam.

    “We do not welcome the ascendancy of Donald Trump and Mike Pence,” the letter said.

    “We urge the Board of Deputies to retract their congratulations and show their support to American communities that have been targeted with Trump’s incendiary rhetoric throughout this campaign.

    “It is beneath contempt to congratulate a candidate who was censured by the ADL for using antisemitic tropes, who has enabled mainstream antisemitic abuse and who has secured the endorsement of the KKK and other white supremacists.

    "This message of congratulations is contrary to our community’s best interests and is an affront to our ancestors and contemporaries who have stood against racism and fascism in all its forms.”

    Responding to the letter this evening, Mr Arkush said:

    "Just as the Prime Minister, world leaders and our counterparts at the American Jewish Committee have done, we have congratulated Donald Trump, the democratic choice of the American people.

    "But, in contrast to many such statements which were exclusively congratulatory, we linked it to our explicit concerns that I have consistently voiced over the past months.

    "We understand why people feel strongly about this and particularly after what, for many, will have been a disappointing night.

    Read the full letter from Mr Arkush below:

    Thanks to you and colleagues for your considered letter.

    Our community and our organisation thrive on robust debate and accountability, and so I am glad to have this opportunity to respond.

    In this case, I doubt that there is much disagreement on the substantive concerns about some of Mr Trump’s divisive rhetoric during the campaign. Indeed I have publicly raised this myself, for example in this article in the leading American Jewish publication Forward.

    I suspect, therefore, that our only disagreement lies in whether it was right for the Board of Deputies to issue this statement.

    The Board of Deputies is regularly asked for comment on matters of interest or concern to Jews in the UK and around the world. The United States of America has the largest Jewish community in the diaspora, and the country’s policy has an incalculable influence on Jewish concerns around the world, not least Israel.

    As such we have a strong interest in the country’s affairs and are in regular contact with the US Embassy, US officials and sister Jewish organisations in the country, and we comment on significant matters affecting the community, including elections.

    It is in that spirit that, just as the Prime Minister, world leaders and our counterparts at the American Jewish Committee have done, we have congratulated Donald Trump, the democratic choice of the American people. But, in contrast to many such statements which were exclusively congratulatory, we linked it to our explicit concerns that I have consistently voiced over the past months.

    We understand why people feel strongly about this and particularly after what, for many, will have been a disappointing night.

    We have been clear throughout the election regarding our concerns about some of Donald Trump's comments. Those concerns remain, particularly over those comments which are considered to be racist and sexist. Consequently, our statement spoke in clear terms of a divisive campaign and ensuring that America remains a beacon of progress, tolerance and free-thinking.

    But it is important to remember that, ultimately, we do not elect the US President. That is down to the American people. All we can do is respond to their choice. And that response has to respect the democratic choice of the American people as expressed through their electoral system.

    I would be grateful if you would pass this message on to the other signatories.

    With best regards

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