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Jewish groups’ discomfort at links with Presidents Club scandal

The disgraced high-profile annual fundraising event made donations to many Jewish charities

    The Dorchester Hotel, where the exclusive Presidents Club event took place
    The Dorchester Hotel, where the exclusive Presidents Club event took place (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

    Jewish organisations have expressed their revulsion after being caught up in the exposure of sexual harassment at a high-profile annual fundraising event from which many have received donations.

    The annual Presidents Club dinner has given money to over 200 organisations over the past three decades, of which around 30 are Jewish charities such as Jewish Care, World Jewish Relief, Aish Hatorah UK, Camp Simcha and Norwood.

    A Financial Times exposé on Tuesday revealed that at the men-only event held last week at the Dorchester hotel, “many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere. Hostesses reported men repeatedly putting hands up their skirts; one said an attendee had exposed his penis to her during the evening.”

    Many of the guests at the dinner, at which “kosher style” food was served, were prominent members of the Jewish community.

    David Meller, the co-chair of this year’s dinner, resigned from his role on the board of the Department of Education on Wednesday in the wake of the story. Richard Caring, the businessman reported to have successfully bid £400,000 at the dinner to place his name on a new High Dependency Unit for a children’s hospital, said he “was not aware of any of the alleged incidents”.

    Lord Mendelsohn, shadow trade spokesman and a former Labour fundraiser, also attended, but a Labour spokesperson said the peer “was only present for part of the dinner and wasn’t aware of any of this behaviour - he completely condemns it.”

    Tim Steiner, chief executive of Ocado, confirmed he did attend the event, but only in a personal capacity.

    Jewish charities said that they were shocked by the revelations.

    Elaine Kerr, Norwood chief executive, said the allegations were “disturbing”, and her organisation would be “reviewing our position with regard to the President’s Club”.

    Jewish Care said it had not received money from the Presidents Club for almost a decade.

    World Jewish Relief told the JC it condemned “any kind of sexual harassment and misogyny. We have not received money from the President’s Club for a decade, nor had any involvement with the event.”

    Neville Goldschneider, chief executive of the Camp Simchah children’s cancer charity, said the organisation “last applied for and received a donation from the Presidents’ Club in 2013, which was used to purchase a mobile hoist.

    “We have not put in an application for a donation since.”

    On Wednesday, the President’s Club said it was ceasing operations.

    The behaviour was allegedly long-standing, with the Financial Times reporting that rumours had dogged the event for years, and that “the accompanying brochure included a full-page warning that no attendees or staff should be sexually harassed”.

    In 2010 an Independent on Sunday report of the event named a large number of guests, including many wealthy individuals from the Jewish community. It said, “the boys tucked into the girls”.

    Among the other Jewish charities to comment was Side by Side, which said it was “appalled to read the reports of such grossly inappropriate behaviour.

    “We have not received any funds from the President’s Club for at least 10 years and are surprised that we remain on their website [as a beneficiary].”

    David Rose, the executive international director of Zaka, an Israeli search and rescue charity, said a motorbike to the value of £8,500 was donated a decade ago. We have not heard from the President’s Club since 2008,” he added.

    “I don’t think we are on their list any more. We haven’t submitted any further applications for donations.”

    A spokesperson for Aish UK said: "We have checked our accounts for the last ten years and we have no record of receiving any money from them.  We don't know why our name is included on their website.

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