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Board of Deputies 'could scrap election for president and keep Jonathan Arkush until 2019'

Several deputies have confirmed they have heard of a move to scrap the May 13 poll in order to allow former United Synagogue president Simon Hochhauser to contest the top job at the Board.

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    A plan is being developed to delay next month’s Board of Deputies election and retain current president Jonathan Arkush until January, the JC understands.

    Several deputies have confirmed they have heard of a move to scrap the May 13 poll in order to allow former United Synagogue president Simon Hochhauser to contest the top job at the Board.

    Deputies have told the JC the plan involves putting an emergency motion to the deputies on that date arguing that Mr Arkush should stay in his post in order to lead the community’s talks with the Labour Party over antisemitism.

    There are currently three candidates standing for the presidency – vice-presidents Marie van der Zyl and Shelia Gewolb, and the vice-chairman of the Board’s international division Edwin Shuker.

    Sheila Gewolb and Marie van der Zyl are both standing to be Board president
    Sheila Gewolb and Marie van der Zyl are both standing to be Board president

    Yesterday, at the Board’s plenary meeting in Gibraltar, Mr Arkush openly called for more candidates to step forward for the roles – just four days before nominations close on Thursday.

    One deputy told the JC that what Mr Arkush said was “a complete disgrace – it showed disrespect for all candidates".

    Mr Hochhauser, the co-chair of Milah UK, had been tipped as a potential contender for the Board presidency but ruled himself out before nominations opened.

    Another source said any motion to delay the election would require a two-thirds majority and that this was “unlikely".

    When asked about the rumours, a Board spokesman dismissed them and said: “I haven’t heard anything about this.”

    Referring to Mr Arkush's comments yesterday, a Board spokesman also said: "I think he would say that calling for the maximum number of candidates is absolutely no reflection on those who have already announced their candidacy, but merely about putting democracy into action.”

    Mr Arkush took deputies by surprise when he announced in January that he would not seek a second three-year term as president.

    Dr Hochhauser confirmed: “I am reconsidering whether to stand. We have to make up our minds by Thursday, if we get the nominations.”

    Candidates are required to be nominated by 20 deputies to contest the election.

    Dr Hochhauser said he understood the election would go ahead next month but he supported the idea of Mr Arkush remaining in position for a longer period rather than stand down shortly after the election.

    “I think it would be a good idea,” he said. “It would be in the interests of the Board and the community for us to consider a longer period of handover, given the current situation. These are special circumstances.”

    It would “help any leader” to have an opportunity to shadow Mr Arkush, he said.

    The JC has also seen a copy of a text message which is believed to have been sent by Tony Leifer, the chairman of the Board’s constitution committee, over the weekend and intended for Dr Hochhauser but went astray. It read: “There must be a danger that your candidature Will damage the prospects of our succeeding in retaining Johnny for however long it takes to get satisfaction from the Labour Party.

    "I think you need to make it clear I hope that you are not standing all [sic] that you are standing on the same basis as everybody else. I don’t think I can hold off for long responding to Sheila and Marie, although at the moment I do not know what to say.”

    Today, the Board notified deputies that they have the right to nominate more than one candidate for president and more than three for vice-president - a move that could aid late entrants into the race. 

    Paul Edlin, former vice-president of the Board, said: “They are not trying to delay the election. But they are trying to facilitate the candidacy of Simon Hochhauser by changing the constitution to allow accession in six months’ time.

    "If this is the case, it would be a shocking disregard of the democratic process.”

    Jerry Lewis, a former Board senior vice-president, said: “This news is a travesty of the Board’s traditions, a kick in the teeth for its historic democracy and in no way, over my dead body, will it be allowed to trample over the democratic system the Board has had for the election of its leadership.

    “Any plan to have an interim arrangement, including a shadow leader, will be totally unacceptable.

    “Those attempting to manipulate the succession are on notice their shenanigans will be exposed.”

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