The two women contenders for the presidency of the Board of Deputies say they are shocked at the controversy over next month’s Board elections after the JC yesterday revealed an apparent attempt to prolong current president Jonathan Arkush’s period of office till January.
Sheila Gewolb and Marie van der Zyl, both currently vice-presidents, issued a joint statement last night to say they were “shocked and saddened at the furore surrounding the forthcoming Board elections on May 13”.
They added: “We have been nominated as candidates for president following a true democratic process, and have been preparing assiduously for the hustings which will take place in several locations at the beginning of May.
“As women, we are both more than able and capable of leading the Board for the next three years, and have demonstrated this ability by the dignified and measured way we are facing this new challenge.”
The JC yesterday revealed a last-minute bid by Simon Hochhauser, former president of the United Synagogue, to enter the race for the presidency only a few days before nominations close.
Dr Hochhauser has confirmed to the JC he will stand and that he believes it would be a good idea for Mr Arkush to stay on so that any new Board leader could shadow him for a few months.
However, he said he did not come up with the idea for Mr Arkush to remain in office and he did not know who did.
He explained that when he heard about the suggestion, he thought it would have been personally "advantageous" to have a longer handover for the president while he rearranged his business affairs.
But he said he would "move night and day" to sort out his business arrangements in order to take up office if elected.
In a text message apparently intended for Dr Hochhauser, the chairman of the Board’s constitution committee, Tony Leifer, said on Sunday there was a “danger that your candidature will damage the prospectsof our succeeding in retaining Johnny for however long it takes to get satisfaction from the Labour party”.
Mr Leifer suggested Dr Hochhauser make clear he would stand on the same basis “as everybody else” if he were to stand.
Mr Arkush moved this morning to quell the controversy, sending a sharp email to a number of deputies ahead of his meeting tonight with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
"Our community is facing a clear and present danger from antisemitism in our politics," the Board president wrote. "It is real and it threatens us all.
"We do not have the luxury of silly stories and election conspiracy theories. These must now stop. It is up to all of you to put an end to the nonsense of the past 24 hours. I have no doubt that when you come to reflect on it you will appreciate how silly, damaging and inconsequential it was. Any election candidate who continues to indulge in it will be very exposed in hustings."
He said he was focused on "protecting our community and it is unacceptable for this silliness to damage the Board’s standing.
"I now call for discipline and focus on what is important.
"If any of you or anyone associated with you does not heed my call then you risk causing senseless damage to our community but you will also damage your own credibility for office."
However, Mr Arkush's email prompted a strong response from Adrian Cohen, the chairman of the Labour Friends of Israel, who is a deputy and also a trustee of the Jewish Leadership Council.
In a response supported by veteran deputy Andrew Gilbert, Mr Cohen replied: "I'm aware as much an anyone of the serious nature of the threats facing our community. None of us on this email list need to be told this and it certainly, speaking for myself, insults me to the core.
"The silliness did not come from the candidates. They didn't invite more candidates days before the deadline for nominations, they didn't suggest cancelling or deferring the elections, they didn't change the rules on nomination four days before the deadline.
"They are not to blame for this unfortunate situation. They are the victims in this and you are victim-blaming and now threatening them in relation to conduct of the rest of this election.
"Rather than being self-righteous and accusing people here who have given their lives to defending the community, I think you should reflect before you allow any further damage to what should have been a fair election."
He wished Mr Arkush hatzlachah [success] with today's meeting with Mr Corbyn.
On Sunday, at the Board’s final plenary in Gibraltar before nominations close on Thursday, Mr Arkush said there was still time for more candidates to come forward for election.
Deputies were taken by surprise when the Board sent out a letter yesterday saying it was permissible for deputies to nominate more than one candidate for president and more than three for vice-president.
Mr Arkush announced he would not seek a second three-year term in late January.
As well as Mrs Gewolb, Mrs van der Zyl and Dr Hochhauser, the other known candidate for president is Edwin Shuker, vice-chairman of the Board’s international division.