This is a guest post by Andrew Gilbert, Deputy for UJIA. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow him on twitter @AndrewGilbert1
Last week’s Jewish Chronicle contained mainly unfair criticism of the Board of Deputies. I would like to correct some points here.
- When someone leaves a senior communal post, it is a poor moment to publicly attack them. If you have nothing nice to say then say nothing. If you have anything nice to say, it is a good time to say it.
- Clearly the leadership of the Board needs to and is making new appointments and strengthening the professional team – let us wait and support them.
- I was a founding member of the JLC in 2003. I wish that Henry Grunwald had managed to push it then but it was his honorary officers that made it so difficult to create normal relations from the outset.
- The Board could have chosen to fund and support the work of the London Jewish Forum (LJF) but they failed to do this. However, Vivian Wineman as President has worked hard to improve relationships and now in addition to the leadership of the Board taking part in trustee calls and in the steering committee of the LJF, a trustee of the LJF is elected to and attends the executive of the Board of Deputies.
- On Shechita UK and Milah UK the Board remains a key player. It is hard to represent the needs of all parts of the community, but the current team seem excited to represent the whole community, not just the needs of a part of the community.
- It is true that the Board underpays its staff, but this is not the fault of the current team who are addressing this.
- It is 16 years since the constitutional amendments to which the article refers. At that time Divisions were made smaller and the Vice Presidents were elected to chair these divisions. It is not the fault of the current leadership and they are considering constitutional amendments.
- The author harks back to a time prior to this triennial where the same speakers dominated the floor. It is a breath of fresh air to have more speakers just speaking for 2 minutes. There are actually now close to 300 Deputies, so limiting speeches to 2 minutes and one intervention per meeting per Deputy allows more participation. If any Deputy wishes to question or scrutinise in writing, there is no limit to their interventions.
- When considering the democracy of the Board, one should also consider the relationship between constituencies and their Deputies. Is it democratic that after electing their Deputies, constituencies should have no mandate, no control and no right of recall except to re-elect once every three years? Is this democratic? Surely if a Deputy is supposed to represent, then he or she must represent. Maybe Deputies need to be current leaders from constituencies. Should Deputies even be members of the boards of constituencies?
- Why not have a maximum length of term that a Deputy can represent a single constituency?
- When the JLC was set up, it had a clause that it should be chaired by the President of the Board which was later amended to say “[it] should normally be chaired by the President of the Board”. This clause was to avoid giving the Chair of the JLC to someone the JLC felt unsuitable.
- The Board has rarely, if ever, been the community’s most important or only channel to government. It has been marginalised by the good and the great. Even when Moses Montefiore was president, others had direct relationships to government. However, the Board should never stop trying to represent the community effectively however often it is undermined or fails – and it should always represent ALL the needs of the community not just those connected to the good and the great.
- Another quote requiring clarification is that “the Board needs to sort out and refashion its relationship with the JLC”. The current honorary officers are trying to do this. It was impossible in previous triennials as the Board’s leadership was not united on this matter.
- When Mick Davis came to the Board and was attacked, the attack was not stopped.
- In the whole history of the Board of Deputies, how many of the hundreds of honorary officers have been members of Reform synagogues? Unbelievably, only THREE! In previous times, Reform leaders chose to go directly to government or to work through the Anglo-Jewish Association. In the 1970s and 1980s Reform and Liberal chose to work through the Board and in the early 1990s – at last – the first two officers from Reform backgrounds were elected. However between 2000-2012 there were no Reform honorary officers. There has only ever been one Liberal honorary officer. Can the Board expect to represent or talk for the 20% of Reform Jews and 10% of Liberal Jews who make up our community if it is only led by Jews from the United Synagogue?
- Another unwritten rule of fair play in communal organisations is not to publicly criticise one’s successors. Once your period of office is over, one should act to your successors as you would want your predecessors to have acted towards you.
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