A real change in conduct

21 Jan

This is a guest post by Daniel Grabiner, Deputy for the Movement for Reform Judaism. Follow him on twitter @danielgrabiner

A funny thing happened yesterday morning at the Board of Deputies plenary: a (mostly) respectful, courteous and truly democratic debate was had with a decisive vote and positive consequences.

The ‘Oxfam vs BoD’ saga has been raging for many weeks, but I only got involved ten days ago. I already knew which way I was going to vote (having spoken to my constituency and taking my own feelings into account) and didn’t really fancy getting involved in what appeared to be a mud-slinging contest, with two sides equally determined that their opinion was the only right one.

What swayed me was a phone call from an activist who didn’t want to influence my vote, but rather ensure that the process was as fair as it could be and that democracy won out in the end. I was one of the 30 deputies who wrote to the President asking for there to be a divisional vote (people having to move and physically declare the way they were voting).

I thought it was very important that for such a hotly-contested topic, individuals were not swayed by a ‘sheep mentality’ and once they made a decision they would not reconsider (as is often the case with raised hands votes).

I sat through the first 30 minutes of the meeting on Sunday excited about what was to come, but anticipating the embarrassment of what was surely going to be a circus. I was pleasantly surprised.

The President laid out the procedure before the speeches took place and he was surprisingly firm with the deputies, naming a number of people and even sending a gentleman out for continued heckling and rude behaviour. A real change in conduct and one that I hope continues.

The speeches from both sides were generally respectful and used appropriate arguments rather than insults and personal attacks. From those who supported the motion, a special mention has to go to Lark Bieber (one of the few people who actually spoke about world hunger), Gabriel Webber (for an eloquent and heartfelt speech) and Noam Tamir (for demonstrating some of the nuance that is needed).

A number of those who opposed the motion chose to use the ‘silent microphone’ so they would not be broadcast on live stream and could speak almost anonymously. I am sure one or two of these people had their reasons for doing this but I was totally bemused that both proposers of the motion (neither of whom are known to be publicity shy) chose this option.

Unfortunately for them, a number of us in the room were constantly tweeting, which did not enable them to be as anonymous as they might have wished to be. Not to mention, of course, the fact that members of the press were there, as usual.

The motion passed with 113 for, 65 against and 15 abstentions.

This was the BoD at its best and we hope to see more of this.

Finally, a reporter in the room commented that there has been a real change in attitude and environment since more young people were elected and that Change the Board has already done good work. I smiled, but thought to myself that there is still so much more to be done.


Please click here to see our note to editors.

10 Responses to “A real change in conduct”

  1. Laura Marks January 21, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    The presence of a big group of young, enthusiastic deputies also contributed to the debate yesterday. It was a pleasure to see our newest activists engaged with the issues facing our community. Two points to follow up – will they come again and what will make more than one young deputy (the articulate and confident Gabriel Webber) actually speak? Lets hear from you guys, at the mic not just on Twitter!!

    • Gabriel Webber January 21, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

      A number of these points will also appear in my post which will be on this blog by tomorrow, but I felt there were three things which encouraged me to contribute yesterday:

      – discipline: the lack of heckling, and swift ejection of a heckler, was exactly how things should be, and I was able to speak without fearing interruption or rotten tomato.

      – speaking orders decided in advance: the scrum for the microphone at most meetings doesn’t look like fun and is a disincentive, so it was great to have a final list set out from the outset

      – maybe most importantly, it was worth my while to speak: uniquely amongst the 4 (?) plenaries I’ve attended, there was actually something at stake and I was able to make a difference rather than just get a point onto the record. There are so many reasons not to speak at plenaries (early on a Sunday, glares from certain people who shall remain anonymous as per their wishes…) that it’s essential for the structure to provide compelling and overriding reasons *to* participate.

  2. Jonathan Hoffman January 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    ” …a special mention has to go to Lark Bieber (one of the few people who actually spoke about world hunger)”

    As I said in my summing-up, the debate was not about ‘world hunger’ and which side cared more about it. The insinuation that those of us who opposed the motion cared less about ‘world hunger’ than the motion’s proponents was one of the things that marred an otherwise reasonable debate.

  3. Jonathan Hoffman January 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    Had trhe debate occurred last year when it should have done, i believe the result might have been very different. Several Deputies voted to continue the project in the belief that it would be more damaging to turn back, but admited they would not have endorsed it if the debate had been held before the project became a fait accompli.

  4. Robert Stone January 25, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    I agree that the discussion of Grow Tatzmiach project at the Board of Deputies on Sunday most encouraging – not just because I support the motion as passed, but also because the debate was conducted with a level of mutual respect and a good humour hitherto rare in BOD debates on issues involving Israel. Speakers on sides presented balanced and nuanced arguments. What a pity that the Jewish Chronicle today does not display the balance shown by members of the Board. The JC has sound bites from nine of the Deputies who opposed the motion (about how angry their constituents are) and only one from a supporter, Laura Marks, the Senior Vice President who proposed the motion). Considering that 113 Deputies voted for the motion and only 65, that is outrageous distortion and sensationalism. When is British Jewry going to get a newspaper that practices responsible journalism?


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