Board of Deputies of British Jews
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, commonly referred to as the Board of Deputies, is the largest and second oldest Jewish communal organisation in the United Kingdom, after only the Initiation Society which was founded in 1745. Established in 1760 by a group of Sephardic Jews, the board presents itself as a forum for the views of most organisations within the British Jewish community, liaising with the British government on that basis. Notably, while Lord Rothschild was President of the Board of Deputies, the Balfour Declaration was addressed to him and eventually led to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. It is affiliated to the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress. Its current president is Marie van der Zyl who, due to holding this position, also sits on the Executive Committee of the World Jewish Congress.
|Great Britain and Northern Ireland|
|Marie van der Zyl|
The Board of Deputies of British Jews was established in London in 1760, when seven deputies were appointed by the elders of the Sephardi congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews to form a standing committee and pay homage to George III on his accession to the throne. Shortly thereafter the Ashkenazi Jewish congregation from Central and Eastern Europe similarly appointed their own "Secret Committee for Public Affairs" to deal with any urgent political matters that might arise, and safeguard the interests of British Jews as a religious community, both in the British Isles, and in the colonies. They soon began to meet together as occasions arose, and then on a more frequent basis; by the 1810s they appear to have united as one body. It was named the London Committee of Deputies of British Jews.
In the mid-19th century, the body was dominated by Moses Montefiore, the Sephardi lay leader of British Jewry, and Nathan Adler, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. It adopted its current name in 1913. During its history, some of the major divisions in opinion have been between Sephardi and Ashkenazi and between religious and lay leaders.
The Board became more prominent in British society in the early twentieth century due to its support of refugees, notably leading an ultimately failed campaign against the Aliens Act 1905. However, by the 1930s, the Board's position had shifted to a more assimilationist position in order to improve the perception of Jews among the non-Jewish British population, including adopting a position of non-Zionism. In 1933, Neville Laski was elected as the Board's President, and called for Jews to give "overriding consideration of duty and loyalty" to the United Kingdom. However, the stances of the Board once again had shifted in 1939 with the election of Selig Brodetsky, who was described as the "foremost Zionist in Great Britain" by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. As of 2021 the Board has continued to hold a Zionist position.
Members and organisationEdit
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The board is led by Marie van der Zyl, who succeeded Jonathan Arkush as president in June 2018. The chief executive is Gillian Merron, who represented Labour as Member of Parliament (MP) for Lincoln from 1997 to 2010. From 2009 to 2010, she was Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health at the Department of Health. She leads a team of professional staff including Director of Public Affairs, Philip Rosenberg (formerly of Faiths Forum for London).
Its membership comprises Deputies elected by affiliated individual synagogues, confederations of synagogues, and other organisations within the Jewish community such as charities and youth groups. Haredi synagogues have chosen not to affiliate. In 2012, it was noted that nearly two-thirds of the deputies were over 60 years of age.
It serves as the principal reference point for government, the media and wider society. All matters tending to impact on the life of Jews in Britain fall within the Board's remit, including an active interfaith programme. It is the British affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, the world-wide umbrella organisation of Jewish communities and is the UK member of the European Jewish Congress. Its offices are co-located with the United Jewish Israel Appeal in Kentish Town.
In January 2019, the Jewish Leadership Council reiterated its call for a "unified communal structure" with the Board of Deputies. A previous merger proposal was rejected in 2015 after Deputies felt that they would be relegated to second-rate status. In response to the later call, Marie van der Zyl said that "the representative body that speaks for the community must have the legitimacy and accountability that comes from being broad based, democratic and elected." Deputies have in the past noted that, while board honorary officers are accountable to deputies, who themselves are accountable to their constituencies, the Jewish Leadership Council had no such governance structure. However, in March 2020, van de Zyl called in The Jewish Chronicle for "a more permanent unity" between the organisations.
The issues which the board states it addresses are:
- Antisemitism and extremism
- Israel and the Middle East
- Religious freedoms and inequalities
- Interfaith and social action
- International advocacy
In 2003, the Board, on its website, reproduced an extract from a US State Department report that suggested that the aid organisation Palestinian Relief and Development Fund (Interpal) was helping to fund terrorist organisations. Interpal threatened to sue for libel, whereupon the Board retracted and apologised for its comments.
In the same year the Jewish Leadership Council, which says it "brings together the major British Jewish organisations to work for the good of the British Jewish community", was founded.
In 2005, after the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, compared a Jewish Evening Standard reporter, Oliver Finegold, to a concentration camp guard, the Board, along with the Commission for Racial Equality, filed an ultimately unsuccessful complaint to the Standards Board for England, calling on Livingstone to apologise. Livingstone responded by stating "there is no law against 'unnecessary insensitivity' or even 'offensiveness' to journalists harassing you as you try to go home" and that he had a "25-year running battle" with the paper's owners.
In 2014, at the height of the Israeli military operation in Gaza, the Board issued a joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) condemning antisemitism and Islamophobia. The statement with its slogan 'to export peace rather than import conflict' proved controversial among some on the conservative wing of the Jewish community but was supported by others on the progressive wing and by groups in inter faith circles. The principle of such a statement was approved by a majority of over 75% at a meeting of the Board on 21 September 2014. In December 2015, the new leadership of the Board distanced itself from the MCB over the latter's alleged links to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2018, over five hundred British Jews signed a letter from Yachad saying that the Board had "deeply misrepresented" their views after the board criticised Hamas for "repeated violent attempts at mass invasion" but did not call for Israeli restraint or acknowledge that the IDF may have acted disproportionately in killing scores of Palestinians. Liberal Judaism said that "the Board's credibility as the voice of British Jewry depends wholly on its willingness to listen to, hear from and reflect the values of all sections of the community".
In July 2018, the Board suspended Roslyn Pine, deputy for Finchley United Synagogue, for six years, following comments she made which were described as Islamophobic, and for admitting to holding anti-Arab views.
In November 2018, Marie van der Zyl said, in relation to antisemitism in the UK Labour Party, "Over the summer, we showed how we could keep this issue of antisemitism on the front pages day after day, week after week, exacting a severe political and reputational cost for continued failure."[non-primary source needed] In 2019, following Jeremy Corbyn's decision to resign as leader of the Labour Party, the Board asked candidates for the leadership to sign up to ten pledges in order to "end the antisemitism crisis".The pledges included a resolution of outstanding disciplinary cases, lifetime membership bans for some individuals, an independent disciplinary process, full and unconditional adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, and engagement with the mainstream Jewish community. Most of the candidates for leader or deputy leader signed up unconditionally.
In 2020, the Board clashed with the new Israeli ambassador to the UK and some members of the community over the Board's continued commitment to Palestinian statehood as part of a Two State Solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.
After Scottish devolution in 1999, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities was formed to give the Jewish Community of Scotland a single democratically accountable voice in dealings with the Scottish Parliament and Executive, other communities, and other statutory and official bodies. The intention when it was established was for it to stand in the same relationship to the Scottish Government as the Board of Deputies of British Jews does to the UK Government. Consequently, the council is autonomous in matters devolved by the Scotland Act, such as justice, health and welfare, and community relations, whilst the Board of Deputies speaks for all Britain's Jews on reserved matters such as foreign affairs and equality legislation.
The most historically notable and longest-serving past president was the Victorian-era banker Moses Montefiore, who in the 19th century travelled widely to assist Jewish communities in foreign countries, faced by persecution at the time. A complete list of presidents and interim positions is as follows:
- Benjamin Mendes Da Costa (1760)
- Joseph Salvador (1766)
- Joseph Salvador (1778)
- Moses Isaac Levy (1789)
- Naphtaly Bazevy (1801)
- no record (1802–1812)
- Raphael Brandon (1812)
- Moses Lindo (1817–1829)
- Moses Mocatta (1829–1835)
- Sir Moses Montefiore (1835–1838)
- David Salmons (1838 October–November)
- I. Q. Henriques (1838–1840)
- Moses Montefiore (1840 May–July)
- Hananel De Castro (1840–1841)
- Moses Montefiore (1841–1846)
- David Salomons (1846 March–August)
- Moses Montefiore (1846–1855)
- Isaac Foligno (1855 April–December)
- Moses Montefiore (1855–1857)
- Isaac Foligno (1855 February–September)
- Moses Montefiore (1857–1862)
- Joseph Meyer Montefiore (1862–1868)
- Moses Montefiore (1868 June–November)
- Joseph Meyer Montefiore (1868–1871)
- Moses Montefiore (1871–1874)
- Joseph Meyer Montefiore (1874–1880)
- Arthur Cohen (1880–1895)
- Joseph Sebag Montefiore (1895–1903)
- David Lindo Alexander (1903–1917)
- Stuart Samuel (1917–1922)
- Henry Henriques (1922–1925)
- Lord Rothschild (1925–1926)
- Sir Osmond d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (1926–1933)
- Neville Laski (1933–1939)
- Selig Brodetsky (1940–1949)
- A. Cohen (1949–1955)
- Barnett Janner (1955–1964)
- Soloman Teff (1964–1967)
- Michael Fidler (1967–1973)
- Samuel Fisher, Baron Fisher of Camden (1973–1979)
- Greville Janner (1979–1985)
- Lionel Kopelowitz (1985–1991)
- Israel Finestein (1991–1994)
- Eldred Tabachnik (1994–2000)
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