The Board of Deputies of British Jews: Tory, Rich, Fanatically Zionist, Unrepresentative and ‘an Affront to Democracy’

Mike has put up several pieces this week commenting on the decision of all five contenders for the Labour leadership – Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer, Jess Phillips, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Emily Thornberry – to sign a series of ten pledges devised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews on how they will tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This has outraged Mike and a very large number of other Labour supporters and members, because it is a capitulation to the Board. It effectively cedes to the Board extremely wide-ranging and draconian powers over who can be accused of anti-Semitism, and how they should be tried, judged and punished. Mike and the other commenters, bloggers and activists on this issue have extensively criticised the document and how it represents a very serious breach of natural justice. For example, those accused of anti-Semitism are more or less to be treated as guilty simply through the accusation, and expelled promptly. I’ve made the point as an historian with an interest in the European witch hunts of the Middle Ages and 16th and 17th centuries that accused witches could expect a fairer trial than the kangaroo courts set up by the Labour party, and which are demanded by the Board and their satellite organisations within the party, like the Jewish Labour Movement. Some of the demands made by the Board very much resemble the way cults and totalitarian states exercise total control over their members’ lives. For example, another of the provisions demands that existing members do not have anything to do with those expelled for anti-Semitism. This is exactly like the way cults and less extreme religious sects demand that their members have nothing to do with those outside them, thus cutting ties with family and friends.

The Board is also not a credible judge of what constitutes anti-Semitism. They have been extremely bad on the issue on anti-Semitism in the Labour, acting in bad faith and deliberately falsifying its extent, supporting evidence and maligning and smearing decent women and men. 

Their motives throughout their pursuit of this issue has certainly been not to defend Jews against anti-Semitism. Rather, like their counterparts elsewhere in the Jewish establishment – the Chief Rabbinate, the Jewish press and the Jewish Leadership Council – it has been extremely party political. The goal has been to oust Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, purge it of his supporters and prevent it coming to power. Not because Corbyn is an anti-Semite – he isn’t by any objective standard – but because he is a staunch anti-racist and a critic of Israel’s slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. And as Tories, like the rest of the Jewish establishment, they were also frightened by a movement within the Labour party that would restore power and dignity to working people, including Jews. David Rosenberg has made the point on his ‘Rebel Notes’ blog that the Board and its ilk do not represent Jews, who are working or lower-middle class – yes, they exist! – they don’t represent the Jewish disabled, the Jews who work in or use the public services. And they don’t give a damn about racism and real anti-Semitism. He has described how, when he was a young activist in ’70s and ’80s, the Board did its level best to stop Jews going on anti-racism demonstrations and gigs like ‘Rock Against Racism’. Ostensibly this was to protect the young and impressionable from anti-Zionist propaganda. But others suspected the real reason was that they had zero interest in joining protests against discrimination and hate against Blacks and Asians. And Tony Greenstein, another staunch Jewish critic of Israel and fierce opponent of racism and Fascism in all its forms, has described how, in the 1930s, when British Jews were in real existential danger from Mosley and other genuine Fascist and Nazi groups, the Board did nothing to encourage them to resist. When Mosley and his storm troopers marched through the East End of London to intimidate and terrorise the Jews and other minorities there, the Board meekly told them to stay indoors. Fortunately there were Jews, who didn’t believe in passively tolerating the BUF, and joined with the Communists, unions and other left-winger to give Mosley’s thugs the hiding they richly deserved.

The Board claims the authority to dictate the Labour party’s policy towards anti-Semitism as the organ representing the Jewish community as a whole. This is a lie.

Mike today put up a statement by Jewish Voice for Labour – a far more representative Jewish organisation than the Board – about this issue. And the simple answer is: they aren’t. The JVL said

The Board’s claim to be democratic is, however, distinctly tenuous. There are no British Jewish elections, no direct way for all British Jews to directly elect the board’s 300 Deputies. To be involved in electing Deputies, one must be a member of one or more of approximately 138 synagogues, or be connected to one of 34 ‘communal organisations’ (such as the UJIA or Reform Judaism) that are affiliated with the Board, all of which elect one to five Deputies—anyone not involved with these institutions does not have a vote, despite the Board still claiming to speak on their behalf. Inevitably, some individuals may be represented multiple times, through being members of more than one organisation.

The biggest problem, however, is with the elections held by affiliate organisations to select their deputies—it is these that justify the Board’s claim to be a representative democracy. Transparency is a fundamental requirement of democracy—there needs to be openness as to who the electorate is and how many of them turn out in order for any election to be considered legitimate. Despite its own constitution obliging it to receive the data (Appendix A, Clause 3: “the election shall not be validated unless the form incorporates… the total number of members of the congregation… and the number who attended the election meeting”), the Board does not release a list of the membership size or the numbers voting in each affiliate organisation, and claims to have no idea what the numbers might be. The Board’s spokesman explained to me that, “While we do need to be more thorough in collecting statistics, these figures wouldn’t add anything—they don’t speak to the democratic legitimacy of the organisation or to anything else.” This seems extraordinarily complacent—can we imagine a British election in which the size of the electorate, the list of candidates standing, and the turnout remained secret? It would be regarded as an affront to democracy.

The anti-democratic nature of the Board is confirmed by other Jewish critics, like Tony. They point out that the Board really only represents the United Synagogue, which is believed to have 40,000 members out of a total Jewish population in the country of 280,000 – 300,000. They don’t represent that third of the Jewish people, who are secular and don’t attend synagogue. Neither do they represent the Orthodox, may represent as much as a quarter of all Jewish Brits and are set to overtake the United Synagogue as the largest section of the Jewish population in a few years. Some synagogues haven’t had elections for years, and so have sitting candidates. Others don’t allow women to vote. And the Board also defines itself as a Zionist organisation, and so excludes Jews, who do not support Israel.

So it seems that the Board represents, at most, 1/3 of British Jews. That’s hardly a majority and gives them no mandate to issue their demands.

As for the Board’s manifest lack of democracy, it all reminds me of Britain before the 1833 Reform Act, with its pocket and rotten boroughs. But these are the people claiming to have the moral authority to speak for the British Jewish community!

I fully understand why the Labour leadership candidates signed the Board’s wretched pledges. They hoped that this would end the Board’s interference in the Labour party and their continued criticism. But it won’t. The Board and other Zionist organisations that use allegations of anti-Semitism as a weapon against their critics will not be satisfied. They see such capitulation as weakness, and will always press for further concessions. This is what Corbyn and his advisers, like Seaumas Milne, failed to understand. Instead of caving in, Corbyn should have fought back.

My own feeling now is that the only way to settle this issue decisively in Labour’s favour is to attack and discredit the Board – to show how biased and unrepresentative it is, to reveal how it lies and libels decent men and women, and particularly self-respecting Jews.

That would be a long, very hard, and perilous struggle, especially as the media and Tory press would be on the side of the Board all the way.

But until it is done, the Board as it stands now will always be a politically partisan threat to British democracy and genuine Jewish security and anti-racist action.

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2 Responses to “The Board of Deputies of British Jews: Tory, Rich, Fanatically Zionist, Unrepresentative and ‘an Affront to Democracy’”

  1. The Board of Deputies of British Jews: Tory, Rich, Fanatically Zionist, Unrepresentative and ‘an Affront to Democracy’ | Beastrabban’s Weblog | Tory Britain! Says:

    […] https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2020/01/15/the-board-of-deputies-of-british-jews-tory-rich-fanatic… […]

  2. A6er Says:

    Reblogged this on Tory Britain!.

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