Friday, September 02, 2005

TWAJ: the Board of Deputies - a primer

An article from SomethingJewish contributor Leslie Bunder ahead of the Freedmanslife treatment of the BoD...

Follow the leader?

Sometimes I'm not really sure where the Board of Deputies and indeed its president Henry Grunwald are coming from or indeed who they think they are.

They boast on their web site "The voice of British Jewry" and in a recent Guardian comment piece, Henry Grunwald introduced himself as the "elected leader of the British Jewish community".

Mr Grunwald failed to put into context or explain a bit more about who he was elected by. The Board itself despite claiming to be "the voice of British Jews" is not exactly the most open organisation and indeed, is a group that is now overdue some changes especially electoral.

You see, Henry Grunwald was elected by a select group of people, around 300 or so who are called Deputies. These people come from synagogues and other communal organisations.

Rather than being elected on the basis on an open vote to the community, the votes are done by these deputies. In order to be a deputy, you also need to be recognized by the Board. Of course, there are also many Jewish groups and synagogues that do not belong to the Board, nor have any interest in belonging to it.

The Board makes many assumptions about its own role and what it thinks it is doing for the Jewish community.

By allowing its own president to say he is the elected leader of the British community, shows the arrogance this 245 year old organisation has, both for itself and indeed for the community. It claims to have monthly meetings but does not publicly advertise the dates and times to its own community. One would assume there would be minutes from such meetings, but it does not appear to publish them or provide access to what was said.

I never recall as a member of a synagogue being asked for my vote across a number of candidates who should become the next president of the Board of Deputies. Indeed, speaking to many other people, I know of no one who has ever been canvassed or invited to vote for a Board president or who should be the leader of the Jewish community.

The Board is in urgent need of reform. it is in urgent need to be truly representative of the Jewish community, rather than the 300 or so people who make up what it calls the deputies.

To be considered as the "elected leader" would involve a complete open and honest vote. Henry Grunwald was not elected by the community, he was given this role based on those members of the Board. There are around 270,000 to 300,000 Jews in the UK of which around 300 make up the deputies.

As the Board says on its own website: "The Deputies elect their Honorary Officers, comprising a President, three Vice-Presidents and a Treasurer, on a three-year cycle, to lead and co-ordinate the development of policy."

Henry Grunwald is the leader of those who may have voted for him, rather than that of the Jewish community. By suggesting he is the leader of the Jewish community Mr Grunwald is hyping up his own ego.

If you did a poll in the Jewish community and ask them who is the "elected leader of the British community", I doubt very much most people would know and indeed, would even wonder who was Henry Grunwald.

To be considered an "elected leader" requires truly open and honest election processes. The Board fails to be the open organisation it should be if it wishes to be the "voice of British Jewry".

The Board is in need of urgent reform. I would strongly suggest that it starts by looking at its structure and introduces proper voting processes so that if the Jewish community in Britain wishes to have an elected leader, then they should be able to vote on that. Not leave it to a handful of people to choose their leader.

And if Henry Grunwald is going around the UK introducing himself as the “elected leader”, he needs to be a bit more upfront as to who he is the “elected leader” of, rather than saying he is the leader of the British community.

And maybe he would like to make his mark as the president by introducing some electoral reforms to the Board so that when it comes to the next president elections, it will be the community who votes who should be the leader.

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