Gloves are off as Board presidential candidate claims leadership ‘invisible’ since 7/10

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Gloves are off as Board presidential candidate claims leadership ‘invisible’ since 7/10

Speaking at the latest Board president election hustings Sheila Gewolb claimed 'leadership has been invisible since the Hamas attack in defending and protecting our community'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Board of Deputies president candidates Michael Ziff, Amanda Bowman, Phil Rosenberg and Sheila Gewolb with (centre) United Synagogue president Michael Goldstein (photo: Richard Verber)
Board of Deputies president candidates Michael Ziff, Amanda Bowman, Phil Rosenberg and Sheila Gewolb with (centre) United Synagogue president Michael Goldstein (photo: Richard Verber)

Board of Deputies presidential candidate Sheila Gewolb has used the latest election hustings to claim that the leadership of the communal organisation has been “invisible since October 7th in defending and protecting our community.”

Speaking at the latest Board hustings, hosted by the United Synagogue at Mill Hill Synagogue, Gewolb responded to a question about how each of the four presidential candidates would respond to an announcement of an arms sale ban on Israel if it invaded Rafah by expressing frustration with the direction of the organisation since the Hamas terror attack.

The deputy for Cardiff United Synagogue added: “We have not been out there. We did not organise the march against antisemitism, we didn’t even support it.”

Referring to comments she made at a previous hustings she said: “I actually said the Board’s leadership has been invisible since October 7th in defending and protecting our community.

“I stand by that, because we’ve done stuff with the vigils, with education advice, and employers advice. We have not been out there…. We have not jumped in.”

Gewold said the first thing she would do if Israel was under attack would be to call the “Israeli ambassador and see what support they want from the Board of Deputies.”

In answer to the same question, Amanda Bowman said she would call for an immediate meeting with the prime minister and the foreign secretary to “have a conversation about any such embargo.”

Bowman added she would “give some history as to why embargoes don’t work.”

Michael Ziff also said he would request a meeting with the prime minister along with leaders of the other political parties.

He added:”And we’ve got to go and seek our friends in the wider world who do support Israel. We do have friends in the non Jewish world. I’ve been building a base and getting to know some of those people in the last few months.”

Phil Rosenberg responded to the question claiming he had the “strongest connections across  politics, media, data and diplomacy.”

He added:”I think an arms embargo on Israel is blaming the victim. One of the things I’ve said consistently is that calls for a ceasefire – of course all of us want a ceasefire. None of us want to see innocent people hurt.

“But a ceasefire can’t be Israel ceases and Hamas fires.”

Elsewhere in the hustings, which was held in conjunction with the S&P Sephardi Community and moderated by moderated by US president Michael Goldstein, all four candidates backed claims of BBC and media bias against Israel since October 7.

Rosenberg said that if he was elected president he would set up a “media rebuttal unit” at the Board adding this was an “urgent thing to do.”

He said it would enable the Board to respond to stories in real time, and also to “review” channels like BBC Arabic and BBC Verify which he claimed “often cause trouble.”

There was also a need for the Board to produce their own report into BBC bias, Rosenberg claimed.

Gewolb said the Board possessed Deputies “with the skills” to respond to bias in the media, adding “we also need to have our own messages out there.”

She said:”It’s not just about being reactive all the time when we see those lies and bias on TV and (we are) frightened to turn it on.

“We need to have professionals and deputies with the skills to be able to start talking about why the hostages are still in captivity, Hamas refusing a ceasefire. These messages aren’t getting across.”

Ziff said that on the first day of his presidency he would form a “President’s Advisory Group for  bringing deputies with expertise and leaders in law, politics and media to form a crisis group.”

He said this would enable the Board to focus on how to “deal with the BBC and other organisations where there is a consistent process of attacking the Jewish communities.”

Bowman added: “I don’t think anyone imagines we’ve been winning the war in the media over the last six months. We haven’t and I completely understand and I feel and share the frustration that we aren’t getting our messages across strongly enough.”

She said she agreed the Board needed “a specialist group of people just working on the comms that we need to do – being proactive and working on the issues that are immediate, but also working long-term.”

Earlier all four candidates spoke of the respect they had for one another, and suggested there was an “embarrassment of riches” in the race to succeed Marie van der Zyl as president.

Elections take place on May 12, with the 300 deputies able to pick their choice for new leader.

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