Board presidential candidates take part in low-key first hustings

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Board presidential candidates take part in low-key first hustings

Sheila Gewolb, Michael Ziff, Phil Rosenberg and Amanda Bowman outlined their bids at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Four candidates prepare for Board of Deputies presidential hustings at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue
Four candidates prepare for Board of Deputies presidential hustings at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue

The four candidates battling to become the next president of the Board of Deputies have taken part in their first hustings at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood.

Sheila Gewolb, Michael Ziff, Phil Rosenberg and Amanda Bowman were given the opportunity to make opening statements on why they deserved the vote of Deputies in their bid to replace outgoing president Marie van der Zyl.

Unsurprisingly, all four candidates picked on familiar themes of fighting antisemitism, Israel, and maintaining the Board’s relevance, as they staked their claim to be crowned president on May 12, at an often low-key event.

Gewolb spoke of her role speaking to non-Jewish children across the country where she challenged the misconceptions about the faith.

But she recalled a boy living outside the capital who had revealed to her he was “a quarter Jewish”, but whose mother had told him not to reveal his faith when he was in London over fears of the response.

“I could have cried,” said Gewolb.

When he spoke, Rosenberg noted the “unprecedented challenge” the community faced with rising antisemitism at the moment, as a result of Israel’s response to the Hamas terror atrocity.

He pledged: “I am a campaigner who will fight antisemitism, I have the connections across politics and the media, to make our case at the highest level, and to stand up for Israel, for peace and security.”

Speaking next, Bowman said she had been “honoured” to serve as Board vice-president for the past six years. She added: “I offer you a vision of a better Board, a stronger, more unified community. We will celebrate and support our rich and diverse heritage.”

Bowman claimed she would “empower” Deputies, to shape “a vibrant Jewish life in the UK.”

Finally Ziff spoke to the audience, which numbered around 40 people online and around 20 in the room, saying:”We are in the fight of our lives. A fight to ensure British Jews can continue to live without fear in this country.”

Board treasurer Ziff also noted the cost of living crisis which “has hit our community hard”, including many charities. Many of the questions put to deputies on interfaith, inclusiveness in the community and their vision for the Board, provoked similar answers.

It was not until the final section of the hustings that more testing questions were put to the four candidates, on claims that the Board was seen too often as a “mouthpiece” for Israel, while it was also suggested the progressive Jews had become disillusioned by a one-sided approach to the conflict in the Middle East.

Gewolb argued that the Board should tread cautiously on debate around Israel, saying: “Israeli government policy should be for people who can vote for Israeli government policy. We should remember that we are the Board of Deputies of British Jews — and what goes on in Israel does affect us — but the work of the Board is to protect and defend our community.”

Ziff took a similar stance, saying: “The majority of British Jews support Israel… we are here to look after British Jews.”

Rosenberg cited the Board’s campaigns in support of the hostages still captured by Hamas, saying: “There is a huge degree of unity over that, regardless of where people are on the political spectrum.”

Bowman suggested it would be possible to organise dialogue sessions with deputies and briefings with experts in order to develop a policy on Israel that would “reflect the views of all deputies”.

The candidates are doing four more hustings outside London organised by the Board, while another is being scheduled by the United Synagogue.

Earlier, the contenders for Board vice-president roles took part in a similar hustings.

Among those attending Wednesday evening’s event were current president Marie van der Zyl, Laura Marks, along with Rabbi Charley Baginsky and Rabbi Josh Levy.

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