The failure of the Jewish Council For Racial Equality to be elected as a member of the Board of Deputies has been greeted with fury and dismay amid the latest round of infighting between deputies.
Amid a renewal of tensions between deputies aligned to the left and right that came to the fore during recent presidential elections, the community’s voice on refugees and the Zionist Central Council of Manchester (ZCC) failed to secure the two-thirds of votes necessary to join the Board at a meeting on Monday.
Langdon, Kisharon, Jewish Small Communities Network, the Jewish Police Association and GIFT were all admitted after securing over 90 percent backing.
It’s understood that JCORE, which campaigns on issues around racial equality and justice for refugees, attracting 52 percent support after deputies opposed to its joining raised questions about its commitment to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. One Deputy later remarked that it was “farcical” to hear Jewish organisations being questioned over their commitment to fighting antisemitism.
In a statement on Tuesday, JCORE said it was “dismayed” by the result, which comes only months after the Board of Deputies’ received widespread acclaim for its landmark report on racial inclusivity in the community.
Adam Rose, Chair of JCORE, said: “It was extremely disappointing that certain deputies felt it appropriate to make misleading allegations, thus encouraging enough deputies to block JCORE’s membership application.
“I was pleased that a majority of deputies backed JCORE’s application for membership. JCORE will continue to work closely with the Board, with widespread support from across the Jewish community and beyond, to ensure that its work for good race relations and for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers continues.”
Rose faced claims his organisation did not support IHRA from the Deputy Ric Cooper and that it had given “help to the enemies of the Jewish people.”
Rose responded by saying he did not know “on what basis you say we don’t support the IHRA definition” and said JCORE had “just never discussed this.”
The Deputy Gideon Smith intervened to say the majority of groups on the Board took no position on the IHRA definition.
The ZCC attracted 42 percent support, vowing immediately to apply again.
In Monday’s occasionally tense session, a number of young deputies pointed to claims of past associations between members of the ZCC and the far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson.
The ZCC’s Raymond Solomon confirmed on social media that Robinson had “approached” the group in the past – but added: “I challenge those people who voted today against the ZCC to provide any proof that the ZCC is a supporter of Robinson.” Addressing concerns the organisation had failed to condemn Robinson’s presence at a central London rally supporting Israel during its recent anti-terror operation against Hamas, he wrote: “The ZCC did not comment about Robinson’s appearance at the ZF event because the BOD and the ZF had already commented.”
Speakers including Joe Grabiner also pointed to lawyer Robert Festenstein, who is president of the ZCC, in expressing opposition.
After appearing in a video put out by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – who is also known as Tommy Robinson – on YouTube in 2017, Festenstein denied that the far-right activist was his client. He said at the time: “I was interviewed by Mr Robinson in connection with a matter where I am instructed by a client who has a potential dispute with Sunderland City Council. Mr Robinson is not my client. I have no association with him.”
Asked by Grabiner how he could reassure deputies Tommy has nothing to do with the ZCC, Meehan responded: “There is no connection whatsoever between the ZCC and Tommy Robinson. We are totally appalled by the type of person he is.”
The Board President then intervened to bring up the fact that the ZCC had failed to condemn the presence of Robinson at a central London rally in support of Israel during the recent anti-terror operation against Hamas. Marie van der Zyl said there were “a lot of questions” about the group.
One Deputy, who asked not to be named, told Jewish News: “There was a sizeable rebellion against the ZCC being admitted from those on the more liberal wing of the Board.
“But it’s fair to say the ‘right’ showed they still hold plenty of clout after JCORE’s application to join was voted down.”
In a statement, Board Interim Chief Executive Michael Wegier said he welcomed the five new member organisations. He said: “This brings the Board of Deputies up to 208 member organisations and synagogues making the organisation the key forum to discuss the issues of the day and giving us unparalleled legitimacy to speak on behalf of the community.
“While two organisations, JCORE and the Zionist Central Council, will be disappointed at being unable to achieve the two thirds majority set out in the Board of Deputies constitution, the result does not preclude these organisations re-applying at a later date. The demand to join our organisation and to be a part of the democratic representative organisation of Jews in the UK has never been stronger and there are plenty more applications to be considered.”
David Meehan, of the ZCC, addressed Monday’s meeting, said the group’s main objective was to “defend the democratic state of Israel” and that the ZCC were “inclusive and accepting.”
Joe Grabiner of Alyth synagogue, said some were “horrified” that the ZCC’s President Festenstein had appeared in the video with Tommy Robinson.
He continued:”How are you able to reassure us Tommy Robinson has nothing to do with your organisation? And is there a connection between those two individuals and your organisation?”
Meehan responded by claiming: “There is no connection whatsoever between the ZCC and Tommy Robinson. We are totally appalled by the type of person he is.”
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