board of deputies 248.88.
(photo credit: http://www.bod.org.uk/)
A member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews has been accused of abusing his position after he appeared on BBC radio calling for the settlement freeze to extend to Jerusalem.
Board of Deputies treasurer Laurence Brass told BBC Manchester Radio on November 30 that the treasurer is not just the person who looks after the purse but is able to influence and steer the direction of the board.
"I want to steer the board in a particular direction, although you might think the treasurer is the man that just looks after the purse, he does have the opportunity to influence the political direction the board is taking and that is something I feel quite strongly about," Brass said.
Brass, who is also an adviser to the Liberal Democrat Party - a party less sympathetic to Israel and which earlier this year called for an arms embargo on the Jewish state - was asked in the BBC interview about the recent settlement freeze announced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
"That was good news," Brass said. "I would like to have seen it extended to Jerusalem."
Brass said he wanted to make sure the board is not seen as a wing of the Israeli Embassy, accusing previous incumbents of the board of being so.
"I'd be quite keen to underline with my
colleagues that we should not be seen as an extension of the Israeli Embassy, which I think previously regimes have been, and I think we would be more appreciated by our community if we are shown to be quite objective in what we stand for in that sense," he said.
In a letter to the Board of Deputies President Vivian Wineman, the chairman of the Likud-Herut UK, Zalmi Unsdorfer, accused Brass of abusing his position.
"Laurence Brass continues to abuse his position and the trust of the Jewish community which the Board claims to represent," he said.
This is an outrage, and totally incompatible with the Board's role and constitution, he said.
"The board was never intended to be a political organization and its officers should not be pontificating in this way when representing the board and presuming to 'deputize' for Jews in this country," he wrote.
Unsdorfer said that Brass should be dismissed if he cannot be prevented from making statements outside his remit as treasurer.
"Your rules expressly state that no board member is authorized to make statements to the media without your approval. Having been so effusive with his opinions in the few short months since his election, Mr. Brass should have rung alarm bells with you and your colleagues before this.
"He must be instructed to desist from making statements outside his remit as treasurer. If he will not undertake to do this, he must be dismissed. Your role and duty is to ensure that does not happen - either in our community's name or the Board's," he said.
Wineman himself was the subject of a row among board members this summer after he wrote an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post that seemed to downplay the threat of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric and activities in the UK.
Responding to his critics, Brass said, "It's clear to me that there are some deputies who are seeking to encourage the idea of a 'siege mentality' as part of their own right-wing agenda to persuade the Board to be less sympathetic to constructive criticism of some aspects of Israeli policy. This attempt to steer the Board towards a more hawkish approach has to be resisted."
Samuel Hayek, chairman of the Jewish National Fund UK, said that "Laurence Brass is entitled to his views, which clearly do not represent the views of the Jewish community, which stands firm behind Israel. He is not entitled, however, to espouse his views when representing the Board of Deputies
"Mr. Brass should not making public statements that are unrepresentative and are not within the policies of the Board of Deputies."
Responding to the accusations, the board issued a statement that said: "The Board of Deputies of British Jews stands full square behind the State of Israel and in particular in its quest for security. The Board does not formulate positions on particular aspects of Israeli government policy, including, in this case, on the issue of a settlement freeze. These are matters for the democratically elected government of Israel, and for the citizens of Israel who elected it.
"As an organization representing the breadth of the British Jewish community, each of our 260 Deputies, themselves elected by their constituencies, will have their own particular views on Israel, and on all manner of other issues. However, unless and until such individual views are discussed and endorsed by the entire Board, they cannot be taken as constituting the policy of the Board."
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the board added: "Board policy is set democratically within the board. That process allows all deputies to set out their views and for them to be tested and scrutinized by their fellow deputies.
"There are deputies with very different, even opposing views to each other, and policy, where it is appropriate to formulate it at all, results for discussion and consensus. No single view prevails unless it is persuasive and garners sufficient support," he said.
Andrew Balcombe, chairman of the UK Zionist Federation, said: "The ZF made representations on this matter to the board and is pleased to see the board's statement. The ZF hopes that in future officers of the board will keep their personal opinions private, if they conflict with their constitutional obligation to "advance Israel's security, welfare and standing"
Responding to the board's statement Unsdorfer said: "If the freeze needs to be extended anywhere, it is to Mr. Brass's abuse of his position on the board. By the board's meek statement, it seems clear that Mr. Wineman is not in control of his board and that its long-standing principle of supporting the government of Israel, in good times and bad, is not safe in his hands."