(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – Jonathan Arkush, a 60-year-old barrister, was elected president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Sunday in a fiercely contested battle.
He beat fellow vice presidents Alex Brummer, city editor of the Daily Mail, and Laura Marks, who founded the UK’s “Mitzvah Day,” securing in the first round 107 votes against Marks’s 78 and Brummer’s 74. After the second preferences were counted on the ballots for the journalist, Arkush won by 152 to 92.
A Board of Deputies vice president for the past six years, Arkush takes over from another lawyer, Vivian Wineman.
A deputy for 30 years, Arkush started his communal activism as a student in the Campaign for Soviet Jewry.
He held the organization’s defense portfolio for the past six years, a stressful time that included conflicts in the Middle East and a rise in anti-Semitism at home.
During the election, he asked deputies to look at his record in defending the community against anti-Semitism, especially on campuses and from figures in the Church of England such as Rev. Stephen Sizer, who at times used what was viewed as anti-Semitic rhetoric in campaigning for Palestinian rights. He successfully led the Jewish community’s campaign to persuade the Church to have Sizer banned from making further comments on the conflict.
Three years ago, he launched into a diatribe about the JLC. He singled out its chairman, Mick Davis, and branded the council’s leadership as “unelected and unrepresentative.”
Later he was told that JLC leaders wanted nothing more to do with him.
More recently, he promised to work for unification between the two bodies, but until fences are mended, personal relationships could remain affected by his outburst, in turn causing problems for those advocating a merger.
Now, as Board of Deputies president, he has offered an olive branch. During his address to deputies, he said he would work for unification with what is now widely considered the senior body in Anglo Jewry.
While he does not take over until June 1, JLC leaders will have to decide what role Arkush can play in the organization, as theoretically, the president of the Board of Deputies holds the chairmanship of one of its committees.