JNF UK resigns from Jewish Leadership Council

The Jewish National Fund UK quits Mick Davis-headed controversial Jewish community representative organization citing numerous concerns.

By JONNY PAUL
February 25, 2011 03:30
4 minute read.
JNF UK chairman Samuel Hayek.

Samuel Hayek JNF UK 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The Jewish National Fund UK has resigned from a British Jewish community representative body, questioning its mandate and legitimacy and stance on Israel and serving a blow to the already beleaguered organization.

The JNF tendered its resignation from the Jewish Leadership Council on Thursday, citing numerous concerns, including some relating to its remit and budget.

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Samuel Hayek, chairman of JNF UK, spoke exclusively to The Jerusalem Post after informing the JLC’s leadership of the decision.

“The JNF Board of Trustees has decided to resign from the Jewish Leadership Council with immediate effect. This decision has been taken as a result of numerous concerns,” he said.

“JNF is a charity whose history is intrinsically intertwined with the establishment and development of Israel and whose support for it over the past 110 years has always been and will remain steadfast. The decision to resign from the JLC is based on principle and was not taken lightly,” Hayek said.

The JLC was established as a membership body for the lay leaders of the major Jewish organizations in the UK in 2003 by the then-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Henry Grunwald. According to its website, its remit is “to strengthen the major institutions of British Jewry, promote cooperation between them and help the leadership of our community articulate a confident and compelling narrative of mainstream Jewish life in the UK.”

Over the years the organization has had a difficult relationship with the Jewish community.

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Recently it has suffered a number of high-profile resignations and accusations that the organization is unrepresentative and has gone beyond its remit. Last month, the JLC’s public relations agency, the PR Office, terminated its contract with it.

“When originally established, the JLC’s remit was an internal focus on communal needs but in recent years and months this has shifted significantly towards a focus on foreign affairs and particularly in relation to matters of Israeli government policy,” Hayek told the Post. “As a result, the JLC has sought to take upon itself a leadership role in areas already covered by others such as the Board of Deputies, an elected and representative institution, where as the JLC comprises a self-appointed and non-mandated body.”

In January, Lord Michael Levy, who was Middle East envoy for former prime minister Tony Blair and a founding member of the JLC, resigned from the organization, accusing it of “grabbing too much power” while not defining its role.

“When I helped to create the JLC, I saw it as a forum to bring together the heads of such organizations and people who had been in leadership positions to discuss issues facing us. But it has not yet defined its role. I certainly did not envisage it becoming a new power base and expanding its infrastructure – something that is neither necessary nor needed. For that reason I decided to resign from it,” Levy told the Jewish Chronicle at the time.

Last year, Baroness Ruth Deech, academic and lawyer, also resigned from the JLC, “in an effort to shake it up.”

With JLC’s operating costs increasing from £191,600 in 2007 to £455,900 in 2010, JNF UK also questioned the high cost and democratic nature of the organization. JNF currently must pay £26,000 annually to the JLC.

“The current structure and payment of membership fees of £26,000, together with the manner in which it operates, make it impossible for council members to truly have our voices heard or exert significant influence on decisions taken by its leadership. JNF has always supported community cooperation and will continue to do so, just not in this way,” Hayek said.

The JLC has, however, tried to improve its standing in the community by revamping its structure.

Last year, it took away voting rights of members appointed in a personal capacity, leaving voting to the leaders of the 16 Jewish organizations on the council. The Board of Deputies and JLC also set up a joint liaison committee to improve ties.

In November, JLC executive chairman Mick Davis sparked a huge debate in the Jewish community by agreeing, in response to a question posed to him at a public event, that Israel would become an apartheid state in the absence of a two-state solution.

Hayek said that this attitude, and a recent decision by the JLC to visit the Palestinian Authority – a move which was eventually canceled after a backlash in the community – also impacted on JNF’s decision.

“As a Zionist charity, JNF’s fundamental belief is that in these troubled times in the region, Israel deserves to see a Diaspora community with unwavering support,” he said. “There should be a diversity of opinion, but it is harmful to the State of Israel and its people for such a debate to take place by community leaders in the public domain. Recent comments by JLC’s leadership, together with actions such as the proposed trip to the West Bank, will simply provide further ammunition to individuals and organizations who continue to pursue a campaign of delegitimization against Israel.”

The JLC said on Thursday that it was holding discussions with JNF UK.

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