An update from the Board of Deputies –
Rarely in living memory has there been such a sustained period of national turmoil in this country. Uniquely, this coincided with an upsurge of anti-Jewish racism which has caused huge anxiety throughout the Jewish community. Needless to say the end of 2019 and the beginning of this year has been one in which Board of Deputies honorary officers and staff have been working at full capacity in order to deal with the issues of concern to Jews in the UK.
The central event in this cycle was the General Election. It was the third in the last five years and the Board of Deputies had been on high alert for much of the autumn. Within weeks we had finalised an updated version of the Jewish Manifesto. We wrote to candidates in all constituencies around the country asking them to sign up to the Ten Commitments, which gave the politicians a distilled version of the community’s priorities. Dozens got in touch with the Board of Deputies to let us know that they supported the commitments in full.
Running concurrently with the election campaign has been the ongoing antisemitism crisis in Labour which became one of the key issues for Jewish voters. Following Labour’s defeat and the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn resignation as leader, the Board of Deputies produced Ten Pledges on antisemitism, designed to give a route-map for the new party leader to rid the party of the disease of Jew hatred. All leadership candidates had signed up to the pledges within days although, disgracefully, deputy leadership candidates Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler refused to align themselves to these basic steps to combat racism.
The 10 Pledges have become a pivotal part of the campaign and have been cited by all the leadership candidates. The Board of Deputies is shaping the debate over antisemitism and, most importantly, showing the way forward for the next leader. We may have harsh words to say about the disgraceful lack of action to expel antisemitism from Labour but we also have a constructive role to play.
The Labour antisemitism crisis provided the backdrop to the appearance of former Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Board of Deputies’ President’s Dinner in November. Mr Blair, in conversation with TV journalist Natasha Kaplinsky, told a packed audience “Let me be frank, there is going to be a complete battle in the Labour Party because what has happened over these past years – particularly over antisemitism – is absolutely killing the party.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel was also a guest at the dinner. She said the Board of Deputies was “tireless in educating British society about Judaism, building interfaith bridges, defending the interests of British Jews, and confronting antisemitism in all its awful guises. Your work ranges from the level of individual communities and synagogues, right to the highest levels of Government, as I well know.” The video played to guests that night and which is has since been released via YouTube, was a departure for the Board of Deputies. This was actress Tracy-Anne Oberman’s personal reflections on the impact that antisemitism has had on her life. Other interviewees, including Rachel Riley, Lord Mann and Dame Louise Ellman – also voiced their deeply concern about Jew-hatred and why they believe we need to act against the racists.
Amid the turmoil of a General Election we had the happy privilege of helping with the organisation of the Prince of Wales’ pre-Chanukah reception at Buckingham Palace. Around 400 guests were invited, with the focus on those who, through their community work and volunteering efforts, make a huge contribution to their communities. In his speech, the Prince of Wales commented on his decision to hold the reception. He said: “If I may say so, Ladies and Gentlemen, I see this as the least I can do to try to repay, in some small way, the immense blessings the Jewish people have brought to this land and, indeed, to humanity.”