Jewish representatives across the UK are preparing a “motion of censure” against two men trying to oust the Board of Deputies’ senior vice-president for expressing concern about a new Israeli law.
The fierce kickback was aimed at Jacob Lyons, the Deputy for Western Marble Arch Synagogue, and Martin Rankoff, the Deputy for Redbridge Synagogue, for trying to instigate a vote of no-confidence (VONC) in Dr Sheila Gewolb.
The pair drew the ire of Deputies by accusing Gewolb of breaching the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism “in applying double standards to Israel”.
In explosive language, their use of the new and controversial definition of antisemitism to try to oust a senior Jewish representative for expressing concerns about an Israeli law was described as “deeply wrong and morally grotesque”.
Efforts are now underway to censure Lyons and Rankoff for “bringing the Board into disrepute,” and Deputies are being urged not to sign a VONC motion against Gewolb for risk of it being a spectacular own-goal, after a two-year fight over IHRA.
The furore stems from a statement Gewolb made on behalf of the Board this summer after Israeli politicians voted through a law demoting Arabic, confirming East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and stating Jewish settlement as a “national value”.
The law was criticised by many mainstream Zionist groups around the world, including in the UK, and was strongly opposed by the Israeli left, which said it would create a system of first- and second-class citizens in the country.
The US-based Anti-Defamation League said it “raises significant questions about the Israeli government’s long-term commitment to its pluralistic identity and democratic nature”.
Gewolb said the Board felt the new law may be “regressive” and vowed to write to the Ambassador. No senior member of the Board’s leadership team distanced themselves from her statement, but Lyons and Rankoff have nevertheless called for Gewolb to go, and are trying to collect 50 signatures for a VONC.
On Tuesday night, however, a group calling themselves “concerned Deputies” hit back against the two men, sending an open letter to fellow Deputies lambasting the pair’s use of the new IHRA definition to label Gewolb as antisemitic, while calling for a “motion of censure” against Lyons and Rankoff.
“The Nation State law was the subject of fierce debate both inside Israel and by communities across the diaspora, and was defended and criticised by leaders and organisations throughout the Jewish world,” they wrote.
“While individual Deputies may agree or disagree with these arguments, the claim that in voicing this opinion Dr Gewolb was expressing antisemitic views is not just false but severely damaging to the ongoing fight against antisemitism in the UK.”
Lyons and Rankoff’s use of the IHRA definition to oust Gewolb has already been picked up by anti-Zionist Jews, who say it evidences how the definition is being used to silence legitimate criticism of Israel, fuelling free speech concerns.
“Having spent so much time and political capital in fighting for IHRA, it is shameful that a small group in our own community has disrupted our communal unity and consolidated efforts to pursue their own factional interests,” the letter reads.
“Although there is no formal process in place for a vote of no-confidence in an individual Deputy, a ‘motion of censure’ is a standard parliamentary procedure to express disapproval… We consider that by their actions, Messrs Lyons and Rankoff have brought the Board into disrepute.”
The Community Security Trust (CST) has long argued that the IHRA definition will not be used to shut down criticism of Israel, but on Tuesday evening Lyons doubled down, again saying Gewolb’s statement breached the definition.
He said she had “applied double standards [to Israel] by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” adding that his argument was “in a spirit of intellectual accuracy and integrity”.