Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl has hit back against “divisive” motion attempts from deputies in the past month, arguing that the range of opinion within the community had to be “represented and welcomed”.
It comes after Jacob Lyons sought to oust the Board’s Senior Vice-President Sheila Gewolb for expressing concern about an Israeli law, and after Manchester-based Robert Festenstein pushed for the Board end all contact with the Labour leadership unless Jeremy Corbyn apologised to British Jews and Israelis.
Van der Zyl appeared to defend Gewolb after Lyons invoked a definition of antisemitism to criticise her concerns about Israel’s new ‘Nation State Bill,’ which Israel’s defenders say risks creating a system of first- and second-class citizens.
Speaking at a packed plenary on Sunday, Van der Zyl said a motion had been “submitted and withdrawn” and another not yet submitted, telling deputies that honourary officers “have to represent and welcome a huge diversity of opinion”.
She said differing views “may sometimes be challenging, but we handle it through negotiation, discussion and consulting our communities… Statements may be a fine line of judgement [but] having minority opinions does not mean that these will be taken as Board of Deputy policy”.
Van der Zyl, who was elected in May, earned applause when she said: “Now is a time for unity and not for Jews to be divided at these very challenging times. Let us focus on what we have in common and learn to disagree with tolerance and respect.”
Before her update to deputies, Gewolb said: “I would like to reiterate what Marie said, and thank you for all the support I have been shown over the past few weeks. Let’s draw a line under all this stuff and get on with what’s really important for our community.” This comments was widely cheered and applauded.
Addressing the aborted attempt to cut all ties with the Labour leadership, Dame Louise Ellman MP said: “Pressure must be maintained, but I’m absolutely clear that the way in which it is maintained must be for the president and the officers.”
She added: “No dealings with Jeremy Corbyn and his office might be right in certain circumstances, but circumstances can change.” Van der Zyl agreed, saying that to break ties would be to “lose power”. Last week she called the motion “absurd”.