Board of Deputies accused of antisemitism by its own members

A senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews – the body at the forefront of the campaign for the IHRA code on antisemitism – is herself facing a vote of no confidence for criticising Israeli in a way that breaches the IHRA code.

Dr Sheila Gewolb issued a press release on behalf of the Board of Deputies in July criticising the Nation-State Law which says that only Jewish Israelis have a right to self-determination and downgrades the status of the Arabic language.

“Being Jewish is a wonderful thing, but this should not lead to doing down others. All people should be valued and Israel’s Arab and other minority populations should be a treasured part of society,” it said.

Two members of the Board of Deputies say this breaches example h) of the IHRA code by “applying double standards to Israel by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.

This means that they consider the press release antisemitic.

They have told chief executive Gillian Merron that they already have the signatures of 32 members and are confident of getting the 50 required to table a motion of no confidence – effectively sacking Dr Gewolb from her post as vice-president.

The Board has itself used example h) to accuse the National Union of Students of antisemitism for voting to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

The Board also used example h) to accuse academics of antisemitism when they wrote to the Guardian to support an academic boycott in 2015.

Now the same catch-all clause is being used against the Board’s own vice-president, proving – if proof were needed – that the loose wording of the IHRA examples allows almost anyone to be accused of antisemitism.

And if the vote of no confidence is carried against Dr Gewolb,  then the whole leadership of the Board of Deputies will need to resign – as the press release was issued officially on behalf of the Board.

The two members – Jacob Lyons and Martin Rankoff – say that the Board of Deputies has been “hijacked by individuals …with so-called ‘progressive’ views” and that they are a Trojan horse inside the organisation.

They also say: “Anything that might be construed as a foreign entity interfering in the democratic process of another sovereign nation is categorically off-limits.”

This will be a problem not only for the Board of Deputies, but also for all the other mainstream Jewish organisations who have criticised the Nation-State Law.

  • According to the New Israel Fund, the law is a “slap in the face to Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel”.
  • According to Yachad, “we must speak up in opposition to this racist bill which turns minorities in Israel into second-class citizens”.
  • According to the American Jewish Committee, the law “puts at risk the commitment of Israel’s founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic”.
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