Jonathan Arkush at Shabbat on the Hill
Last Shabbat we were joined in Shul by Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. After the service Jonathan provided an overview of the role of the Board in the context of the wider community and an update of what it has been up to over recent months.
Jonathan described how the Board had been set up in 1760 as a vehicle for Jewish representation in the UK. As an elected body it is embedded in the democratic fabric of the country, with close links to politicians and to Whitehall. Indeed, Jonathan suggested that the Board may have a higher profile outside the community than within it.
Jonathan extolled the vibrancy of the Jewish community here in the UK, but he also highlighted a number of challenges that we currently face. Three in particular stand out: shechita, brit milah and antisemitism.
On shechita he told us about the ongoing campaign in some quarters for it to be banned as it has in some European countries, most recently in the Belgian region of Wallonia. Similarly, the movement to ban brit milah waxes and wanes but remains ever-present. In Norway a bill was recently passed that bans ritual circumcision of children under age 16. In both cases the Board leverages its lobbying expertise to put the arguments in favour of these practices to the relevant decision-makers.
On antisemitism, the Board works with other communal organisations to tackle it when it materialise. The Board’s edge though is in its ability to bring it to the attention of public figures. Clearly it does not help when these figures are accused of harbouring anti-Semitic sympathies, but with some such figures recently having been purged from the Liberal Democrat Party at least, there is a view that the Board’s campaigning pays off. Likewise, although antisemitism on campus does grab headlines, many universities have overturned BDS proposals.
Members of the community raised questions ranging from the role of social media, the Board’s attitude to left-wing Zionist organisation Yachad, and the Board’s attitude towards Jeremy Corbyn.
And as for that congratulatory letter to President Trump? Well, maybe it was worded too strongly. Fortunately, Jonathan Arkush doesn’t have to work with him…
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