Board of Deputies of British Jews

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Board of Deputies of British Jews
BoD Master Logo CMYK.jpg
Founded1760; 260 years ago (1760)
Registration no.222160
HeadquartersLondon, United Kingdom
Region served
Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Marie van der Zyl

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, commonly referred to as the Board of Deputies or the BoD, is the largest and oldest Jewish communal organisation in the United Kingdom. Established in 1760 by a group of Sephardic Jews, the Board has since grown substantially and presents itself as a forum for the views of the different sectors of the British Jewish community, liaising with the British government on that basis. Notably, while Baron Rothschild was President of the Board of Deputies, the Balfour Declaration was addressed to him and eventually led to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. On the international level, the Board of Deputies is affiliated to the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress. Its current president is Marie van der Zyl, who due to holding this position also sits on the Executive Committee of the World Jewish Congress.


The Board of Deputies of British Jews was established in London in 1760, when seven Deputies were appointed by the elders of the Sephardi congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews to form a standing committee and pay homage to George III on his accession to the throne.[2] Shortly thereafter the Ashkenazi Jewish congregation from Central and Eastern Europe similarly appointed their own "Secret Committee for Public Affairs" to deal with any urgent political matters that might arise,[3] and safeguard the interests of British Jews as a religious community, both in the British Isles, and in the colonies.[4] They soon began to meet together as occasions arose, and then on a more frequent basis; by the 1810s they appear to have united as one body.[5] It was named the London Committee of Deputies of British Jews.

In the mid 18th century, the body was dominated by Moses Montefiore, the Sephardi lay leader of British Jewry, and Nathan Adler, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. It adopted its current name in 1913. During its history, some of the major divisions in opinion have been between Sephardi and Ashkenazi and between religious and lay leaders.[6]

Members and organisation[edit]

The Board is led by Marie van der Zyl, who succeeded Jonathan Arkush as President in June 2018.[7]

The chief executive of the Board is Gillian Merron, who represented Labour as Member of Parliament (MP) for Lincoln from 1997 to 2010. From 2009 to 2010 she was Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health at the Department of Health. She leads a team of professional staff including Director of Public Affairs Philip Rosenberg (formerly of Faiths Forum for London).

The Board comprises Deputies elected by affiliated individual synagogues, confederations of synagogues, and other organisations within the Jewish community such as charities and youth groups. It serves as the principal reference point for government, the media and wider society. All matters tending to impact on the life of Jews in Britain fall within the Board's remit, including an active interfaith programme. Haredi synagogues have chosen not to affiliate. In 2012, it was noted that nearly two thirds of the deputies were over 60 years of age.[8]

The Board of Deputies offices are co-located with the United Jewish Israel Appeal in Kentish Town.

The Board is the British affiliate of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the world-wide umbrella organisation of Jewish communities and is the UK member of the European Jewish Congress (EJC).

In January 2019, the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) reiterated its call for a “unified communal structure” with the Board of Deputies. A previous merger proposal was rejected in 2015 after Deputies felt that they would be relegated to second-rate status. In response to the later call, Marie van der Zyl said that "the representative body that speaks for the community must have the legitimacy and accountability that comes from being broad based, democratic and elected." Deputies have in the past noted that, while Board honorary officers are accountable to deputies, who themselves are accountable to their constituencies, the JLC had no such governance structure.[9]

Past presidents[edit]

Moses Montefiore and his family members dominated the presidency of the Board of Deputies during the 19th century. Sephardic Jews were prominent early on.
Walter Rothschild was a president of the Board of Deputies during the early 20th century. The Balfour Declaration was addressed to him.
Greville Janner was a president of the Board of Deputies during the late 20th century. He was also an MP, a member of the House of Lords and a leader of other Jewish organisations.

The most historically notable and longest-serving past president was the Victorian-era banker Moses Montefiore, who in the nineteenth century travelled widely to assist Jewish communities in foreign countries, faced by persecution at the time. A complete list of presidents and interim positions is as follows:[2]

18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century


The issues which the Board states it addresses are:

  • Antisemitism and extremism
  • Israel and the Middle East
  • Education
  • Religious freedoms and inequalities
  • Interfaith and social action
  • International advocacy[12]


In 2003, the Board, on its website, reproduced an extract from a US State Department report that suggested that the aid organisation Palestinian Relief and Development Fund (Interpal) was helping to fund terrorist organisations. Interpal threatened to sue for libel, whereupon the Board retracted and apologised for its comments.[13][14]

In the same year the Jewish Leadership Council, which says it "brings together the major British Jewish organisations to work for the good of the British Jewish community", was founded.

In 2005, after the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, compared a Jewish Evening Standard reporter, Oliver Finegold, to a concentration camp guard, the Board, along with the Commission for Racial Equality, filed an ultimately unsuccessful complaint to the Standards Board for England, calling on Livingstone to apologise. Livingstone responded by stating "there is no law against 'unnecessary insensitivity' or even 'offensiveness' to journalists harassing you as you try to go home" and that he had a "25-year running battle" with the paper's owners.[15][16] In 2006, the London Jewish Forum, designed to act as an interface between the Jewish community and the Mayor's office, was launched by leading London Jews.[17]

In 2014, at the height of the Israeli military operation in Gaza, the Board received widespread criticism in the Jewish community for a joint statement issued with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) condemning antisemitism and Islamophobia.[18][19] The statement with its slogan ‘to export peace rather than import conflict’ proved controversial among some on the conservative wing of the Jewish community but was supported by others on the progressive wing and by groups in inter faith circles.[20] The principle of such a statement was approved by the Board by a majority of over 75% at a meeting of the Board on 21 September 2014. In December 2015, the new leadership of the Board distanced itself from the MCB over the latter's alleged links to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.[21]

In 2018, by contrast, over five hundred British Jews signed a letter from Yachad saying that the Board had "deeply misrepresented" their views after the Board criticised Hamas for “repeated violent attempts at mass invasion” but did not call for Israeli restraint or acknowledge that the IDF may have acted disproportionately in killing scores of Palestinians. Liberal Judaism said that “the Board’s credibility as the voice of British Jewry depends wholly on its willingness to listen to, hear from and reflect the values of all sections of the community”.[22]

In July 2018, the Board of Deputies suspended Roslyn Pine, deputy for Finchley United Synagogue, for six years, following comments she made which were described as Islamophobic, and for admitting to holding anti-Arab views.[23]

In November 2018, Marie van der Zyl said, in relation to the Labour Party, "Over the summer, we showed how we could keep this issue of antisemitism on the front pages day after day, week after week, exacting a severe political and reputational cost for continued failure."[24]

Following the stated intention of Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the Labour Party, on 13th January 2020 the Board issued ten pledges which they believe the candidates to succeed him should sign up to in order to "end the antisemitism crisis". The pledges are:

  1. Resolve outstanding cases: All outstanding and future cases should be brought to a swift conclusion under a fixed timescale.
  2. Make the Party's disciplinary process independent: An independent provider should be used to process all complaints, to eradicate any risk of partisanship and factionalism.
  3. Ensure transparency: Key affected parties to complaints, including Jewish representative bodies, should be given the right to regular, detailed case updates, on the understanding of confidentiality.
  4. Prevent readmittance of prominent offenders: It should be made clear that prominent offenders who have left or been expelled from the party, such as Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker, will never be readmitted to membership.
  5. Provide no platform for bigotry: Any MPs, Peers, councillors, members or CLPs who support, campaign or provide a platform for people who have been suspended or expelled in the wake of antisemitic incidents should themselves be suspended from membership.
  6. Adopt the international definition of antisemitism without qualification: The IHRA definition of antisemitism, with all its examples and clauses, and without any caveats, will be fully adopted by the party and used as the basis for considering antisemitism disciplinary cases.
  7. Deliver an anti-racism education programme that has the buy-in of the Jewish community: The Jewish Labour Movement should be reengaged by the Party to lead on training about antisemitism.
  8. Engagement with the Jewish community to be made via its main representative groups: Labour must engage with the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not through fringe organisations and individuals.
  9. Communicate with resolve: Bland, generic statements should give way to condemnation of specific harmful behaviours - and, where appropriate, condemnation of specific individuals.
  10. Show leadership and take responsibility: The leader must personally take on the responsibility of ending Labour's antisemitism crisis.[25]

Two of the candidates for deputy leader, Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler, made nuanced responses to these demands. All the other candidates for leader or deputy leader signed up unconditionally. Jewish Voice for Labour, one of the "fringe organisations" referred to in the pledges, summed up the demands as Chutzpah.[26]


After Scottish devolution in 1999, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities was formed to give the Jewish Community of Scotland a single democratically accountable voice in dealings with the Scottish Parliament and Executive, other communities, and other statutory and official bodies. The intention when it was established was for it to stand in the same relationship to the Scottish Government as the Board of Deputies of British Jews does to the UK Government. Consequently, the Council is autonomous in matters devolved by the Scotland Act, such as justice, health and welfare, and community relations, whilst the Board of Deputies speaks for all Britain's Jews on reserved matters such as foreign affairs and equality legislation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b Archives, The National. "The Discovery Service".
  3. ^ Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England, Chapter 10, The Reign of George III, 1760–1815, 1941
  4. ^ Joseph Jacobs, London Committee of Deputies of British Jews
  5. ^ History of the Board Archived 23 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Board of Deputies of British Jews
  6. ^ Aldern, Geoffrey (15 July 2010). "A History of the Board of Deputies, 1760-2010". Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
  7. ^ Rocker, Simon (14 May 2018). "Women form majority of Board of Deputies' leadership for the first time". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  8. ^ Kahn-Harris, Keith (27 April 2012). "A weak 'revolution' at the Board of Deputies of British Jews". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  9. ^ Millis, Joe (8 January 2019). "Jewish Leadership Council seeking 'unified communal structure'". Jewish News. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  10. ^ "Blair unveils Holocaust memorial plan". BBC News. 26 January 2000. Retrieved 19 September 2009.
  11. ^ Rachel Sylvester (17 July 2000). "First woman elected to lead Jewish board". The Telegraph. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Issues". Board of Deputies of British Jews. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  13. ^ Dominic Casciani, Islamic charity cleared of Hamas link, BBC News, 24 September 2003. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  14. ^ Dominic Casciani, Top Jewish group 'terror' apology, BBC News, 29 December 2005. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  15. ^ Ros Taylor, "Livingstone Suspension Frozen by Judge," The Guardian 28 February 2006, accessed 9 February 2007.
  16. ^ Lawton, Alan, and Michael Macaulay. "From Birth to Death: The Life of the Standards Board for England." Public Administration Review 77.5 (2017): 720-729.
  17. ^ Evening Standard, 17 April 2008: "After the Oliver Finegold episode, a number of leading Jews in London decided something had to be done. In December 2006 a new body, designed to act as an interface between the Jewish community and the Mayor's office was launched as the London Jewish Forum"
  18. ^ "Board of Deputies approves controversial Muslim Council of Britain statement". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  19. ^ The Jewish News, 4 September 2014
  20. ^ Report of The Woolf Institute on Faith and Belief in Public Life, 7 December 2015 p. 25
  21. ^ "Board distances itself from Muslim Council of Britain over Muslim Brotherhood 'links'". Jewish News. 22 December 2015. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  22. ^ "Hundreds of British Jews sign letter criticising Board of Deputies' Gaza response". Jewish News. 16 May 2018.
  23. ^ Welch, Ben (12 July 2018). "Board suspends deputy for six years after investigation into 'Islamophobic' views". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  24. ^ Van der Zyl, Marie (18 November 2018). "Engagement does not mean concessions". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  25. ^ Ten Pledges
  26. ^ JVL response


  • Langham, Raphael (2010). 250 Years of Convention and Contention: A History of the Board of Deputies of British Jews 1760-2010. Vallentine Mitchell & Co Ltd. ISBN 0853039828.

External links[edit]